June 26, 2008
Federal Court tosses out refugee board decisions, giving families
another chance at a life in Canada
The following article appeared in the Toronto Star June 25, 2008
In a series of stunning decisions, the Federal Court of Canada has
jumped to the defence of Mexican women trying to stay in Canada to
escape violence and abuse.
Six rulings in the past six weeks tossed aside decisions by the
Immigration and Refugee Board. In one case, the board had declared that
a 17-year-old girl’s kidnapping and rape by the Los Zetas drug gang was
“horrific” but wasn’t bad enough to meet the threshold of “atrocious and
All must now return to a different panel of the refugee board to have
their case reheard for a final decision on whether they can stay.
“We are very thankful. Canadian people are very humanitarian,” said one
of the women seeking asylum in Canada, who wished to remain anonymous.
Mexicans in the past few years have surged to the top of the list of
people asking Canada for refugee protection, from 1,649 claims in 2001
to 7,062 last year. Many are middle-class people trying to escape
extortion, kidnapping and violence by flourishing drug cartels that have
spawned “the increasing Colombianization of Mexico,” in the words of
Judith Teichman, an author and professor of political science
specializing in Latin America at the University of Toronto.
But 89 per cent of claims are rejected, and the sticking point in almost
every case is whether the person could get enough protection by Mexican
authorities or could move to another part of the country.
“Unbearably high levels of violence against women continue to exist in
Mexico,” a UN report quoted by the court said. “Police corruption
continues to be a major problem and many police officers are involved in
kidnapping and extortion. Many believe that sexism and even violence
against women are part of the social fabric.”
The court used that evidence in the case of Erika Zamora Huerta, who
fled to Toronto because her common-law husband, a federal investigator
with the Mexican police, beat her and hunted her down in another state.
The board had argued that the Mexican government was passing laws and
creating programs to help women. Good intentions do not count, said the
“The board seems to have preconceived ideas of Mexico,” said Robert
Blanshay, a lawyer who represented two of the women. “Perhaps a member
has gone on vacation in Puerto Vallarta and thought, `This is very
nice.’ It’s all very political. Our government has very close relations
“There is a disconnect” between what Mexicans know of their country and
the board’s impressions, said John Norquay, who represented Zamora
Huerta. “The board says, `You can move to Mexico City.’ And they say,
`Mexico City is the most dangerous place in the country.'”
One of the women, sitting in a coffee shop this week, was rigid with
fear for the future of her family.
While they wait for their second Ã¢â‚¬” and final Ã¢â‚¬” chance, she and a sister
volunteer at a nursing home and food bank and study English. Their
children dream of careers as police officers, graphic designers and
doctors. And they marvel at el corazon, the heart, they have found in
this Canadian city.
When the government cut English classes, a teacher volunteered to tutor
her son by e-mail. Families donate clothes. Teachers and friends at a
Spanish-language church have become family.
They lost their refugee hearing because they lacked documents, but had
fled without even suitcases. The Federal Court berated the board for its
blinkered insensitivity. “Mexican authorities do not adequately protect
women against violence and abuse,” the court said.
Here is a synopsis of the six Toronto-area cases:
Osiris Leticia Padilla Perez was a 17-year-old in Tabasco when she was
kidnapped and raped by Los Zetas drug gang. The board agreed her
treatment was “a horrific event for a young woman” but not “appalling
and atrocious,” the board’s requirement for refugee status.
Sara Triana Aguirre fled Mexico with her sister Sabrina to get away from
her husband. A drug cartel operative, he tracked them from city to city,
pistol-whipped his stepson, trashed their house and shot the family dog.
Christel Pena Vargas sued the once all-powerful PRI after she was fired
as a 27-year-old public relations assistant when the party lost an
election. She was threatened, fled to another city, was hospitalized
when her car brakes failed and two of her lawyers died.
Zamora Huerta’s common-law husband, a police interrogator, burned all of
her documents after he tracked her down to another city. She had fled
beatings that left her arm broken.
Rosa Alejandra Hurtado-Martinez was sexually assaulted by her neighbour,
a police commander, who attacked her husband two days later. She and her
daughter fled from city to city, but the commander managed to trace her.
Gisela Gallo Farias was 16 when a high-profile politician took her out
of her housing project, gave her clothes and gifts and brought her to
official functions. Three years later, the abuse started, including a
beating and rape when she refused to take her clothes off at a party and
a beating that caused a miscarriage.
MEXICO AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The standard grounds for denying refugee claims by Mexicans is that
there is adequate state protection in the country, that Mexico is a
democracy or that the person could move to another part of the country.
Here is recent information about Mexico:
An average of four women are murdered each day. In 2006, the Special
Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Related to Acts of Violence Against
Women in the Country (FEVIM) was established. The prosecutor found that
90 per cent of women who were assassinated had sought help from the
During the six years of the Vicente Fox administration (2000-2005), 32
journalists were murdered and five disappeared. During the first 14
months of the administration of President Felipe Calderon three
journalists have disappeared, four have been murdered, and two have had
attempts made on their lives.
During the Fox administration, 1,500 drug-related executions took place
annually. Under Calderon, there were 2,120 executions in 2006 and 2,275
in 2007.In 2005 and 2006, the National Human Rights Commission received
186 and 182 complaints against the military, respectively, while in 2007
the number of complaints doubled to 367.
Human rights organizations there have a budget of $73 million. Despite
that, Human Rights Watch in February produced a report documenting a
profound lack of human rights in Mexico.
York University’s Judith Adler Hellman, who’s spent 40 years studying
Mexico, said in a 2007 report: “No well-informed person in Mexico would
be inclined to turn to the police for help.”
Link to the Toronto Star Article
PWRDF story, Feb.2008
Rampant violence in Mexico sends refugees to Canada
PWRDF Story March 10, 2007
PWRDF Delegation Off to Mexico