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Ontario woman jailed in Mexico allowed parental visit

01/27/2012 01:00 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Seventy-six days after their daughter was arrested and placed in a Mexican jail, John and Betty MacDonald of Brampton, Ont., were allowed to visit her on Thursday.

Their first glimpse of their daughter, Cyndy Vanier, 52, came when they looked up and saw her hand emerge from a small hole in the seventh floor of a concrete building and wave.

"It was kind of a little bit hard to take, seeing this little hand wave out the window," said John MacDonald, whose daughter has been held since Nov. 10 on suspicion she was the ringleader of a group intending to help Saadi Gadhafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, sneak into Mexico.

"I recognized her hand," said MacDonald, fighting back tears. "Her husband gave her sign language: 'I see you, I love you, I'm with you, and we're here.' Then she disappeared from the window."

Three hours later they finally got to hug her.

"It was pretty overwhelming," said the jailed woman's mother. "I wanted to hang on to her forever, wrap her up in a blanket and bring her home."

No charges have been laid against Vanier. Under Mexican law, a person can be held for periods of 40 days without being formally charged. Vanier's second 40-day period is about to expire, and her parents don't know what to expect.

"We've heard a number of different scenarios," said John MacDonald, including that she might be released or rearrested on other charges, while the Mexican authorities continue to investigate.

MacDonald said his daughter had nothing to do with the plan to bring Saadi Gadhafi into Mexico. "No role, not one iota of bringing Gaddafi into Mexico," he told CBC News.

Vanier was in Libya last summer on a fact-finding mission, investigating the war and reports of deaths of civilians during the rebel insurgency and NATO bombing campaign against the Gadhafi dictatorship. Vanier was flown in by Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, an international engineering firm that had more than 1,000 employees in Libya and enjoyed close ties to the Gadhafi regime. The company won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to build an airport, a prison and a massive water diversion and treatment project.

Vanier hired Gary Peters, based in Cambridge, Ont., to provide her with security during the July trip. Peters, who had worked for years as a bodyguard for Saadi Gadhafi, told CBC News that he had once discussed with Vanier a plan to move the Libyan to Mexico, but that they dropped the idea in June 2011 when they discovered it couldn't be done legally.

The MacDonalds had been preparing themselves for the worst on their visit to the prison after they heard their daughter was suffering from kidney, blood pressure and heart issues, and that she had lost 45 pounds. But they found her to be more robust than they imagined.

"Again, she's a tough cookie, she's standing up pretty well," said her dad. "Losing that much weight and not having any sunshine or exercise would take its toll on anybody.

"Her mental health fluctuates, Some days she shakes her head and says: 'How did I get here? What happened?' Other times she says: 'Damn it I'm mad, I'm going to get out and get to the bottom of this.'"

The MacDonalds and their daughter are disappointed at the lack of support from the Canadian government.

"They have a pat answer: 'We can't interfere with another country's legal system,'" said John MacDonald, who was hoping they would look out for her civil rights. "We haven't heard from the federal government. It's like she didn't exist."

What Vanier did want to convey was her thanks to the First Nations people, whom she had worked with as a consultant. She says she feels the vibes from the ceremonies they have held on her behalf.

Otherwise, her dad says that because of the federal government's inaction, "We don't feel proud being Canadians right now. It's a hard statement to make, but it's a fact."

Vanier's situation has left her family feeling desperate, MacDonald said.

"Our hands are tied. We feel very frustrated now. We're not sure what to do next," he said.

"We're not even sure that talking to you guys, whether that does any harm or good. We don't know the reaction to this from the Mexican authorities."

A spokesperson for Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy issued the following statement on the Vanier case late Thursday:

"Ms. Vanier faces very serious allegations. Canadian officials are providing consular assistance to Ms. Vanier and her family. Also, our officials have been liaising with local authorities and will continue to follow it closely."

CBC News reported in December that the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency in September investigated and even briefly detained Vanier. But Canadian officials wouldn't say why.

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