Friday, November 23, 2007

A 'serious' concern with fairness

Nov 04, 2007 04:30 AM
Thomas Walkom

In 1996, a 41-year-old Colombian trade unionist applied at the Canadian embassy in Mexico City to immigrate to Canada. Amparo Torres was well-known in the region. She was a founding member of the Union Patriotica, a coalition of leftist political parties created a few years earlier at the behest of Colombia's then president in order to bring an end to decades of guerrilla warfare. She had also been kidnapped by one of the country's right-wing death squads.

Unlike most of the "disappeared" who suffered that fate, she survived and fled to Mexico.

Torres was up front with the Canadian embassy. She didn't hide her politics (she's a Communist) or her family affiliations. Her brother Jorge is a leader of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), Colombia's largest, oldest and deadliest guerrilla faction. Her ex-spouse, Luis Urbano, had by 1996 joined FARC and become its international spokesman.

But she herself, she told Canadian officials, did not belong to FARC.

As a high-profile political refugee, she was almost certainly vetted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (although CSIS won't confirm that). The upshot was that Canada welcomed her as a permanent resident.

She settled in Toronto and got a job in a travel agency. Two sons, now both Canadian citizens, attended university. She married. She continued to be active politically and give speeches.

After one speech, CSIS agents interviewed her about her views. They seemed satisfied.

Then came 9/11 and the war on terror. To a new Colombian government determined to crush its guerrilla opponents, the U.S.-led crusade was a godsend. Normally sensible countries were now in a tizzy over terrorism.

In 2003, Canada officially listed FARC as a terrorist body. A few months later, Torres found CSIS was investigating her again.

This time, she says, agents interviewed her friends and associates. She says they told her boss that if she continued to work there, the company might be proscribed as a terrorist front. Torres was fired.

She hired a lawyer; CSIS replied by upping the ante.

In May 2005, she was informed that a member of the immigration and refugee board, a quasi-judicial tribunal, had begun hearing evidence in secret to determine if she should be deported to Colombia. The hearing is still going on

To Torres, all of this is a nightmare. Neither she nor her lawyer, Raoul Boulakia, are allowed to know the substance of the allegations against her. All they know, on the basis of an edited summary, is that CSIS claims to have "reasonable grounds" to believe that she belongs to a terrorist organization.

Torres has been able to successfully counter some of what the government has presented during open sessions of the hearing. But she can't dispute the meat of the CSIS argument because she simply doesn't know what it is.

So far, the courts have refused to derail the hearing, although on Monday, federal court judge Anne Mactavish ruled that there is potentially a "serious" concern about its fairness.

"This process forces me to constantly remember all the abuses and tragedies I try not to dwell on," writes Torres in her court affidavit. "I live with fear of being deported, tortured and killed.

"It is a constant reminder of my plight in Colombia as it repeats themes of my disappearance in Colombia: . . . being a victim of slander or evidence I am not allowed access to . . . having a life I am trying to establish wrecked; being powerless compared to state actors who act with complete impunity."