Spinning the wheel of conscience Mexican journalist appeals to stay in Canada

At this time last year, a memorial was unveiled at Halifax’s Pier 21 to mark the spot where the M.S. St. Louis would have docked in 1939, offering 907 German Jews security on Canadian soil. “Would have” are the key words.

Canada turned the ship away, refusing entry to the passengers onboard. Of the 907 Jews returning to an uncertain fate in Europe, 254 did not survive the Holocaust.

The memorial, appropriately called The Wheel of Conscience, is meant to shed light on a dark corner of Canadian history.

Yet, the wheel of conscience has apparently stopped spinning as Canada may be repeating its mistakes with an ineffectual refugee determination system.

Despite escalating violence and an obvious collapse of the rule of law in Mexico, Canada maintains a tight belt around refugee claims of its hemispherical neighbour.

Karla Berenice García Ramírez

Karla Berenice García Ramírez - Photo courtesy of UBC

One such example is the story of 38-year-old journalist and Mexican national Karla Berenice García Ramírez, who now lives in Surrey.

While working for a government ministry in Mexico, the National Council for Culture and Arts (Conaculta), Ramírez uncovered several cases of corruption, including diversion of public funds with impunity. But, given that the culprit is one of the most influential cultural institutions in Mexico, no publication would publish her allegations.

Afraid of the death threats and intimidation targeted at her and her family, Ramírez and her husband, Cesar Casso, fled to Canada as asylum seekers in 2008. They now have a 17-month-old daughter and a newborn baby, both born in Canada.

Yet, she continued to speak up on the corruption witnessed in the Mexican government. With the aid of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, she published the book El Talento de los Farsantes (The Talent of Charlatans) last July, where she details her findings on the National Council for Culture and Arts, including “fake payments from the federal budget to ghost workers.”

Appeal Launched

With the request for refugee status denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), Ramírez explains that they then applied for a pre-removal risk assessment, which would allow them to remain in the country and apply to become permanent residents.

In 2011, the pre-removal risk assessment was also denied. She is now waiting for a response from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on whether the decision can be appealed.

In a press conference on Jan. 19, Ramírez announced that they are appealing to stay in Canada on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

Any individual can apply to remain in the country through this avenue, however the CIC website specifically indicates that applications to become a permanent resident on these grounds are approved “only in exceptional circumstances” and can take many years to process.

In other words, if Ramírez and her family receive a removal order, their application would continue to be processed, but they would have to leave Canada regardless. With their refugee claim denied and appeal refused, a deportation order seems imminent.

The migrant justice group, No One Is Illegal (NOII), garnered letters from community organizations and individual academics citing support for her case.

A report published by Reporters Without Borders in September 2011 echoes some of the points brought up by Ramírez’s supporters, namely that Mexico continues to be a dangerous country, particularly for journalists.

Refugee Claims

According to a news release on the CIC website, Canada received more than 9,400 Mexican refugee claims in 2008, almost triple the amount of 2005. Egged on by increasing claims from Mexico and a clogged processing system, Canada imposed visas on Mexican visitors in mid-2009. The number of refugee claims has declined significantly since then.

In a quotation from IRB spokesperson Melissa Anderson posted on the NOII website, approval of Mexican refugee protection claims have been “historically low,” ranging from 10 to 17 per cent since 2006.

Of the refugee determination process, Ramírez contends that “the refugee decisions are subjectively taken by one person, one God: the judge, the officer.”

She also criticizes that the system cannot effectively and efficiently determine founded refugee claims from ones that are just “hilariously fake.”

Alexander Dawson, Director of Latin American Studies at SFU

Alexander Dawson, Director of Latin American Studies at SFU - Photo courtesy of SFU

Director of Latin American Studies at SFU, Alexander Dawson, agrees that Canada should revisit its tools and policies around refugee determination.

“Vendettas that are unrelated to the drug war are often carried out with complete impunity under its cover,” Dawson explains.

“It is my hope that the Canadian government begins to adopt a posture that reflects the serious nature of these crises, and acts in a less restrictive manner in these types of refugee claims.”

In the meantime, Ramírez will continue to care for her daughters and contribute in her community in Surrey and Vancouver.

She states that, while part of their hearts are still in Mexico, she and her family envision their lives here “as Canadian citizens.”

“Sadly, [going back] to Mexico is not an option.”