Before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that visitors from Mexico would no longer need visas to enter Canada, border officials predicted the decision would make it easier for criminals to enter the country, newly released documents show.
In intelligence reports, officials wrote that associates of Mexican crime groups such as the ultraviolent Sinaloa cartel were already turning up in Canada and said lifting the visa requirement would “facilitate travel to Canada by Mexicans with criminal records.”
Just 0.25 per cent of the 156,000 Mexican nationals who entered Canada between 2012 and 2015 were implicated in crime, but the reports said 29 were linked to organized criminal groups, another eight had “possible links” and “likely more” had not been identified.
“These individuals were drug smugglers, human smugglers, recruiters, money launderers and foot soldiers,” the Canada Border Services Agency’s Intelligence Section wrote in a report dated April 2016, two months before Trudeau announced the visa exemption.
Since the government dropped the visa requirement on Dec. 1, 2016, the number of Mexican citizens the CBSA has reported for criminality and security has indeed increased, according to figures released by the agency this week.
Midway through 2017, the CBSA had already identified 65 Mexican nationals it said were involved in “serious” crimes. Last year’s figure was 53, and the year before it was 28. Another 15 Mexicans cited for national security reasons have been caught since the start of the year — more than the previous two years combined.
The “figures fluctuate for a variety of reasons,” said Scott Bardsley, press secretary to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. “The increase in reports for Mexico occurred while the total number of visitors from Mexico increased.”
The visa requirement was put in place in 2009 after Mexico became Canada’s top source or refugee claimants, although one intelligence report said a “large proportion” were economic migrants “not in need of Canada’s protection.”
During the 2015 federal election campaign, Trudeau promised that if he was elected Mexicans would no longer need visas to visit Canada. Within days of taking office, he told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto he would follow through.
“Lifting the visa requirement will deepen ties between Canada and Mexico and will increase the flow of travelers, ideas, and businesses between both countries,” Trudeau said in his announcement. Mexicans still need visas to work and study in Canada.
But the internal documents obtained by Global News under the Access to Information Act show the prime minister made the decision despite intelligence reporting that anticipated the likely result would be an increased criminal presence among visitors.
The intelligence reports said more than 300 criminals with Mexican citizenship had been identified by the CBSA from 2012 to 2015 and reported as inadmissible — the process that bars foreign citizens from entering Canada and can lead to their deportation.
“Should the visa requirement on Mexican nationals be lifted, the number of Mexican nationals travelling to Canada is expected to rise, which will increase the number of potentially inadmissible individuals,” according to one of the reports.
Another report said a study conducted the year before the visa requirement was put in place had identified abuse of Canada’s refugee program by Mexican migrants, the use of fraudulent Mexican passports by crime groups and the presence of criminals among Mexican travelers.
“These same problems may resurface once the visa requirement is lifted,” it said.
Last year, the CBSA analyzed a sample of 100 of the 354 Mexicans who had been reported for crime and security between 2012 and 2015. A third of them had come to Canada before the 2009 visa requirement was imposed. They had generally committed crimes in Canada — mostly in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
“The individuals linked to Mexican cartels were all involved in drug smuggling/trafficking and were deemed to be low level drug smugglers (members of affiliates),” the document said, adding most had admitted their membership following arrest.
The crime groups included the Sinaloa organization of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, as well as the La Familia Michoacana, Jalisco New Generation and Los Zetas cartels. In addition, some were working for Latin American street gangs and theft rings, according to the reports.
According to an Intelligence Brief, South American theft groups have been using fraudulently obtained Mexican passports to slip into the country undetected. They then engaged in shoplifting, break-and-enters and distraction thefts, the report said.
“The CBSA has identified several Colombian SATG (South American Theft Group) members that entered Canada on genuine Mexican passports and TRVs (Temporary Resident Visas). Some were confirmed to have been involved in criminal activity in Canada, Europe and South America.”
One theft gang member, convicted of a series of residential break-ins in Toronto, was “identified as a recruiter by three of the co-accused and had possibly escorted two other subjects into Canada.”
Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement said in an interview that while the visa requirement had been a “thorn in the side” of the Mexican government, “the over-riding concern should be the security of Canada.”
Bardsley said lifting the visas requirement “will result in lasting economic benefits for Canada” and the government would “continue to cooperate closely with Mexican officials to monitor migration trends and address any risks, ensuring that the visa lift is a success.”