Standing Up For Human Rights Can Make You A Terrorist In Canada

Jose Figueroa, a 13 year resident of BC and father of three children, was recently ordered deported by the Canadian government. This is because while in college 20 years ago in his native El Salvador, he spoke out against a military dictatorship that used death squads to kill any opposition. His case reveals that due to the excessively broad definition of terrorism introduced into the immigration and refugee act in 1992, any immigrant or refugee associated with an armed opposition group opposing a government is now at risk of being referred to as a terrorist—even if engaged in legal and democratic means of opposition.

On May 2010, the Immigration and Refugee board, on recommendations by the Ministry of Public Safety, claimed that Jose Figueroa was inadmissible according to anti-terrorism legislation. Jose was considered to be inadmissible because of his work with a student group, associated with the opposition group the FMLN—which was an organization that opposed the repressive  government of El Salvador using armed force during the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980’s. The Immigration and Refugee hearing member, that presided over Jose’s case, stated that Jose’s actions in speaking out against the repression of the state government were in fact commendable, and that there was no evidence to indicate that Jose Figueroa had committed any violent act. However, because it was determined that the FMLN group used armed resistance against the military dictatorship, and one sector of the FMLN’s organization had killed members of the government, the Immigration and Refugee Board ordered Jose be deported—because they claimed that his past association with the FMLN made him a terror threat.

People associated with the FMLN were opposing El Salvador’s government because of its human rights violations. The government in power at the time was violently repressive, not democratic, and killed any opposition. The United Nations Truth report about the war stated that the government was responsible for over 85 percent of the human rights abuses and killings of civilians and the FMLN only 5 percent. People joined the FMLN group in opposition to the state government because that offered hope for stopping the violence and oppression as there was no democratic means available to oppose the government.
It would be appropriate to refer to an armed group opposing a democratic government as terrorists. The aim of terrorist legislation should be to ensure that democratic means of opposition are used in a democracy. However, the application of anti-terrorism legislation is inappropriate in the El Salvadoran context because the government the FMLN opposed, in the 1980’s and the early 1990’s, was a murderous military dictatorship—it was not a democracy. There was no other option available other than to oppose the government with armed force. In fact, the Mexican and French governments recognized the FMLN as a legitimate military opposition August 28th, 1981 because of this.

So how is it that the Canadian government is mistakenly referring to the FMLN as a terrorist organization? During the conflict in El Salvador, the United States supported the violent repression used against civilians by the military dictatorship, attempted to keep the massacres a secret, and pretended that the El Salvador government was a legitimate democracy (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rufina_Amaya ). As long as they kept that lie, the repression could continue with impunity and the FMLN could be seen as an illegitimate, terrorist opposition. However, in 1992, the atrocities that were carried out by the military dictatorship were revealed to the world when a lone survivor of a violent attack in the village of El Mozote spoke to two American journalists. At first the United States denied the evidence and discounted the witness’s testimony. However, this testimony led to the discovery of mass graves and a UN investigation. The UN Truth Commission report of 1992 detailed horrendous killing by the El Salvadoran government, with over 70,000 civilians deaths. Following the signing of a Peace Agreement in January 16th 1992, the FMLN was recognized as a legitimate political opposition.

Now it could be understandable that the Canada government prior to the 1992 Truth Commission report might have categorized the FMLN as a terrorist group due to the biased evidence available at the time. However, after 1992 and the publication of the UN Truth report when the truth of the conflict became known and it was acknowledged that the El Salvador state government had been responsible for the majority of the human rights abuses—then it is completely inappropriate that the Canadian government continues to refer to the FMLN as a terrorist organization.

Here is a case of someone, who as a student, stood up for human rights and voiced opposition against a violent dictatorship, is being deported as a terrorist. What is clear, regardless of how or why the FMLN continues to be mistakenly referred to as a terrorist group, is that the Canadian government continues to mistakenly refer to the FMLN as a terrorist organization. As a result, an innocent man and his family are being deported, and all members of the FMLN who stood up for human rights are at risk of being mistakenly referred to as terrorists by the Canadian government.

Please ask the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to correct this mistake.

-written by Sasha Wood

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