MONTREAL — The federal government says the first of 30 suspected war criminals believed to be living illegally in Canada has been arrested by immigration officials.
The arrest of Cristobal Gonzalez-Ramirez in Alberta early Friday came just one day after Ottawa launched a website identifying men accused of committing or being accomplices to war crimes.
The 44-year-old Honduran is alleged to have been a member of a special army unit in his homeland.
He was taken into custody by Canada Border Service Agency officers after several tips.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said tips were also coming in on other cases.
“Their information really can help us to resolve some of these long-standing cases,” Kenney said outside CBSA offices in Old Montreal.
“We owe it to Canadians to ensure that those who are not welcome in this country because of their suspected involvement in such serious crimes such as war crimes and crimes against humanity are removed.”
The website was launched in an effort to drum up new leads that could help track and deport the suspected war criminals.
Gonzalez-Ramirez appeared on that list. Kenney said he couldn’t go into much detail about his arrest. His last known address was in Edmonton but Kenney did not want to reveal where he was nabbed.
Four phone calls came into Canada Border Service Agency’s tip line on Thursday about Gonzalez-Ramirez.
“This is an individual who we believe belonged to a special army unit in Honduras which was involved in crimes,” Kenney said.
According to Kenney, Gonzalez-Ramirez made a refugee claim in 2006. In August 2007, the Immigration and Refugee Board declared him inadmissible to Canada.
Kenney said a 2009 pre-removal assessment showed no indication he’d face any danger if he was sent home. He was scheduled for removal in March 2010 but vanished.
Canada has some of the toughest rules in the world when it comes to keeping war criminals out of the country, but it can be difficult to spot those who make refugee claims using false passports.
On Thursday, Kenney expressed concern that some war criminals may be setting their sights on Canada because “our asylum system has a reputation for laxity.”
Officials have already started taking steps to have Gonzalez-Ramirez removed now, Kenney said.
On a related matter Friday, police in Medicine Hat, Alta., said the federal government failed to notify them in advance that a suspected war criminal was living in the city.
The list of the 30 war-crime suspects included Dimitrije Karic, 51, of the former Yugoslavia.
Staff Sgt. Brent Secondiak said Karic’s last known address is Medicine Hat and he apparently lived in the city for four years.
He said police don’t know what crimes Karic is accused of and that there has been a real communications breakdown with the federal government.
Back in Montreal, Kenney did not comment directly when asked about the Karic case.
But he said the name of any foreign national under a removal order is put into a national watch list that is accessible to the RCMP and provincial and local police forces.
Kenney said all of them are under active deportation orders.
“So local police services should have access to that information,” he said.
“I can’t speak to whether there might be some gaps in access for certain local police services.”