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Monday, 22 June 2015

Trudeau and asylum for Mexican torture victims

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has promised to lift the Mexican visa requirement should his party form the next government. The requirement was put in place in 2009 to stem a flood in asylum claims.

The olive branch is a good idea. The visa, as presently structured, is punitive in the extreme, with many Mexicans unable to fulfil the onerous bureaucratic requirements.  This would go a long way toward improving strained relations between the two countries. A complete cancellation, however, would likely result in a flood of asylum claimants – something Trudeau did not address in his speech.

Trudeau’s speech, called “Canada 2020” (after a Liberal Party think tank of the same name), largely focused on renewing U.S.-Canada relations. However, the Mexican component was not insignificant, and Trudeau – perhaps not surprisingly – stuck to the easy pitches with determined myopia.

He accurately noted that Prime Minister Harper’s attitude to Mexico “has been belligerent and borderline churlish,” adding that “Mexico is now an equal or greater strategic preoccupation in Washington than Canada.”

He pushed for a North American clean energy agreement. That would be difficult, but well worth aiming for. How that ties in with Mexico’s liberalized oil industry, the explosion in fracking in the U.S. and Mexico, and Trudeau’s own support for Keystone, is unclear.

What Trudeau ignored is worth noting. We are fools not to acknowledge the depths of the problems that plague Mexico. Opening the door might be noble, but the reality must be addressed with a supporting plan. Otherwise, we’ll end up with a poorly thought out policy with unforeseen consequences.

Here’s how bad it is in Mexico: in the last eight years, there have been seven thousand complaints of torture by citizens against state authorities. Of these, only 123 went to court, with a paltry seven convictions. Judges are complicit, partly explaining why 64% of Mexicans say that, should they be detained by the police, they would fear being tortured. The situation has become so dire that thousands of accused individuals have requested “amparos” – a kind of judicial protection – specifically saying they do not want to be tortured. This has led many to believe that torture in Mexico has become de facto state policy.

According to the Mexican journalist and researcher Sanjuana Martínez, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission provides cover for the country’s ruling class, ensuring their impunity. This is evident, says Ms. Martínez, by the huge volumes of documentation making it clear that state authorities have obtained statements from people they have tortured. From there, any recommendations emitting from Mexico’s Human Rights Commission are simply ignored by the Mexican government.

"There are many different types of torture, and they continue to increase,” says Ms. Martínez. “This includes waterbagging, forced nudity, beatings, rape, electric shocks, including to genitals, suffocation with chile, burning with torches. Under these practices people sign anything.”

When speaking of Mexico as part of any major policy announcement, it would make sense for a leader like Trudeau – or Thomas Mulcair, or Stephen Harper – to address the very real problems the country is facing. An estimated 100,000 people have died in a drug war. Corruption is rampant. So is torture. That reality is significant, and not to be ignored, particularly when forming policy.

TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel



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