Here’s an ethical dilemma for you: does a person who may face torture deserve more compassion than hundreds of thousands of innocent murder victims?
Apparently Canada’s immigration laws can’t make a distinction or, if it does, seems to consider the threat of torture more inhumane. At least that seems the case by allowing an alleged killer to gain protection in Canada against punishment for his possible involvement in one of the biggest mass murders in modern history.
Our immigration rules afforded freedom to Leon Mugesera, who is accused in his homeland of Rwanda as being one of the trigger men the 1994 genocide that saw a 100-day massacre claim close to one million Tutsis and Hutu citizens.
Mugesera fought his deportation through the seemingly endless court proceedings that are entitled to him under our immigration laws. His luck finally ran out on Monday, when the courts ordered him on a plane to Rwanda at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport.
The major sticking point during the laborious court proceedings was that Mugesera could face torture if returned.
This country has been reluctant to deport suspected criminals, on “ethical grounds,” no matter how serious their crimes. Torture and the death penalty are among the reasons.
But, essentially, it means we apply our standards of justice to other countries through our immigration process.
Serial killer Charles Ng, who evaded California authorities for the sex-torture murders of between 11 and 25 people by sneaking into Canada, enjoyed the same luxury.
Ng and Leonard Lake carried out these horrific executions on Lake’s California ranch in 1983 and videotaped the gruesome details. Lake committed suicide after his arrest in 1985, while Ng fled to Calgary and was captured that same year. After a lengthy extradition battle, during which Canadian authorities refused to turn him over to the U.S. because he faced a death sentence if convicted, he was finally handed over in 1998. He now sits on death row in San Quentin State Prison.
As a nation, we must take care not to gain a reputation for pandering to and protecting murderers from the justice of their own countries. It’s an extremely costly process to taxpayers and, ultimately, can mean we house other nations’ criminals in our prisons.
It is time we re-examined the avenues of appeal open to such criminals and alleged criminals.
In 1992, Mugesera, then a fiery political Rwandan operative, delivered a blistering speech calling the Tutsis “cockroaches” and urging their extermination. Shorty after the speech, he was charged with inciting hatred and fled to Canada for protection.
While a handful of Mugesera’s Canadian supporters wept at the airport on Monday, Rwandan authorities applauded Canada’s decision, saying it was “the right thing.”
His legal representatives had argued that he shouldn’t be deported because he would be tortured if returned to Rwanda.
Oddly, a double standard seems to be at work when it comes to the rules Canada’s Immigration Department applies.
Take the Iraq war, for example.
In 2008, it was estimated that about 150 U.S. army deserters, protesting the atrocities of the Iraqi conflict, sought refuge in Canada. It took only a few years for our Immigration Department to boot many out.
Deserter Josh Key told a refugee board hearing that he witnessed U.S. soldiers kick the severed head of an Iraqi like a football. The explosives expert saw a squad leader shooting the foot off an unarmed Iraqi man. He told the hearing that the U.S. army’s attitude was “just shoot and ask questions later. . . . The only people that were getting hurt was the innocent.”
At a separate hearing involving other soldiers, federal government lawyers successfully argued “that the entire question of the war’s legality was irrelevant” to the soldiers’ bids to seek asylum.
And astonishingly, the major sticking point in determining the soldiers’ applications weren’t “legitimate” was that they wouldn’t face torture if returned to the U.S.
Peace-seeking people have few rights? Alleged killers opposed to peace have more rights? What’s wrong with that scenario under our immigration laws?
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.