Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Feb.  4, 2014)

A Bad Situation

By Bob Cooper


I sometimes think that government bureaucrats look at a bad situation and automatically think “If I take my time and really put my mind to this I just know I can find a way to make it worse”.   This mindset appears to have carried the day in the recent In-Custody suicide of Lucia Vega Jiminez, 42, who hanged herself with a shower curtain in the Canada Border Services Agency holding facility at Vancouver International Airport while awaiting deportation to Mexico.  Problem is, it occurred last December 20th and while the RCMP and the BC Coroner’s Service were notified at the time, it never became public until the end of January causing ‘clouds of suspicion’ to form and making Ms. Jiminez the latest poster child of the Open the Borders crowd, spawning the usual petitions and candle-light vigils.

Josh Paterson of the BCCLA says that no one should die in custody.  Right.  In a perfect world no one would because no one would be in custody would they?  But this is the here & now and most confinement facilities in civilized countries take universal precautions to prevent suicide like taking away inmates’ personal effects including belts & shoe laces when they’re booked but those who commit suicide seldom make their intentions known to the intake staff.  Also, once a person has made the decision no matter what treatment or counselling is made available, it’s only a matter of time before they do it and the only sure way to prevent it is to strip them naked and put them in a closet without a crossbar and most certainly without a shower curtain.  I somehow doubt that solution would appeal to the BCCLA.

The Mexican Consul in Vancouver, Claudia Franco, said last Friday she is “quite angry about what happened” and is demanding a thorough and impartial investigation which raises a couple of issues.  Firstly, Ms. Franco was informed of the incident the day it occurred so it took her anger almost 6 weeks to boil to the surface. Secondly, there will be an investigation and it will be a lot more thorough and impartial than anything you’d get back home.  Thirdly, don’t forget that this woman took her own life rather than be returned to this bit of paradise that you represent.  Sell your indignation somewhere else.

I’m not being cold or hard-hearted because I’ve lost friends to suicide, but the only one responsible for the death of Lucia Vega Jiminez is Lucia Vega Jiminez and a sad but otherwise routine event turned into a catastrophe because CBSA management failed to heed the age-old maxim that when something like this occurs get out in front of it, like right now.  Don’t run and hide and hope it goes away because it won’t.  I used to charge a lot of money for this type of advice but today it’s on me.  This would have been off the front page long ago if someone had just stepped up at the time and dealt with it by announcing the death, expressing regret, and pledging full cooperation with the police and the Coroner’s Service.  You don’t need a lot of detail.  Matter of fact you don’t want a lot of detail out there because that could hinder the investigation.   Just a brief synopsis will do.  Then shut up and let the process take its course.  Some media types will tell you it’s important to assure the public that steps will be taken to ensure this never happens again but I don’t because as anyone in law enforcement knows, it will, and when it does your words will come back to haunt you.

A major contributing factor here, once again, is the politicization of federal law enforcement.  The RCMP, Fisheries & Oceans, Corrections, CBSA, etc. all suffer from the stifling effects of top-heavy bureaucratic cultures where doing the right, smart, or sensible thing falls way behind talking to the right people, in the right order, and above all, pleasing the minister.  It paralyzes people into inaction when action is clearly called for.  At a certain level, those making critical decisions have no law enforcement experience and the fact that this pretty much guarantees a dreadful outcome is just lost on them.  

Despite the deliberate ‘softening’ of its title which is all the rage in policing these days, the prime function of CBSA is law enforcement and their management needs to start getting their head around that.  People found breaking the law often have to be locked up and occasionally bad things happen.   The vast majority of Canadians appreciate the efforts of the officers on the front lines who protect us all each day at Canada’s ports of entry.  Management’s fumbling of this case has done them a great disservice.



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2014