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Danger is Better Than Jail

Bored but Not Broken: blogs from jail

by Mandy Hiscocks

Mandy Hiscocks is blogging from prison (Vanier Centre for Women) at where she is spending a 16 month sentence for offences relating to anti-G20 organizing.

The following story is based on informal conversations and an interview with an inmate being detained by Immigration Canada and not for any (alleged) contravention of the Criminal Code. Unless I refer to myself personally I wasn't a witness to any of the events described. I wrote her story as it was told to me and she approved the final draft. The language barrier was quite a challenge, and I'd like to thank the other Russian-speaking inmates on our range for their help with translation.

I should point out that for safety reasons I had some misgivings about printing the person's real name, but after a long discussion she assured me that she really wanted it to be there. After thinking about it more and in consultation with people on the outside, I decided to change the name after all. It's been done without her knowledge or consent and I still feel conflicted about it.

On June 4, 2012, Tatyana arrived at Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario on a flight from Latvia. She came to Canada with a valid passport and a letter she'd had translated into English, explaining that she was seeking political asylum. At the airport she was sent to the office of the Canadian Border Services Agency, who questioned her, took her passport, and then left her to roam the airport overnight. The next day she met with them again, and was questions some more. There was no lawyer present during these meetings; sometimes an interpreter was provided (over the phone) and sometimes not. The June 5 encounter ended with her in handcuffs, and she was put into a car and driven to Vanier Centre for Women. She wasn't told she was being taken to jail – although the handcuffs were an indication something was wrong – and to this day she doesn't understand why she's here. I asked her what she expected would happen when she stepped off the plane. “I thought I would speak with someone, an official, about political asylum and they would say yes or no. If they said no, I would buy a ticket and go back.” She suspects that maybe Immigration Canada thought she'd try to stay illegally “but that is not my way. I told them I'd go back.” At the airport she wasn't a prisoner, she was left to wander – so they obviously couldn't have been that worried.

At Vanier, worrying is policy. “Immigration Holds for Removal or Extradition” are one of four categories of inmates who cannot be moved off maximum security, ever. Regardless of circumstances or behaviour they are seen to be a flight risk. Tatyana was placed on 2F where there are currently a lot of women dealing with immigration issues, many of them from Eastern Europe.

Immigration Canada came to speak with her three times during her detention. The first time no lawyer was present; the other two were the only times her lawyer came to the jail to visit her. She described the opportunity to speak with counsel in private as “very brief” and her overall experiences with her lawyer as frustration and confusing. She was unsure where the lawyer came from or how she was assigned to the case – it seems she just showed up one day with the people from Immigration Canada. I asked Tatyana how her relationship with her lawyer was and she said “There was no relationship. She didn't do anything. Every time I tried to call her I could never reach her.” On June 14 during her second meeting with Immigration Canada, she signed a document that withdrew her claim for refugee protection, essentially signing off on her own deportation. I asked her why, and she told me that she believed that in Canada refugee protection and political asylum were not the same thing. Her lawyer was present at that time and said nothing, except that she should be on her way home within a few weeks.

Confused about the reason for her detention and seeking help and information, Tatyana had tried to call the Latvian embassy. Unfortunately all calls from jail are collect and the embassy (like many embassies and consulates, shockingly) does not accept them. So she asked her Vanier social worker for help, hoping to place a call from her office. Instead she was told the social worker would make the call herself. She doesn't know if that ever happened, but in any case nobody from the embassy got in touch. Not knowing what to do, on June 22 she began a hunger strike. She put a note in to management explaining that she would refuse to eat until she could speak to the Latvian embassy. The guards either couldn't care less that she wasn't lining up for meals, or they were openly hostile. I watched one male guard freak out and scream at her: “TAKE YOUR TRAY! I don't care what you do with it, but I have to put it in your hands. SO TAKE IT FROM ME!” Covering his ass, basically, while not bothering to give a fuck about why she wasn't eating. In cast it wasn't until the fourth day that a guard actually came in to talk to her about it. At the end of the conversation she was escorted to her cell by the guard and a white shirt, told to pack up her stuff, and then escorted off the range. I asked her where they were taking her. She didn't know. “That's not your concern,” I was told, to which I replied “Actually it is my concern.”

For one thing, we were worried about her. People get punished for protesting here, and seg is no doubt a rough place if you don't speak fluent English. In addition she had asked me to get in touch with her lawyer somehow to tell her about the hunger strike and to keep her posted should anything happen. Anyway, later I was taken off the range and given a talking to by both the guard and the white shirt. When they do this they make you stand with your back against the wall and then they stand way too close. I was told to mind my own business and not to be concerned with the business of others. “Well that's the whole problem with the world, isn't it?” I say. “That everyone's only concerned with themselves. I don't play that game.” (Shit, I'm thinking, I hope I don't get thrown in the hole for this.) I was told that if I'd interfered with an inmate removal when it was “about something important” I'd have gotten a misconduct. I suppose we'll call that the Giving A Shit misconduct, shall we?

As it turns out there was no real need to worry after all. The guard was indeed concerned and being helpful. (the first one in four days!) and Tatyana was seen by a doctor and finally given the opportunity to speak to someone at the embassy – 22 days after she was detained at the airport. The embassy told her they would oversee the deportation procedures. Within a week Tatyana was back on 2F.

On July 8, she signed a waiver of application for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. I asked her what that meant, and she didn't know. “They told me to sign it for my deportation.” She had no idea what the text of the waiver said – neither Immigration Canada nor her lawyer ensured that it be translated for her – but she was told it would make her ticket home come faster. So she signed, “because I didn't want to keep sitting in jail.”

On July 17 Tatyana received notification from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) that her ticket had been booked. She would fly back to Latvia on July 19. On July 18 she was told the flight had been canceled. She got angry; she yelled; she was sent to the hole. She's back on 2F now, with a new deportation date of July 22. She doesn't know if it's for real this time.

She is still bewildered by what's happened to her. Why could she not just have bought her own ticket back if Canada wouldn't grant her political asylum? Why did she spend a month and a half in jail waiting to be deported? Why didn't her lawyer explain things? She's glad, after all the waiting and uncertainty, that something is happening. I once asked her if she'd be in danger if she went back. “Yes. But danger is better than jail.” So what will she do? “I'm looking for another country now. Because I can't stay in Latvia.”

* * *

Tatyana left the range on July 22. Presumably she was taken to the airport. Tatyana, if you're reading this, I hope you're okay and I wish you all the best. Thank you for sharing your story. Again, I'm sorry for using a fake name, but I would hate for something shitty to happen to you because of this blog post.

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