Oscar Vigil, on the right, during the citizenship ceremony of his family, on January 2014
Oscar Vigil is a loving husband, a caring father, and valued member of the community. He is also a refugee claimant from El Salvador. Fearing for their safety, he fled his country in 2001 with his spouse Carolina, and their three children and came to Canada.They had received death threats as a result of their work as journalists.
Since then, his wife, their son and 2 daughters were granted refugee status, became permanent residents and now they all are Canadian citizens.
Now, Oscar has been denied refugee status and is being threatened with deportation back to El Salvador.
A recent Federal Court ruling spells potential good news for two men who face deportation from Canada as “terrorists” because they once supported a rebel organization that is now the democratically elected government of their former land.
“I think it’s very helpful,” said Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer representing Oscar Vigil, the former executive director of the Canadian Hispanic Congress. Vigil has been declared “inadmissible” to Canada over his ties to the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front that now governs El Salvador.
Waldman was referring to a ruling handed down this month by Federal Court Justice Richard G. Mosley, ordering the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to take a second look at a case involving another Salvadoran man who has also been deemed inadmissible to Canada, for reasons very similar to those affecting Vigil.
Mosley aimed some harsh language at Karine Roy-Tremblay, a senior bureaucrat in the Immigration Ministry, who in March 2013 denied an application by Jose Luis Figueroa of Vancouver to be allowed to remain in Canada on compassionate grounds.
In his ruling, Mosley used words such as “unreasonable,” “facile,” and “simply not good enough” to describe Roy-Tremblay’s decision. He also rejected her description of the FMLN as a terrorist organization and dismissed her conclusion that Figueroa poses a security risk to Canadians.
Jose Fuigueroa an his family. Photo: We Are Jose / Facebook
Good news for our friend Jose Figueroa, who is also fighting what would be an unfair deportation: The Federal Court has decided that his application for judicial review is granted and remitted for reconsideration by a different officer. In the text of the decision, the Honourable Mr. Justice Mosley states:
The Delegate unreasonably referred to the FMLN as a “terrorist organization”. That term is not used in s 34 and is not a term of art employed by the statute. The IRPA refers to membership in an organization that has, is or will engage in acts of terrorism. The FMLN was never a group for which political terror was a primary tactic. It had broad popular support and has now formed the government elected through democratic means. The organization attracted 80-100,000 members in a country of 5 million population. It was a broad based legitimate resistance group. The armed elements of the FMLN were primarily military forces engaged in a civil war against an oppressive regime much like the African National Congress in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The FMLN has not been proscribed as a “terrorist entity” on the list maintained by the Government of Canada. The Government of Canada carries on normal relations with the Government of El Salvador, now led by the FMLN. Some consideration should have been given to all of this before the Delegate concluded that the applicant’s membership in the FMLN was of such a serious nature that it outweighed the positive humanitarian and compassionate factors in favour of granting the applicant an exemption.
Here is the whole text of the Federal Court Decision:
Toronto.- Over a hundred community activists, political leaders, artists and the public of many Latin American countries and Canada, joined together this Saturday June 7 at a solidarity night to express their full support to the cause of the Salvadoran journalist Oscar Vigil, who is fighting, perhaps, the strongest and most complicated personal battle to stay in Canada and show the Federal Government its error in declaring him an inadmissible person living in the country.
“I am here to support the cause of Oscar. We need to let our authorities (Immigration) know that it is not possible that a hardworking man and father like Oscar can be treated as a terrorist. The authorities should not believe he was doing anything other than his job, because I am one who believes that the family must stay together if we want a better society,” said Jose Toribio, poet and activist member of the Dominican Republican community, who, with over 20 years living in Canada, cannot understand the decision of the Immigration authorities.
Together with Jose Toribio, many well-known politicians also showed up to confirm their commitment to the cause. Andrew Cash, Member of the Parliament for the New Democratic Party (NDP) representing the riding of Davenport (Toronto), was one of the first to arrive at Mingles Lounge, the place of celebration.
One elderly woman’s only political act was to stitch together uniforms for armed rebels in Ethiopia, then ruled by a murderous tyrant named Haile Mariam Mengistu.
Another man, now in his 60s, once donated the equivalent of $50 to the militant opposition in his country.
Yet another man used to act as an informal contact for foreign journalists who were seeking interviews with anti-government guerrillas in El Salvador.
None of these three people ever engaged in political violence themselves, and yet all of them – along with dozens and perhaps hundreds of others – face the threat of deportation on the grounds that they pose a security risk to the people of Canada, under a catch-all provision of this country’s immigration law that many lawyers decry as unfair and excessive.
“It’s an extreme overreaction,” says Ontario legal-aid lawyer Andrew Brouwer. “Their stories are so compelling. There’s not a single allegation of ever being involved in any kind of violence, much less a terrorist act.”
We want to thank you all of for downloading and signing our mail petition to help Oscar Vigil to stay with his family in Canada. You still can do it here. But we need more signatures, and the Internet can help us. It is faster and easier. So we posted an online petition that you can also sign and share. Please visit the following link if you are interested:
“They are going to break my family.” Oscar Vigil has built a reputation as a leader of the Hispanic community in Canada. Earlier this year, his wife and grown children became Canadian citizens. But, according to the Canadian government, because of his cooperation with revolutionary forces during El Salvador’s lengthy civil war, Mr. Vigil could be deported very soon.
It’s worth noting that El Salvador’s former revolutionaries now make up the country’s duly-elected government — and maintain full diplomatic relations with Canada.
Carol Off spoke with Oscar Vigil and his lawyer, Stephen Foster, in As It Happens, the long-running interview show on CBC Radio One.
This Wednesday, NDP MP for Davenport Andrew Cash asked the Conservative government to overturn a removal order for Oscar Vigil.
Oscar Vigil is a journalist from El Salvador who fled death threats and sought refugee status in Canada in 2001. His wife and three children have since been accepted by Canada’s immigrations services and have become Canadian citizens, but Vigil has been denied.
“The role of the Minister for Immigration should be to protect families, not break them up,” Andrew Cash asked in the House of Commons, “The Minister has the authority to reverse this deportation and keep this family together, will he do so?”
A leading member of Canada’s Hispanic community faces deportation and the probable breakup of his family because he once acted as an informal liaison arranging contacts between armed rebels and foreign journalists covering the civil war that convulsed El Salvador during the 1980s.
“I think this is extremely unfair,” said Vilma Filici, former president of the Canadian Hispanic Congress, referring to the impending deportation of reporter and community activist Oscar Vigil, 48.
“Oscar is an incredible human being. He has done an incredible amount of work on behalf of the Latin community. He is not a danger to the public. He’s an asset to Canada.”
Vigil, who has been in Canada for more than a decade, has been ordered to leave as soon as the Salvadoran consulate in Toronto can issue him a passport. He has no Canadian travel documents.
Following a series of unsuccessful appeals, the final decision to deport Vigil was taken by Citizenship and Immigration Canada this past February, even though it will almost certainly result in the breakup of his family.