'Ignorant' refugee ruling could spark international incident: profs
Published Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:19PM PDT
An "ignorant" ruling that ordered a Salvadoran refugee deported because of his political membership in what is now El Salvador's democratically elected government completely misunderstood politics in the region, according to two university professors.
In fact, the conclusions in the ruling--that membership in a political party called the FMLN was equivalent to being a member of a terrorist organization -- could have serious diplomatic consequences for Canada, said one of those professors, UBC's Jerry Spiegel.
"To call this terrorism is to make a mockery of the language," said Spiegel, who researches Latin America with the Liu Institute for Global Issues. "[Salvadorans] would be greatly offended, but I would go farther. It tarnishes the good name of Canada in Latin America."
Another professor, Max Cameron, who studies Latin America in UBC's political science department, called the ruling "Jesuitical, hypocritical, and ignorant."
The professors told CTV News that membership in the FMLN was a natural political choice in the 1980s for people opposed to a brutal, right-wing oppressive regime known for death squads and politically motivated disappearances.
The FMLN was a broad coalition of several groups, said Spiegel, and while some members were responsible for attacks on local mayors, the U.N. Truth Commission concluded it was responsible for only 5 per cent of the political violence at the time.
In contrast, 85 per cent of political violence was perpetuated by militants allied with the right-wing government, he said. And now, the FMLN is El Salvador's peaceful, elected government.
The definition has real and immediate consequences for the refugee claimant, Jose Figueroa, his wife, and three children, who are now ordered out of the country after living here for 13 years. Last year, the Canadian Border Services Agency used Figueroa's admitted membership in the FLMN as evidence to declare him inadmissible to Canada.
In an oral ruling May 5, Immigration and Refugee Board member O. Nupponen told Figueroa that he believed that Figueroa himself was not involved in any terrorism.
"I accept that you were a member only of some political part of the organization…you had nothing to do with the more violent activities of the organization," he said.
But in his ruling he concluded that because some politically motivated attacks likely had the support of the organization's leadership, he could conclude that there was a likelihood that the organization engaged in terrorism.
"In my mind, there is no doubt that the FMLN did conduct a campaign of intimidation of mayors that were perceived not to be working in the best interests of what the objectives of the group were at that particular time," Nupponen wrote.
Under Canadian immigration law, Figueroa's membership in a group that engaged in terrorism is enough to bar him from Canada, Nupponen wrote.
NDP MP Peter Julian told CTV News that Canadians should be extremely concerned about the ruling.
"He's being deported because he took a political stand against the brutality of a right-wing government and that's a real problem," said Julian.
Julian said Figueroa is the kind of person Canada should welcome: he has been an active member of the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, teaching Spanish classes and helping members of the congregation prepare for aid missions to Mexico and Nicaragua.
In the 1980s, Figueroa was studying to be a teacher, graduating in 1992, the same year as a peace deal was signed, he said.
"I am not a terrorist," Figueroa told CTV News. "El Salvador is not a country of terrorists. Why is Canada treating us that way? Why is Canada doing this to our family?"
The full Jose Figueroa decision can be found here.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward