NEWS

Rwandan loses 16-year fight to stay in Canada; Mugesera to be deported back home

01/11/2012 11:05 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - After nearly two decades in Canada, a man accused of helping to incite the Rwandan genocide may be reaching the end of his legal fight to stave off deportation to his homeland.

Leon Mugesera was ordered to be deported when a Federal Court ruled Wednesday against his last-ditch effort to stay in Canada, his home for the last 19 years.

A flurry of activity, later in the day, complicated matters.

Mugesera's lawyer announced the United Nations Committee Against Torture had ordered Canada to keep him here while it investigates his claims he'd be tortured in Rwanda.

Meanwhile, Mugesera was brought to hospital to be treated for an unspecified health issue. Television images showed him being carried out of his Quebec City home, laid out on a stretcher.

His lawyer, Johanne Doyon, said the man fell ill amid the roller-coaster of developments in case.

"They told me that he had a malaise," Doyon said. "It was serious to the point that he must go to the hospital."

A university professor and one-time Rwandan political operative, Mugesera would become the first Western refugee claimant to be sent back to Rwanda to face charges related to the 1994 genocide.

He is slated to be deported as early as Thursday.

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. Hutu-backed militias later carried out a 100-day massacre of Tutsis and Hutu moderates, killing between 800,000 and one million Rwandans in 1994.

Mugesera has been involved in a lengthy legal battle with Canada to stay here — a battle that wound up before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2005.

Doyon says she's now awaiting the federal government's reaction to the UN request.

But the government issued a cryptic statement late Wednesday saying, "war criminals will find no haven on our shores," adding that Mugesera would be removed as soon as possible, "in accordance with Canadian law."

Doyon bluntly admitted there was little she could do if Ottawa decided to ignore the UN request and deport Mugesera anyway: "If they did decide to violate this I would say to you, what can I do now?"

But Doyon added that, in the past, Canada has generally heeded the wishes of the UN anti-torture body.

She said it would take the UN a few months to investigate the case, while Mugesera's deportation was delayed.

The UN would probe his claim that he risked torture back home. The current Rwandan government is led by Paul Kagame, a Tutsi who led the rebel army that fought against the Hutu-dominated regime of the early 1990s.

If the UN agrees that torture is a possibility in Rwanda, Mugesera could undergo a genocide-related trial in Canada, Doyon said.

"Mr. Mugesera could be charged in Canada for the same offense. So we'll have a chance for him to be declared guilty or innocent (here)," she said.

But the federal government has disputed the warnings of possible torture, saying it has taken all necessary steps to ensure Mugesera would be treated fairly in Rwanda.

Federal Court Judge Michel Shore's 28-page decision, handed down Wednesday, agreed with the government assessment.

Recent decisions by the European Human Rights Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which have ordered the transfer of alleged war criminals to that country, further confirm Rwanda's credibility, Shore noted.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had applauded the court decision earlier Wednesday, and expressed a desire to see Mugesera deported.

"This fellow has had 17 years in Canada," Kenney told reporters.

"He has had the advantage of every level of legal appeal — including the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Our fair legal system has determined that he is here illegally, he's guilty of serious war crimes, and that he has to face justice in his country of origin."

Kenney noted that the Canadian government had received assurance from the Rwandan government that Mugesera faced no threat of torture or execution if he returned home.

Canada had 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.

"We do not send people back if our legal system determines that they are likely to face cruel and unusual punishment or risk to their life," Kenney said.

"Our system has determined that (Mugesera) does not face such risk — and it's time for him to go."

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