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)


What happened to Kindra Chapman? The new normal for jails and prisons

Kindra Chapman

On Monday, July 13, #BlackLivesMatter activist and outspoken critic of police brutality Sandra Bland was “found” dead in a Texas jail. On Tuesday, July 14, in Homewood, Alabama, 18-year-old Black teenager Kindra Chapman was arrested, at 6:22 pm. At 7:50 pm, Kindra Chapman was found dead, hanging by a bed sheet in a holding cell.

While the case of Sandra Bland has attracted extensive and intensive attention, with one or two exceptions, the death of Kindra Chapman has not.

Suicide in jails and prisons, and in particular women’s jails and prisons, is the new normal, and not only in the United States. For example, just yesterday, it was reported that, in the United Kingdom, the number of people dying in police custody has reached its highest level for five years. We reported on this earlier in the year. The story’s the same in Italy.

Meanwhile, the jails of America are filling up to choking as the prisons are “releasing”, and women, and especially Black women, have been the principle actors, and targets, of this new phase of mass incarceration. And then there are the immigration detention centers. At Women In and Beyond the Global, we have been covering this trend for years. Here are just some of the individual women’s stories we’ve followed.

In 2007, in a Canadian prison, after years of mental health torment and begging for help through self-harm, 19-year-old Ashley Smith killed herself, on suicide watch, while seven guards followed orders, watched and did nothing. Now Ashley Smith haunts the Canadian Correctional Servicesor doesn’t.

In 2013, in England, Ms. K died. Her death was exemplary. A woman enters prison for the first time, a troublesome woman, and within weeks is found hanging in her cell. For the Ombudsman researchers, Ms K’s case is “one example” of the “failure” to “consider enhanced case review process” when a prisoner’s history suggests “wide ranging and deep seated problems.”

Last year, on Thursday, September 18, Megan Fritz hung herself. On Monday, September 22, Mary Knight did the same. Both women were incarcerated at Pennsylvania’s York County Prison when they committed suicide. Yet neither woman was on suicide watch. Why not?

Josefa Rauluni left the island nation of Fiji for Australia, where he applied for asylum, or “protection”. He was turned down. He was taken to Villawood Detention Centre, run by Serco. He continually appealed the decision, saying he feared for his life if he returned to Fiji. In response, the State told Josefa Rauluni that he would be deported on September 20, 2010. The night of September 19, Josefa Raulini sent two faxes to the Ministerial Intervention Unit at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They read, ”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”. The State did nothing. On the morning of September 20, 2010, Josefa Raulini informed the guards, “I’m not going, if anyone goes near me, I will jump“. The guards did nothing for a while, and they they tried force. As they moved in, Josefa Raulini jumped from a first floor balcony railing. He dove, head first, hit the ground, and died. The State did nothing; the Villawood staff had no suicide prevention training.

On December 20th 2013 Lucia Vega Jimenez committed suicide, hanging herself in a shower stall of a bleak border facility at the Vancouver International Airport under the jurisdiction of Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. She died eight days later in a hospital. She somehow found a rope and hanged herself. Who brought the rope and who tied the knot?

Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, 19 years old, and her four-year-old son had been held in Karnes “Family Detention Center” from October to June. She had applied for asylum, explaining that she had fled Honduras to escape an abusive ex-partner, six years older than she, who had beaten her regularly since she was 13. Her application was denied. In early June, she locked herself in a bathroom and cut her wrists. She was removed from the bathroom, held for four days under medical “supervision” during which she was denied access to her attorneys, and then deported.

The line from Sandra Bland to Kindra Chapman is direct, a line of Black Women killed in police custody. The coroner’s report may say they hanged themselves, and they may have, but if there’s an epidemic of self harm and suicide and the State does nothing, that’s public policy, and it’s murder. Likewise the line between Canadian Ashley Smith and English Ms. K and Mary Fritz and Mary Knight and Kindra Chapman is direct, as is the line that binds asylum seekers and immigration detention prisoners Josefa Rauluni, Lucia Vega Jimenez, and Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales. These women, and men, are captives in jails and prisons in which there is no suicide prevention training or planning. Quite the contrary, prisoner suicide is part of the plan. #IfIDieinPoliceCustody say my name. If she dies in police custody, #SayHerName.


(Photo Credit: al.com)


In Canada, another casualty of immigration laws and indifference

On December 20th 2013 Lucia Vega Jimenez committed suicide, hanging herself in a shower stall of a bleak border facility at the Vancouver International Airport under the jurisdiction of Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. She died eight days later in a hospital.

The Transit Police arrested Lucia for two reasons. First, she did not purchase her bus ticket. Second her name and origin could be the source of a serious offense. It became a life-and-death offense for Lucia.

After her arrest, her fate was in the hands of CBSA, who sent her to their Vancouver airport facility to await deportation.

The news of Lucia Vega Jimenez’s death surfaced over a month after she died. It has generated a number of outcries and questions. But what are the questions?

Why was she detained in quasi isolation with no contact allowed with friends and family members? What is the border that the CBSA is “defending” so harshly?

After 9-11 2001, the rhetoric about border insecurity and porosity was utilized by CBSA to implement secrecy as its regular practice through protection against terrorism legislation in 2003. According to immigration lawyer Phil Rankin, “They think themselves as the first line against terrorism.”

Exactly what borders are we talking about, as all sorts of merchandise and products travel freely thanks to manipulative trade agreements? Moreover, a certain code of silence surrounds the way the global market trade system impoverishes and destabilizes populations, especially women.

Lucia was 42. she was worried for her safety, as she had made a failed refugee claim in 2010. She was distraught, as some cash that she saved for her family had been stolen.  She was detained in a facility that is described as a very lonely, isolated place. Phil Rankin explained, “No one gets in or out. It’s very impersonal, very secure, and very private, there’s no John Howard Society, no visits from family or lawyers. They want to move these people without a fuss or muss. There’s no oversight by non-officials.”

This question of lack of independent oversight has been challenged by the BC Civil Liberties Association and No One Is Illegal, a grassroots organization that works to end detention for migrants in Canada.  Then, should we question the fact that the CBSA has contracted with a private firm (Genesis Security)?

Despite some 7000 signatures on a petition that demands an “immediate public inquiry and a comprehensive review of migrant detention policies,” the tone of some comments from forums such as a local TV forum reveals that the general public has been rendered insensitive to these questions of detention of migrants. The reality of Lucia’s death in isolation, the reality of a woman who worked and lived in Vancouver as a domestic worker, vanishes under the views that she was “illegal” and responsible for killing herself. These populist utterances are encouraged and help to camouflage the reasons for border security that justify the mistreatment of migrants and the surveillance of everyone.

We should wonder how borders have become private and secretly run to serve the global market and how in the midst of privatization and deregulation policies, Lucia Vega Jimenez had come to prefer to kill herself rather than being deported. We should wonder about the complete indifference of officials who pride themselves in defending their country, but defending their country against what?


(Image Credit: Sanctuary Health)

Who tied the knot that killed Lucia Vega Jimenez?

42-year-old Mexican immigrant Lucia Vega Jimenez died on December 28, 2013. On December 20, she was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Apparently, she had been hanging, without oxygen, for at least 40 minutes, before she was cut down and sent to hospital. Who tied the knot? Canada. The global system of `immigrant detention’. Everyone.

Everything about Lucia Vega Jimenez’s story is familiar. And it doesn’t end with her death.

In 2010, Jimenez had applied for asylum in Canada, was rejected and deported. She returned to Canada in the Spring of 2013, got a job, off the books, as a hotel cleaner, kept her head down and her nose to the grindstone. Described by a friend as a `ghost’ in Vancouver, Jimenez worked and saved money to send home to her ailing mother, sister and her sister’s three children. In late December, she was picked up for not paying bus fare, and then was flipped over to `the authorities.’ They shuttled her off to jail, and then to the holding cell, a private facility in the basement of the airport, and there she ended her life. While in detention, the money she’d saved `disappeared.’

The CBSA did not release any information for almost a month, and the `information’ has been obstructionist and opaque. So, the world asks questions.

A reporter asked: “How often were detainees checked? Were those checks visual inspections? Were there cameras monitoring the cells? Does the CBSA put out press releases at the death of a detainee (which has happened several times in the past), and is there legislation that bounds the agency to announce the death of a detainee? What is the CBSA policy regarding visitors to the YVR [Vancouver International Airport] holding center? Are lawyers, family, friends, John Howard Society, religious counsel, etc. allowed in?”

No answer was forthcoming.

Friends and advocates want to know what happened. Why did no one see Lucia Vega Jimenez for at least 40 some minutes? The Mexican government wants to know what happens to its citizens in `holding centers’. The Mexican Consul-General, Claudia Franco Hijuelos, has a particular interest: “She was fearful of going back to Mexico – not to the country, but specifically to some domestic situation that she might face. That is why we provided some options for her of transition houses where she might be housed. She considered the options and she chose one of those options. Everything was set for her to fly directly to that city in Mexico where the transition house would receive her.” According to the Consul-General, Vega “seemed to be accepting the situation.”

What happened? The questions of time – how long it took to find Vega, how long it took to `report’ her death – are part and parcel of the structure of gendered indignity for immigrant women. Four years ago, a study on health, access to services and working conditions for undocumented migrants in Canada noted: “The effects of being non-status are invariably gendered. Non-status women have been noted to be extremely vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, poor and unstable living conditions, danger, exploitation, abuse, and high risk or complications during pregnancy. Lack of status limits women’s ability to access information, seek social assistance, counseling or health care, which contributes to their reliance on unsafe and underground employment or informal networks to obtain housing … Generally, non-status women have also been noted to experience more language barriers, social isolation, and fear, in addition to lack of control over partner abuse and the effects of this on their children. In relation to policies, regularization programs and other immigration policies have been noted to reinforce dominant power relations that consequently subjugate women as dependents of their opposite sex partners.”

Lucia Vega Jimenez lived, and died, the life of the undocumented women immigrant. Precarious doesn’t begin to cover it. But she persevered. And the State? The State chose to “reinforce dominant power … that subjugates women.”


(Image Credit: http://sanctuaryhealth.blogspot.com)