Alois Dvorzak wanted desperately to see his estranged daughter Alenka before he died. He also planned to be buried next to his wife Dana. He got neither.
Instead, the frail, ill, 84-year-old former Salmon Arm man died in shackles, the last three weeks of his life spent shuttled between hospital and a bleak detention centre.
His death has sparked calls for change to the British immigration system and for improved supports for citizens from the Canadian government.
According to British and Canadian media reports, Dvorzak arrived at Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of central London, on Jan. 23, 2013. With $1,400 dollars, confused, no luggage and no travel documents, he was detained by immigration officials. He told officials he was trying to visit his daughter in Slovenia.
Reports from the inquest into his death state the Canadian High Commission suggested he be placed in a hotel, but officials in England thought he was not well enough to travel and should have minimal supervision. Social services couldn’t help so he spent that first night sleeping in chairs in the airport’s family room.
At some point immigration personnel were allegedly told by Canadian officials that Dvorzak had been taken to hospital in Canada from a care home two days earlier after he appeared to be having a breakdown and assaulted a staff member. They were also told he was taking more than a dozen types of medication for diabetes, cardiac problems, anxiety and depression.
A doctor who examined him in England is reported to have deemed him confused and vulnerable, but Dvorzak was then sent for a hospital assessment where he was deemed fit to fly.
Media reports say that Dvorzak at different times refused to eat, refused medication and refused to fly, wanting to complete his journey to Slovenia.
He ended up at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, a detention centre near Heathrow Airport that can accommodate more than 650 men. Internet photos show its fences topped by razor wire.
Because Dvorzak had no relatives who could be contacted, and was elderly and frail, he did not fit any of the bureaucratic services available.
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman stated there was nothing to support him, given that he had no family or friends in the United Kingdom, social services there would not help him, and neither would the Canadian High Commission.
A doctor at the detention centre is reported to have warned on Jan. 30 that Dvorzak was very frail and detention would further damage his health.
He was twice taken to hospital handcuffed to his guard.
Reports state that the last time, Feb. 10, a handcuff remained on his wrist until his heart stopped.
The inquest was told that Dvorzak’s death sparked a review of the detention centre’s policy, which will no longer handcuff people who are being taken to hospital.
Although Dvorzak’s life in Salmon Arm is difficult to piece together, it is known that in 1991 he went to the Tappen Cemetery to buy a plot for himself and his second wife Dana, who had just died. She was 58.
Tappen Cemetery manager Nicolaas Snoek remembers him, and finds it strange that he was not buried in his own plot, next to his wife.
“I thought he would want that.”
He probably did but, as it turned out, but the indignity continued beyond death.
Media reports say that Dvorzak’s body was not claimed so he was cremated four months later and his ashes sprinkled in a garden of remembrance.
Snoek remembers Dvorzak’s electrical repair shop in Salmon Arm where he took electronics to be fixed in the 1980s.
“He was pretty quiet – I don’t think he was overly social,” Snoek recalls. “He always had a suit on.”
Media reports state that he was an electrical engineer by profession.
In 2012 Bowers Funeral Home called Snoek because Dvorzak had come in, wanting to confirm he still had a plot in Tappen.
Realtor Linda Rohlfs also remembers him.
She says she sold his five-acre property and home in Gleneden for him in 2012, a house he built himself.
“He did a lot of work,” she recalls.
She said the transaction was co-ordinated through social services, but Dvorzak participated and knew what was happening.
She said his appearance was memorable.
“He looked very distinguished. He had a very pointed beard and looked very distinguished.”
Although he sold his property for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s not known where his funds ended up.
Dvorzak lived in a basement suite in Blind Bay and later moved to a care home, but the Observer wasn’t able to determine where.
One media report states that the hospital he was in two days prior to his flight to England was the Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock.
Reports also state that officials reached his daughter after his death, but she opted not to attend the inquest.