Ottawa betrays contempt for Mexicans, Roma

Last month, in a snap decision imposed within a 24-hour period, Ottawa imposed a visa restriction on Mexican and Czech travellers.

Last month, in a snap decision imposed within a 24-hour period, Ottawa imposed a visa restriction on Mexican and Czech travellers.

Is this any way to conduct national policy?

The problem, if indeed there is one, is a tripling of refugee claims from Mexico since 2005.

This is hardly surprising.

Mexico is in crisis. The government of Felipe Calderon has declared war on drug cartels, reversing the blind-eye approach of previous administrations.

No doubt he’s got several reasons for doing so, not the least of which is because the US and Canada are being flooded with narcotics from Mexican cartels and those nations’ tough-on-crime governments have demanded Calderon staunch the flow.

As a result, some drug lords have been prosecuted, but at a heavy price – more than 9,500 people have been killed, officials have been assassinated, kidnappings are common and there are running gun battles in the streets of Mexico’s cities.

It has forced some international experts to muse whether Mexico is a failed state.

Not surprisingly, given all the pandemonium, Mexican citizens are scrambling to escape the place.

And refugee claims are rising.

Last year, there were more than 9,400 claims from Mexican nationals seeking refugee status in Canada. That represents 25 per cent of all refugee claims made in Canada.

But Mexicans rarely qualify as refugees. Only 11 per cent of the claims were accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

So, to deal with this four-year-old problem, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney slapped a visa restriction on Mexico.

A similar order was applied to the Czech Republic, where the number of refugee claims from Roma have skyrocketed, largely because of a rise in far-right extremism in the country.

So, on July 13, travellers from those countries didn’t need a visa. On July 14 they did.

“The visa requirement I am announcing will give us a greater ability to manage the flow of people into Canada and verify bona fides,” said Kenney in a news release.

The result was that Mexicans who had bought plane tickets to Canada had to line up for hours before the Canadian embassy, or simply cancel their plans.

“There were people sleeping there with their suitcases,” said Cesar Damian, a Mexican artist visiting the Yukon. “You stand in line and there is a big wall and loudspeakers, and every 20 minutes they would ask four people to come in.

“I saw people who didn’t get their visas. It felt like we weren’t welcome.”

It’s a fair statement.

Imagine, for a moment, Canada slapping such a unilateral travel restriction on British, US, French, German or other First World nationals.

It wouldn’t happen.

Such a decision, if made at all, would be implemented over a year, or more, with huge effort being made to ensure people knew the change was coming, allowing them to plan accordingly.

The fact Canada whipped up such an order against Mexicans and Czech citizens suggests a fundamental lack of respect for people living in these countries.

Not only is it bad for tourism, it is bad for international relations.

The visa restriction was a knee-jerk reaction to a four-year-old problem. As such it goes beyond bad policy.

It borders on racism. (Richard Mostyn)