Federal Court grants Reprieve for abused Mexican women

Posted by admin on Jun 25th, 2008

Toronto Star. June 25, 2008. Lesley Ciarula Taylor

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 appalling.” 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 court.

“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 with Mexico.”

“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 – and final – 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 email. 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.

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 authorities.

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 therehave 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.”

Source: The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund

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