We Repeat, Borders Kill, CBSA Negligence Kills: We denounce the death of migrants detained at the Detention Center in Surrey, BC, and at Roxham Road

We are, once again, infuriated and saddened to learn of the death of two migrants within a period of two weeks.

The death on Christmas Day of a person detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at the Surrey’s CBSA detention center in British Columbia was announced on December 27 by CBSA. On January 5, Sûreté du Québec confirmed they found the dead body of a man near Roxham Road, an irregular crossing of migrants between the USA and Canada.

We deplore the death of the migrant man near Roxham Road and hold the Canadian government responsible and accountable for it. While we do not know the cause of the death, we can say with certainty that no one should have to die alone trying to cross the border at great personal stress, danger, and grave expense. Every person has the right to migrate, the right to resist forced displacement, and the right to return to their country of origin if they so choose.

Let us recall that it is the Safe Third Country Agreement that forces people to choose riskier ways to cross the border. The STCA is an agreement between Canada and the United States that has been in place since 2004 and states that the United States and Canada designate the other country as a safe country for refugees and close the door to most refugee claimants at the US-Canada border. This agreement has been widely criticized by many organizations and by migrants and refugees themselves, particularly because it undermines the right of anyone fleeing persecution to seek asylum. Under this agreement, migrants and refugees who make asylum claims at official border crossings in Canada not meeting the criteria are automatically removed to the United States without due process. As a result, many migrants and refugees resign themselves to crossing the US-Canada border through so-called “irregular” ports of entry, including Roxham Road, sometimes at great risk to their lives – as seen in this case.

As for the death of the person detained by CBSA, their statement mentioned that the next of kin of the deceased migrant were contacted, but gave no information concerning the name, age, gender, country of origin, let alone the reason or duration of their detention. The information on the circumstances under which the person died in the detention center — as to why they could not get the person to a hospital in time to save their life — was also withheld. As usual, CBSA claims to do so “due to privacy consideration” (source: CBSA statement).

The death of this migrant in the Surrey BC prison echoes that of another person detained in Laval QC in January 2022. The CBSA similarly shared no details, particularly of the circumstances of the person’s death, and insisted that no information would be released as an “investigation is ongoing”. Almost a year later, there have been no updates. It is now becoming more and more clear that the CBSA means only to obscure the extraordinary violence of their detention regime and ensure that they are never accountable for the deaths in their custody, as they attempt to outwait the public scrutiny.

The person in Surrey, BC who was under CBSA custody died in the newly built immigration detention center. Ironically, in Montreal, groups have been protesting the newly built migrant prison – the so-called detention center, that is marketed as a more comfortable place for those detained. A prison is a prison whether there is a yard inside or not. These facilities are inhumane and the treatment of people detained therein remains harsh and as we saw, at times, lethal. Millions of dollars spent in new facilities does not replace freedom. No imprisonment provides justice or dignity.

We repeat: Borders Kill, CBSA Negligence Kills. No migrant, no human being, should have to suffer such inhumane treatment. We will fight until every person is free.

The way CBSA handles the detention and the medical care of people detained makes it clear how they dehumanize people while in detention and also in their death. This treatment of people detained is evident from the number of deaths of people while under CBSA custody; over the past twenty years, at least 17 people have died in detention:

Bolante Idowu Alo
Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan
Fransisco Javier Roméro Astorga
Melkioro Gahung
Jan Szamko
Lucia Vega Jimenez
Joseph Fernandes
Kevon O’BrienPhillip
Unidentified man
Shawn Dwight Cole
Unidentified man
Joseph Dunn
Unidentified person
Sheik Kudrath
Maxamillion Akamai
Unidentified person
Unidentified person

“As long as the CBSA continues to detain migrants, deaths in detention will continue,” said a joint statement issued by migrant justice organizations based in BC.

We, the undersigned groups, stand in solidarity with the family of the person killed and with the groups in BC on the frontlines fighting this injustice.

Let us recall that detention is an inherent part of the repressive matrix of the Canadian immigration system. It’s a tool of the Canadian imperialist state that ignores any responsibility towards the people who are migrating for a better life, seeking to leave situations of poverty, exploitation and violence, where the Canadian state and companies are often complicit in creating these very conditions.

The aim of the detention apparatus of the State is to deter people from entering fortress Canada. This oppresses migrants and forces them to live in the margins, isolated and underground, constantly fearing arrest and imprisonment. The practice of putting migrants in prison promotes exploitation where the vulnerable people resort to working and living in abusive and unsafe conditions without recourse or protection.

We denounce the deaths of migrants at the Roxham Road and in the detention center in Surrey, BC and demand that this violence and impunity of CBSA ends. Not one more death.

We demand open borders, no Safe Third Country Agreement, and the free movement of people seeking justice and dignity. That is, freedom to move, freedom to return, and freedom to stay.

Stop the detentions, stop the deportations! We demand a comprehensive, ongoing regularization program without any exceptions and discriminations!

Endorsed by:

Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network)
Carranza LLP
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Migrante Canada
Migrante BC
No One Is Illegal Toronto
Parkdale Community Legal Services
Progressive Chinese of Québec
RAMA Okanagan
Sanctuary Health
Sanctuary Students Solidarity & Support Collective
Solidarity Across Borders
Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights
Workers’ Action Centre