Sunday, 09 February 2014 17:51

Pulse: Latin America

by Maria Assaf

This is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during Dec. and Jan.

Harper meets up with ethnic media in Toronto (Dec. 12, 2013)

On Nov. 28, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen organized a reception for immigrant media outlets. The event took place at the International Plaza Hotel in Toronto. El Centro News said the PM spoke about the role of ethnic media and spent some time over lunch discussing issues pertaining to each community.

The PM held a similar meeting, infamously known as the “secret ethnic media meeting,” in Vancouver early in Jan. 2014. Tim Harper, in a column for the Toronto Star, bashed ethnic media outlets in attendance for not challenging the PM on matters such as the Senate scandal, unemployment rates and Harper’s overall unpopularity.

 

Mexican woman dies in custody in Vancouver (Jan. 29, 2014)

A Mexican woman who attempted suicide while in a holding cell at Vancouver international airport, in the custody of border patrol, died on Dec. 28.

The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) had arrested Lucia Vega Jimenez in Vancouver on Dec. 1 after she was wanted for immigration violations.  

The agency kept her in detention for three weeks while authorities processed her deportation back to her native country. She attempted to kill herself on Dec. 20 and died in a hospital bed eight days later.

Noticias Montreal reported Ms. Vega, 42, had requested refugee status, which was denied in 2010.

She was fearful of returning to Mexico due to what she described as a “domestic situation” back home.

Reports stated Ms. Vega was working illegally in Canada as a hotel cleaner and sent all her wages to her ailing mother in Mexico. While in custody, someone stole all her savings.

The Mexican consulate in Vancouver said they had arranged a temporary house for Vega upon her return to Mexico City. Officials who had spoken to her earlier said notice of her death came as a surprise.

There has been controversy surrounding CBSA’s publishing of Ms. Vega’s death a month after the fact. The agency says they were not trying to keep information secret.  

The RCMP investigated the matter at the time and confirmed her death was not the result of a crime.

The CBSA has declined public interviews, but said in a public release “the health and security of those under our watch is a priority. We take this responsibility very seriously and we think it is important to determine the circumstances surrounding the loss of a life.”

This incident has generated some international tension. Mexican officials say they are anxiously waiting for accountability from Canadian authorities.  

“We are angered by what happened and we expect answers from the authorities that have jurisdiction in this case,” says Claudia Franco Hijuelos, Consul-General of Mexico.

 

Air Canada suspends ticket sales in Venezuela (Jan. 25, 2014)

Air Canada joined various international airlines Jan. 24 halting ticket sales throughout Venezuela for several hours.

The airlines were protesting the Nicolas Maduro government decision to devalue the bolivar (Venezuela’s national currency).

While this move makes flying abroad more expensive for Venezuelans, the amount that airlines collect from ticket sales in Venezuela diminished dramatically.

The companies shut down their doors to all customers while they adjusted the prices in their systems to avoid losing money.

Airlines who joined the suspension included United, Delta, Copa and American Airlines, among others.

Megan McCarthy, a spokesperson for United, said: “When the exchange rate was updated, we had to hold selling [tickets].”

The carriers have been battling the Venezuelan government, claiming it owes them $3.3 billion (U.S.).

The airlines are asking the government for bonds, cash and jet fuel in order to get even.

Sales for tickets reopened on Jan. 25, but the battle continues between international airlines and the Maduro government.

Celebrations kick off for Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce awards (Jan. 29)

On Jan. 22, the Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce recognized the achievements of some of its most prominent members.

Scotiabank was named the business of the year. The annual award was given to Dieter W. Jentsch, head of International Banking at the bank.

The ceremony, conducted by Cesar Sanguinetti, took place at the National Club. Jim Louttit, the Chamber’s president talked about major investment, imports and exports between the two nations in the last few years.

Commerce between the two countries is centered on minerals such as gold, zinc and cooper.

 

Woman who faced domestic abuse is being deported from Canada

Ivonne Angelina Hernandez was captured by a border patrol On Jan. 22

She was released three days later after reaching an agreement with the authorities that cost her $4,000 and some time in parole.

Now she is waiting to be deported back to her native country, Mexico. The date is uncertain.

Ms. Hernandez took her one-year-old son with her to an abused women shelter after a fight with her partner on Dec. 11, 2013. Her now ex-partner proceeded to denounce her to the authorities, who then arrested her.

She requested asylum when she arrived in Canada in 2009, but her application was denied in 2011. Since then, Ms. Hernandez has remained in Canada without papers.

Because of her denied-asylum status, a court gave Ms. Hernandez’s ex-partner custody of her son.

She asked for a re-opening of her case in November citing humanitarian concerns. She said she was trying to protect her son.

An American-based NGO called “Solidarity without Frontiers,” says there is little possibility that Hernandez will be allowed to remain in Canada.

“Even though Mexico has one of the most elevated domestic abuse rates in the world, the Canadian government still considers it a safe country,” stated the group.

 

New app targets Mexican diaspora

MiConsulmex is a new app designed to provide access to consular services for Mexicans residing or travelling through Canada.

Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castroy, the North American sub-secretary for the Mexican embassy in Ottawa, presented the app along with Ambassador Francisco Suarez Davila. The launch coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mexico.

The app is free and available for Apple and Android devices through these links:

The software is designed to ease access to services such as obtaining protection or scheduling appointments at one of Mexico’s five consulates in Canada as well as at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa.

According to Mexican authorities in Canada, there are more than 150,000 Mexican nationals working or studying in Canada. Mexico is the second most popular touristic destination for Canadians.  

While the app targets those of Mexican origin, it is also accessible to anyone requiring services from the Mexican government.

Published in Latin America
Thursday, 07 February 2013 00:24

Tragedy waiting to happen again

By Ranjit Bhaskar for New Canadian Media

A year ago, on February 6, 2012, 10 migrant agriculture workers being transported in a van and the Ontarian driver of a flatbed truck were killed in a horrific collision near Hampstead, Ontario.

As the tragedy’s first anniversary approached, it was in the news again when Ontario’s chief coroner decided against holding a public inquest into the crash, concluding one of the province’s deadliest-ever collisions was solely the result of driver error.

This conclusion has been contested as the tragedy was much more than a horrible road accident. It also exposed the dark underbelly of Canada’s labour market that recruits almost 300,000 temporary foreign or migrant workers each year. Workers unions and rights activists say they often work under inhumane conditions and then sent home when their visas expire.

Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada (United Food and Commercial Workers union), believes an inquest would have helped shed light on the challenges facing temporary foreign farm workers in Canada. It could have lead to blueprints for improving safety and preventing deaths and serve as a catalyst for changes to legislation and policies.

"It is a tragedy waiting to happen again," said Hanley in a press release. Last February, Hanley and the union called for an inquiry into the tragedy including how the total lack of regulations governing the transport of agriculture workers may have contributed to it.

"The coroner acknowledged the call for the inquest but that was it. A year later, nothing has happened. Why? The role of an inquest is to make recommendations to prevent such future tragedies. An inquiry would confirm that right now in Ontario, transporting cattle is more strictly regulated than transporting farm workers," said the leader of Canada's largest-private-sector union.

The Justicia for Migrant Workers collective, in an open letter to Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne, has also called for a review of the decision not to undertake an inquest into the accident. “The Chief Coroner’s refusal to further investigate one of the worst workplace accidents in the history of Ontario sends a message that the lives of those who perished -- most of whom were migrant workers -- matter less than those of other workers. We remind you that there has never been an inquest into the death of a migrant worker in the Province of Ontario, “said the letter.

"Workers are in jeopardy every day. They tell us of being carted around in the back of cube vans, open flatbed pickups, and even on top of food crates loaded behind a tractor. The Ontario government must not wait for another tragedy before it acts. A coroner's inquest into Hampstead is critical, but in the meantime, the government could move tomorrow under the Health and Safety Act to regulate and enforce safe transportation of farm workers," said Hanley, the UFCW official quoted earlier. "A year has passed since Hampstead. There is no excuse for further delay."

Right to Stay campaign

Meanwhile, an international campaign has been launched to let Juan Ariza, one of the survivors of the accident, to stay in Canada and rebuild his shattered life.

A Peruvian native like the nine other workers killed, Ariza had been in Canada for three days when tragedy struck. The 36-year-old man has been recuperating in a nursing home in London, Ontario but faces deportation unless his application is granted by the federal government.

"Juan would like to build a productive life in Canada for himself and his family, and he should have the right to do so," says Naveen Mehta, the general counsel and director of human rights, equity and diversity for UFCW Canada. Along with a network of community activists, lawyers, advocates, friends, and labour allies, UFCW Canada has joined in a campaign to support Ariza's application for permanent residency and his Right to Stay in Canada based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

"The Right to Stay (R2S) campaign is about fairness and accountability," says Mehta. "Juan was recruited by Canada to do hard and dangerous work that many others refuse to do. It is unjust and unconscionable for Canada to now dispose of him like some used up commodity because he was injured."

But Juan's application to stay in Canada has so far gone unanswered. To support Juan's request, the Right to Stay campaign has launched a public campaign, as well as a petition calling on Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to do what is right and fair, and allow Juan's request for permanent residency (to find out more about the petition, go to www.ufcw.ca/right2stay or www.change.org/right2stay).

"For the Harper government to deport Juan would result in inhumane hardship for Juan and his family, particularly given his medical condition and the lack of supports available to them in Peru," says the UFCW Canada human rights director. "The supports that he needs are in Canada and with these supports Juan would clearly be able to lead a productive life in Canada."

 - New Canadian Media

Published in Commentary

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