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Mexico clashes with Canada over visas and extradition

November 28, 2011

Mexican legislators ask Canadian counterparts to scrap visa requirement

The possibility of lifting the visa requirement for Mexican citizens visiting Canada was the main topic of discussion at the 18th inter-parliamentary meeting in Ottawa this week.

The Canada-Mexico Parliamentary Friendship Group, which works on issues of joint concern to the two countries, is comprised of Mexican federal legislators and Canadian members of parliament. During the meeting Mexican legislators called for the elimination of the visa requirement, a move they say would provide a significant boost to bilateral relations.

Senate leader Jose Gonzalez Morfin described it as a “persistent issue that has not been properly assimilated or understood in Mexico,” while Mexico’s ambassador to Canada Francisco Barrio Terrazas said he hoped it could still be resolved during President Felipe Calderon’s term in office.

The Canadian government introduced the visa requirement in July 2009, following a significant rise in the number of Mexicans applying for refugee status.

Canada demands visas from citizens of countries not exempted under their rules of immigration and refugee protection. Mexico was formerly exempted but in 2009 the Canadian government said Mexico failed to comply with the exemption criteria, having become the main applicants for refugee status, with requests tripling between 2005 and 2009.

In 2008, for example, Mexicans filed over 9,400 refugee applications to Canada, representing 25 percent of those received. Many Mexicans were also among the immigrants who violated the conditions of their stay.

As a short-term measure, introducing the visa requirement proved easier for the Canadian government than reforming refugee laws.

The Mexican ambassador noted progress has been made in the application procedure, with the time it takes to obtain a visa having decreased over the past year. Barrio said that a refugee claim which previously took between three and four years now takes just three or four months.

Furthermore, the proportion of Mexican applicants denied a visa has dropped from 25 percent to under six percent, while complaints have also decreased considerably. However, Barrio did concede that a reform of Canada’s refugee law would likely be necessary for the current visa requirement to be eliminated.

Canada, meanwhile, had its own agenda for the meeting. Ahead of this week’s meeting, John Weston, the inter-parliamentary committee chairman, took part in a briefing from Canadian Foreign Affairs officials on the status of business, tourism, investment, security and criminal justice issues that affect relations between the two countries.

“While there are lots of business and tourism reasons for me to step up Canada’s relations with Mexico, I was especially spurred to act by the challenge of extricating innocent Canadians detained in Mexican jails,” Weston said in a news release.

“I look forward to pursuing paths to increase the number of tourists from Mexico. 1.6 million Canadians go there each year; 2,500 Canadian companies have invested about five billion, so there’s much to discuss.”

Canada reluctant to extradite union boss

Feted abroad but wanted on corruption charges in his homeland, an exiled Mexican union leader known as ‘Napo’ continues to be a thorn in the side of Mexican-Canadian relations.

Speaking at a press conference in Toronto after the inter-parliamentary meeting, Mexico’s ambassador to Canada Francisco Barrio said it remains unlikely that Napoleon Gomez Urrutia will be extradited to Mexico in the immediate future, despite requests made by the Mexican government.

The secretary general of Mexico’s National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers, Gomez has lived in Vancouver since 2006, having claimed asylum after the Mexican government filed numerous corruption charges against him.

Accused of misappropriating about 55 million dollars in union funds, Gomez continues to run the union from exile having been deemed innocent by his supporters and re-elected to a six-year term in May 2008.

Gomez upset the Mexican government in the aftermath of a mine explosion that killed 65 miners in February 2006, when he publicly accused the Vicente Fox administration of committing “industrial homicide.”

Prior to the explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos coal mine, warnings by union officials of serious safety concerns were repeatedly ignored. Then, days after the explosion, the government declared the rescue operation futile and ordered the mine to be closed and sealed, leaving the 65 bodies entombed within.

When Gomez spoke out, the government went after him and his union, freezing its bank accounts and declaring strikes to be illegal, even sending in federal troops to break them up.

The criminal charges against Gomez have been dismissed as baseless by Mexican and international human rights and labor groups, but the government remains insistent that he is guilty of large-scale fraud and corruption.

Last week, the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, awarded Gomez its 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award in Washington, D.C. Gomez’s wife had to accept the award because the U.S. State Department refused to grant him a visa for the ceremony, for reasons that are “confidential.”

In a press release, the AFL-CIO described Gomez as a “truly courageous man who has shown us how difficult and important it is to be an independent leader of a democratic union.”

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