Sunday 12 January 2014

Embassy suspends visits to Canadian jailed in Mexico

A Mexican jail
An unclassified letter dated November 15, 2013, and obtained by La politica, has confirmed what Bruce Vigfusson, a Canadian currently serving a four-and-a-half year sentence in a Mexican jail for assault, has been saying for some time: in-person visits from Canadian embassy personnel have been suspended due to Mr. Vigfusson’s “verbally aggressive” behaviour toward a consular officer.

The letter is somewhat contradictory. It states that staff are “considering a reduction in the frequency of in-person consular visits.” (Normally in Mexico a Canadian prisoner could expect to be seen every three months.) However, the letter ends by saying that “we will consider reinstating in-person consular visits if your attitude changes,” a de facto acknowledgement that Mr. Vigfusson has, in effect, been put on probation by consular staff.

The letter clearly states that the embassy has no tolerance for “aggressive or threatening behaviour” and that, in accordance with the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development’s (DFATD’s) Prevention of Violence in the Workplace Policy, in such circumstances “corrective measures or temporary withdrawal of services will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

What exactly did Mr. Vigfusson say?

“I told them to grow some balls,” he told La politica in a telephone interview. “I told them to get off their asses and start helping me.”

Mr. Vigfusson was detained September 12, 2012, for an incident in August 28, 2012, in Hermosillo, Sonora, in which he was the victim of a home invasion and, according to Mexican authorities, assaulted one of his attackers.  He was sentenced on May 30, 2013, and served his time in Hermosillo until October 9, 2013, when he was transferred to another prison in Nogales, Sonora, which is on the border with Arizona.

“They sent me here in a pair of shorts and huaraches [sandals],” he tells La politica. “It gets really cold here. The embassy has done nothing.”

Canadians are often confused with regard to the role of consular officials, and the relative power they may wield. Canadian embassy staff have no authority, and will not attempt, to secure preferential treatment for imprisoned Canadians, or to seek exemption from the law, and cannot interfere in a foreign country’s judicial affairs.

According to the Canadian government’s own guidelines, “Consular officials can provide a list of lawyers who have expertise in your particular type of case and who may have represented Canadians in the past. They cannot, however, recommend specific lawyers.”

According to Mr. Vigfusson, however, Canadian consular officials made recommendations with regard to legal counsel.

“They told me they had talked to the judge and to go with the abogado de oficio [public defender],” he says. “This entire time they have done me more damage than good.”

Mr. Vigfusson has expressed significant frustration with one consular official in particular, with whom a complaint has been lodged. Mr. Vigfusson has alleged to La politica that during a telephone interview the officer openly accused Mr. Vigfusson of sending emails from prison. The conversation was on speaker phone, which allowed Mexican prison officials, some of whom understand English, to be given the impression that Mr. Vigfusson was surreptitiously communicating with the outside – a serious breach of prison rules.

“I have no personal phone, and only call from the pay phone,” says Mr. Vigfusson. “The officer was claiming that I was sending emails to Canada. It was on speaker phone. After that they searched me and my cell. It was very irresponsible. He [the officer] doesn’t realize what it’s like in here. It’s rough. I wish he could live one day in jail, then maybe he’d get off his ass and help me.”

For its part, DFATD remains circumspect, though it has told La politica that consular services are being provided to Mr. Vigfusson.

“Canadian consular officials continue to be in contact with local authorities to gather additional information, as appropriate,” says Mathieu Roy, a spokesperson for DFATD.

It should be noted that La politica has only communicated to Mr. Vigfusson by phone. The referenced unclassified letter was obtained by a friend of Mr. Vigfusson’s, who received it directly from the Canadian embassy.

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

1 comment:

  1. Why are we dealing with a country in a free trade agreement when they fail to honour the human rights of Canadian citizens working abroad. Mr.Vigfusson had his rights violated and didn't receive a fair trail to which he is entitled and died in captivity which awaiting an appeal. The Mexican's have the audacity to complain about their citizens when they die in custody such as at the Canadian border but become indifferent when it applies to our Canadian citizens. It appears Bruce was only defending himself against a violent home invasion and did not receive the due process owed to him. Beware about accepting employment in Mexico.