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Rwandan man facing deportation making last-ditch plea to stay in Canada

01/09/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 03/09/2012 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - The lawyer for a Rwandan man facing imminent deportation to his native country to face charges of inciting genocide has made a last-ditch legal plea to keep him on Canadian soil.

Leon Mugesera has fought for nearly 16 years to remain in the country — a fight that took the Rwandan academic all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It could all come to an end on Thursday when the alleged war criminal is scheduled to be kicked out, six years after the country's highest court upheld an order to expel him.

The Quebec City man is accused of helping to incite Rwanda's genocide by delivering a 1992 speech that promoted the killing of ethnic Tutsis.

A warrant was issued for his arrest but he fled to Canada and quickly gained permanent resident status, subsequently revoked.

Months after he'd left, Hutu-backed militias led the 100-day massacre of Tutsis and Hutu moderates in 1994, killing between 800,000 and one million Rwandans.

Mugesera smiled and hugged supporters as he entered the Federal Court in Montreal. He has lived in Quebec since 1993 and had a hearing room packed with supporters who agree that his life is in danger if he is returned to Rwanda.

Lawyer Johanne Doyon argued Monday on Mugesera's behalf in Federal Court, seeking a judicial review and a delay of Thursday's scheduled expulsion.

Doyon has been on the case since mid-December and called Ottawa's decision rushed and without proper due diligence for Mugesera's safety.

The current Rwandan government under President Paul Kagame views Mugesera as an opponent and even an enemy, Doyon said, and her client could be tortured.

Doyon argued that a refugee claimant like Mugesera should not be deported unless he's been convicted or is a threat to Canada.

"But this is not the case for Leon Mugesera. He has not been convicted. He has not had access to a fair and equitable trial in front of his peers and in front of justice," Doyon said.

She said the Canadian Charter of Rights, as well as international treaties, should protect him from deportation in light of his status as a refugee.

And Doyon said that the Canadian government is wrong to accept diplomatic assurances from the Rwandan government that Mugesera won't be harmed.

"The fact that there are diplomatic assurances already indicates there is a problem," Doyon said.

Exhibits introduced by Mugesera's lawyer — letters and affidavits from people familiar with the situation in Rwanda — state that Mugesera's life would be in danger if returned.

"It's not just fiction — and not something a diplomatic guarantee can erase," Doyon said.

Canada has been reluctant to deport Mugesera in the past because he could have faced the death penalty in Rwanda.

However, Rwanda dropped the death penalty for convicted war criminals in 2007.

In recent months, The European Human Rights Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have each rendered decisions ordering accused war criminals back to Rwanda.

Canadian government lawyers said those rulings coupled with an exhaustive look at the situation today assures them that Mugesera would not be harmed if returned.

Federal court Judge Michel Shore will ultimately decide whether Mugesera stays or goes.

After a series of questions from the judge that Doyon found partial, she advised Shore she'd seek to have the judge recuse himself from the case.

But Shore argued he was simply trying to ensure justice prevails in the case by covering all bases.

Mugesera has demanded that any allegations against him be heard in Canada.

Mugesera has been fighting Canadian authorities since 1995.

Two Canadian immigration tribunals upheld decisions to deport him but the Federal Court of Appeal overruled their decision.

Federal lawyers argued the case right up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld his deportation in 2005.

A final decision against Mugesera was rendered in December 2011 that declared his life would not be in danger if he were returned to stand trial.

"We see that the Rwandan government is making efforts to make things better — notably to the justice system, fair and equitable trials and impartiality of judges," said federal lawyer Lisa Maziade, a comment met with snickering from Mugesera's supporters.

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