Jose’s Story is a National Issue

1.  The Canadian government, in Jose’s case, is wrongfully stating that standing up for human rights against a repressive military dictatorship is considered to be terrorist activity, and by extension, standing up for human rights is an act of terrorism. This goes against core Canadian values of democracy and civil liberties.

2.  By virtue of being born outside of Canada, Canadians that are first-generation immigrants can be thrown out of the country if Canadian officers arbitrarily label them terrorists, and there’s nothing they can do if the Minister doesn’t pay attention. This means that an entire generation of Canadians have an unequal status in society, because the law thinks they are less Canadian than everyone else.

3.  Many Salvadoran-Canadians can be wrongfully persecuted by immigration officials and also get deported, as the majority of individuals or their family members have civil society links to the FMLN. Entire communities may get persecuted and suffer if the Canadian government continues to ignore their stories of who they are and how they came to Canada. It is hard to avoid the uneasy parallels to the treatment of Japanese-Canadians in World War II, but instead of being sent to internment camps, these communities can be thrown out of the country altogether. Canada cannot claim to embrace values of multiculturalism if it persecutes individuals and communities due to political and cultural ignorance.

What is Terrorism?

The international community has not come to an agreement over a single definition of terrorism, but many Canadians would agree with this definition:

“Terrorism is the act of political violence caused by a minority group against civilian non-combatants to create a climate of fear.”

Canada defines terrorist activity as an act that is committed:

  • “(a) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and
  • (b) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada”
  • Source: The Criminal Code. Section 83.01.

Canada’s definition is written broadly because the government effectively states that it is difficult to define what terrorist activity is. To compensate, the government identifies who terrorists are on a case-by-case basis, and provides “non-political officers” (such as officers in the Canada Border Services Agency) an enormous amount of discretion on which people they think are terrorists. This creates problems when officers and bureaucrats make important decisions when they lack knowledge about regional politics.

This broad interpretation has resulted in several blunders made by the Canadian government including:

1. June 2009: Elections Canada and Canadian officials apologized to the visiting Salvadoran Judge, Eugenio Chicas, for detaining him for 24 hours on the basis of his FMLN membership.

  • Judge Chicas was invited by Elections Canada to participate in a conference in Ottawa in a meeting of inter-American electoral bodies, but Canadian border officials had detained him because of their out-of-date information about El Salvador. Fortunately because of Judge Chicas’ high profile, the Canadian government quickly realized their error and allowed Judge Chicas to continue on to the conference.
  • Source:

2. May 2010: Immigration Minister Jason Kenney apologized to the Government of India when visa officers barred dozens of Indian citizens from immigrating to Canada on the grounds that their service in the army or police made them complicit in human rights violations.

In May 2010, Jose received a notice from the Immigration and Refugee board that he was inadmissible according to anti-terrorism legislation under Section 34.1(f) of the Canadian Immigration Act (IRPA). The Canadian government is repeating the same mistake they made with Judge Chicas back in June 2009 by mistaking the FMLN for a terrorist organization. The Canadian government is suffering from bureaucratic amnesia at the potential human cost of uprooting an entire family.

Another problem with Canada’s definition of terrorism is that it assumes a democratic context, when El Salvador during the Civil War was ruled by a violent military dictatorship responsible for 95% of all human rights abuses.

The FMLN is not and never was categorized as a terrorist organization by the UN or the international community. The FMLN was not a minority group that created acts of violence against civilian non-combatants. They were a popular resistance group against a violent military dictatorship, and only targeted members of the military dictatorship. While the FMLN falls under Canada’s excessively broad definition of terrorism, Canadians would not define them as a terrorist group.

To read about the FMLN, visit our El Salvador section.

Jose’s Timeline

  • April 1997: landed as a refugee in Canada, and filed a refugee claim. The basis of his refugee claim is that his life was at risk in El Salvador due to having been a former FMLN member, and the volatile situation in the country.
  • May 2000: Canadian government denied refugee claim.
  • 2002: made an application to stay in Canada as a resident on humanitarian and compassionate grounds (H&C) due having Canadian-born children, including an autistic son.
  • 2004: Minister approved the H&C application on principle.
  • May 5, 2010: received a notice from the Immigration and Refugee board that he was inadmissible according to anti-terrorism legislation under Section 34.1(f) of the Canadian Immigration Act.
    • Section 34: “(1) A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible on security grounds for (f) being a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe has engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism.”
    • The Immigration and Refugee board admitted that Jose’s actions were commendable because he spoke out against the state government’s repression and 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, Jose was ordered to be deported because his past association with the FMLN made him a terror threat.
  • October 12, 2010: applied to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the Minister of Public safety for exemption under Section 25 and Section 34(2).
    • Section 25: “The Minister [of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney] may examine the circumstances concerning a foreign national who is inadmissible and may grant the foreign national permanent resident status if the Minister is of the opinion that it is justified by humanitarian and compassionate considerations, taking into account the best interests of a child directly affected.”
    • Section 34(2): “A permanent resident or a foreign national satisfies the Minister [of Public Safety, Vic Toews] that their presence in Canada would not be detrimental to the national interest.”
  • January 2, 2011 – launch of the national volunteer-run “We Are Jose” campaign to reverse the deportation order.
  • January 16, 2011 – target date to receive a response from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and/or the Minister of Public Safety reversing the deportation order in honour of the end of the Salvadoran Civil War.

Further reading:

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Anti-terrorism Act.