What happened to Teresa Gratton? Just another woman lost in Canada’s immigrant detention

 

On October 23, 50-year-old Teresa Michelle Gratton wrote a letter to her husband Herb Gratton, her partner of 32 years, “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!! … I don’t see how they can continue to keep me locked up like a criminal. I have no charges. I had already paid my time for my crime. I’ll leave Canada if that’s what it comes to, but let me out until that’s what’s desided (sic) if it comes to that.” A week later, on October 30, Teresa Gratton – beloved mother, grandmother, wife, life partner, permanent resident of Canada – was “found in medical distress”. Herb Gratton received a phone call, “Your wife died.” That was all that was said. To this day, the family does not know, and demands to know, what happened to their loved one. What happened to Teresa Gratton? The State murdered her. Canada murdered her. The global system of `immigrant detention’ her. To the extent that the system of immigrant detention continues, we all had a hand in murdering Teresa Gratton.

Everything about Teresa Gratton’s story is familiar, the entire spectacular of State indignity, brutality, and silence, with the family’s anguish as backdrop and soundtrack.

Herb Gratton, 58 years old, was born in Canada. When he was 13, he and his mother moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1985, he met Teresa. He says for him it was love at first sight. They dated, the moved in together, they started a family. They have three sons, Matthew, now 30 years old; Stan, 27; and Jacob, 24. Matthew and Stan are married with children. After 18 years together, Herb and Teresa were formally married, in 2003. Not long after, they moved to Canada. Herb, Matthew, Stan, Jacob, and all their children, are Canadian citizens. Teresa Gratton had been a legal permanent resident in Canada since 2011.

In 2004, Herb Gratton suffered a back injury. The couple’s financial situation deteriorated. Teresa Gratton worked off and on as a house cleaner. Teresa Gratton lived with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, which resulted in chronic pain, and anxiety and depression. She relied on hydromorphone, an opioid, which she obtained legally.

Teresa Gratton had a series of minor run ins with the criminal justice system. At the advice of her attorney, she pled out. That resulted in Teresa Gratton suddenly ending up in the immigrant detention system. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she was deemed a flight risk, and so was moved from was transferred from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, where her family lives, to the maximum security wing of Vanier Centre for Women, nearly 100 miles away. Herb Gratton doesn’t have a car. No one informed Herbert Gratton of the move. He had no idea where his wife was until she called him from Vanier.

Teresa Gratton was transferred on October 1 or 2. On October 30, she was dead. In the interim, she wrote daily letters to her husband, describing the torturous conditions in maximum security. A former resident recalls Vanier: “You go in wanting to kill yourself and the conditions just make you want to kill yourself more.” A former immigrant detainee of Vanier describes it as “terrible. There is nothing there…. Prisoners can only go outside twice a week for fresh air, for like 5 minutes… that’s it. We didn’t see sun, we didn’t see sky.”

Why was Teresa Gratton sent to Vanier Centre for Women? To die. Since 2000, at least 17 people have died in Canada’s immigrant detention system. In 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Reporters, friends, advocates asked many questions. Silence. Lucia Vega Jimenez’ case was a cause celebre, and yet here we are, four years later, and Teresa Gratton is dead, and her family, to this day, awaits information, something more than, “Your wife is dead.” Something more than silence. Something to answer their loved one, Teresa Gratton, crying, screaming in agony, “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE I DON’T BELONG HERE!! HELP ME! HELP ME! PLEASE!!!!!!” PLEASE!!!!!!

 

(Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Jackson / Toronto Star) (Video Credit: YouTube / Toronto Star)

 

Three years on, still no justice for Ms. Dhu, her family, or Aboriginal women generally

Ms. Dhu, who died in police custody, August 2014

In Australia, for Aboriginal women and their families, the wheels of justice do not turn at all, but they do try to grind the people into dust. On August 4, 2014, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu screamed of intense pains and begged for help. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died within 20 minutes. Reports suggest she never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.” That wasn’t enough. In her death, Ms. Dhu joined a long line, actually a mob, of Aboriginal women who have died in custody in Australia. Ms. Dhu’s family joined a longer line of Aboriginal family members seeking justice. Three years later, Ms. Dhu’s family still struggles for peace and something like justice concerning the circumstances of their loved one’s death. To make matters worse, the statute of limitations is running out soon, and so Ms. Dhu’s mother, Della Roe, and her brother, Shaun Harris are preparing to sue the State, not because they want to but because the State has pushed them to this moment. As Della Roe explains, “I want justice and someone pay for what they did to my baby. They need to be accountable for it.”

The State did its own accounting, and that’s why, and how, Ms. Dhu died. Like the United States, Canada, and others, Australia has invested heavily in the devaluation of Aboriginal women’s bodies and lives. The rising rates of incarceration married to the plummeting budgets for assistance say as much. So do the women’s corpses, decade after decade, year after year. For Aboriginal women, the histories and lived experiences of colonial occupation and violence not only continue to this day. They are intensifying.

A contemporary postcolonial, anti-colonial politics begins and ends with the State murder of Aboriginal women’s bodies, which runs from lack of services and assistance, from cradle to grave, to mass incarceration to dumping into the mass graves of historical amnesia. Another world is possible, and it requires more than an endless cycle of “discoveries” followed by commissions.

Della Roe, Shaun Harris, and the spirit of Ms. Dhu are represented by George Newhouse and Stewart Levitt, prominent human rights attorneys. According to George Newhouse, “It’s three years since her death and time’s up. Time’s up. These reforms need to take place and I’m hoping that the case will lead to real reform in WA.” Stewart Levitt adds, “It’s been like hell. How else can I explain it, you know? No-one’s been accountable for it, it’s terrible. The last three years has been like hell.”

Ms. Dhu was murdered by State systems of accounting. She was in jail for $3,622 in unpaid fines. The jail staff and the hospital staff decided she wasn’t worth believing or treating. She wasn’t worth the bother. And so Ms. Dhu died and remains dead. No amount of accounting will bring her justice. And her mother and uncle and kin and community are left to struggle with the State systems of accounting that value their lives as beneath assessment. What would justice for Ms. Dhu mean today? To begin, stop sending Aboriginal women to jail and prison. Stop the slaughter now.

Ms. Dhu’s mother, Della Roe

(Photo Credit 1: ABC) (Photo Credit 2: Huffington Post Australia)