By Karla Lottini
In memory of Javier Valdez
Nearly ten thousand Mexicans sought refuge in Canada in 2008. I was one of them. I fled after getting death threats for exposing corruption in an important institution. My family were also threatened. My colleagues and I had gathered evidence that federal employees were stealing money from the Arts and Culture budget, but nobody would publish the story. It affected too many vested interests in the city’s political, media, and intellectual life. It was, in effect, an authorized crime.
Since 2000, no fewer than 108 journalists have been killed in Mexico. Twenty four others have been forcibly disappeared. Nobody with the power to make a difference to this situation seems to care.
Those responsible for the violence remain free and impunity is the norm. The message couldn’t be clearer: “kill a journalist and nothing will happen!” For more than a decade reporters have worked in constant fear and censorship, routinely facing harassment, and death threats. Unsupported by the large majority of media owners, most reporters must accept the risk of retribution if they dare to write about a drug-cartel, or a mining company that terrorizes indigenous communities, or a narco-candidate who has bought off the authorities in an election.
Canada knows this, yet Mexico remains on its list of safe countries. Why has no politician (including Prime Minister Trudeau) condemned this violence against journalists? Why haven’t we demanded that our trading partner do more to protect its reporters?
Since my arrival, 78 Mexican journalists have been killed and 16 forcibly disappeared. When I applied for refuge here, however, the immigration screeners were sceptical. I wasn’t covering “bloody news” so they couldn’t see how I’d be at risk. I came here fearing for my life and my freedom of expression. I left my family behind, and had to forgo taking care of my aging parents. I passed up job opportunities that would have allowed me to write and research – my two favourite activities. But none of this mattered to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), nor to the Immigration and Refugee Board. They considered the evidence for my protection claim, and declined it. Our Federal Court was similar – nobody understood the evidence.
Returning to Mexico wasn’t an option. I’d published a book The Talent of Charlatans (El talento de los farsantes) identifying the source of threats against me – a charge repeated in Mexican Senate – as the director of the institution where I’d exposed corruption.
The agony was far from over. We applied for Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) made me sign an undated deportation order.
I was tired of begging them to believe me. I was sick of being humiliated by a system that considered Mexicans “bogus refugees” – the phrase Jason Kenney, then Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, used when the Tories tabled Bill C-31, also known as “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act” in February 2012. After the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act were passed in December 2012 Mexico was placed on the Designated Countries of Origin list, a classification that effectively denied refuge to those displaced by the Drug War.
It was a scary and demeaning situation for me and my husband when we applied for Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds (H/C), knowing that only about 1% of the claims are approved. (I was about to give birth to my second daughter.) Finally we broke the silence and fear with the help of a migrant justice organization (No One Is Illegal-Vancouver), and more than twenty journalists, human rights defenders and academics wrote letters to support our case.
Only then did the Canadian press pay attention to us.
I will never forget that day. I was on the other side of the equation, being noticed, somewhere a journalist should never be. The majority of the media covering the Press Conference to prevent my deportation, were supportive. A few months later, we won the right (privilege) to remain safe in Canada, on H/C grounds.
Canadian immigration needs to realize something important: we won, but we also lost because the corrupt people are still in power in Mexico. We are the lucky ones who can walk fearlessly in the streets, unlike our colleagues. We are here because we were forced to flee!
Mexico’s drug-related violence remains as pervasive as ever, and hundreds of journalists face constant danger. Seven journalists have already been killed in 2017. But there are no credible initiatives to provide the media with greater security, nor have countries like Canada and the USA made it easier for besieged journalists to find refuge here. Can you imagine how bewildered Mexican reporters feel? Not only because of the murder of Javier Valdez, on May 15, but every time another colleague is threatened or killed for writing something that threatens powerful interests.
We must do more. Canada can and should press Mexico for a robust protection mechanism for journalists and media workers; it should demand explanations for the lackadaisical prosecution of scores of violent attacks on the press, not to mention murders; it should stop pretending that Mexico is safe for the hundreds of reporters caught up in its increasingly sanguinary drug war, and we should consider the claims of those who seek refuge from this climate of violence and impunity with far more sympathy and understanding.
Karla Lottini (Mexico City, 1973), graduated from the Writers School (SOGEM), Human Rights-Cultural journalist and author of The talent of charlatans (Canada, 2011), has published in diverse newspapers and magazines, and received the award as Cultural Journalist of the State (Quintana Roo, 2000). She has also collaborated -as author or interviewed- in several projects/anthologies, like www.72migrantes.com, Undoing Border Imperialism, 45 voces contra la barbarie, and Tú y yo coincidimos en la noche terrible. Since 2011 she collaborates for the radio program Latino Soy, also has been part of No One is Illegal-Vancouver. Currently is member of the Journalism Solidarity Project -based in Canada- which objective is to raise awareness about the systemic violence against journalists in Mexico.
PEN Canada, the Canadian chapter of PEN International, envisions a world where writers are free to write, readers are free to read, and freedom of expression prevails. PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.