BRAMPTON, Ont. — In an effort to smooth relations with Mexico, a Liberal government would remove visa requirements for Mexican citizens entering Canada, leader Justin Trudeau promised Friday.
The subject has been a sore point between the two countries since the Conservative government imposed the visa in 2009 to stem the flow of people fleeing drug-crime violence and economic difficulties in order to seek asylum in Canada.
At the time, the Conservatives argued that many of the applications were bogus. In 2013, the Mexican ambassador said Mexico was "really mad" Canada was making it difficult for tourists and business people to travel north.
Trudeau, speaking at a metal-working company in Brampton, Ont., said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has "soured" Canada's relationship with Mexico over the last 10 years.
The Liberal leader promised to "do right by our continental neighbour."
Since Canada and Mexico are both members of North American Free Trade Agreement, there shouldn't be barriers between the travel of their citizens, he said.
He dismissed the Conservative government's claim that Mexico couldn't be a source of refugees.
"We need to ensure that Canada is a country that is accepting refugees who are fleeing persecution from all sorts of places around the world for all sorts of different reasons," Trudeau said.
He said asylum applications should be processed in a "reasonable and speedy fashion" but "there are other ways of doing that than slapping a Mexican visa that is hurting tourism and relations with our continental partner and quite frankly has hurt our growth within NAFTA."
Before 2009, Mexico was on its way to becoming one of Canada's largest sources of refugees.
Roughly 8,000 people were referred to the Immigration and Refugee board in 2008 and the there were over 13,000 other backlogged cases at the time.
In the first four months of 2009, almost 5,000 people entered Canada from Mexico and claimed refugee status, prompting the decision to impose the visa.
The Mexican embassy in Ottawa in 2009 said barely 11 per cent of refugee applications from Mexico were approved, leading Canadian authorities to believe those fleeing Mexico were doing so for economic reasons rather than for security.
In February 2013 Canada imposed an additional barrier to Mexicans seeking asylum in Canada by designating the country on a list of "safe" places of origin, making it far more difficult for people from these areas to obtain asylum.
Safe countries of origin are described on the Citizenship and Immigration website as "countries that do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection."
Drug-related violence in Mexico, however, is a serious problem and Human Rights Watch reported that the Mexican government admitted in 2014 that over 22,000 people have been reported missing since 2006 due to the so-called war on drugs.
The human rights organization says that both drug cartels and government soldiers have committed torture and widespread killings in the country.
In their 2015 budget, the Conservatives promised to help speed up entry papers for "legitimate travel to Canada" from "low-risk travellers" but did not make mention of removing the requirement.
Trudeau said the Conservatives' claims of bogus refugees from Mexico is an example of the Tories "continually stoking fear and anger among Canadians. It's what they do. We are a generous and compassionate people."
The Liberal leader also reiterated his party's pledge to repeal the elements of Bill C-24 that gives the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals accused of serious crimes such as terrorism.
"The bill creates second-class citizens," Trudeau said.
"No elected official should ever have the exclusive power to revoke Canadian citizenship. Under a Liberal government there will be no two-tiered citizenship. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian."
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