Canadians have finally taken notice of Brenda Martin. The now-frequent television images of this gaunt, distraught woman languishing in a Mexican prison have galvanized Canadians into action. Well, sort of.
Thus far, any action has been limited to calling on the feds to free Martin from her nightmare journey through what is, at best, a Third World justice system. But there is much more that Canadians can do and, if justice truly is our motivating cause, it’s time to step up to the international plate.
Martin is the chef from Trenton, Ont., who has now spent more than two years in prison, without trial, in a justice system where people are considered guilty until proven innocent.
Her only crime appears to be working for the wrong person. Edmonton’s Alyn Richard Waage employed Martin as a chef in Puerto Vallerta for 10 months in 2001. Unknown to her, Waage was passing the time by operating an Internet fraud scheme and scamming millions from investors. He was eventually arrested and is now serving a 10-year sentence in a U.S. jail.
Five years later, on Feb. 17, 2006, Martin was grabbed off the street by Mexican police and charged with money laundering and taking part in a criminal conspiracy. She was interrogated without a translator and jailed. She denies the charges and, according to her lawyers, there is no evidence to support them. Waage even provided a sworn affidavit, confirming that she had no involvement in, or knowledge of, his operations.
Fast forward to 2008. The affidavit means nothing. She remains in prison and continues to be denied due process. This week, a Mexican court ruled against a constitutional challenge claiming her rights had been violated. She also had a very disturbing meeting with Mexico’s deputy attorney general (without her lawyer), where she was warned that appeals would only prolong her time in prison.
Far worse, she was also told the judge in her case had already written his ruling. Rather concerning since the defence hasn’t even filed its case! Canada’s consul general in Mexico City was at the meeting and has apparently confirmed these claims.
It’s no wonder Martin has now lost one-third of her body weight (she is about 90 pounds). She is suicidal, and was in the prison hospital being protected from herself and others until she made (understandably) rude remarks at the above meeting of the Mexican Star Chamber. She was quickly placed back into the general prison population.
So where are Canada’s cries for justice? There must be plenty our government can do to protect citizens who are trapped abroad in archaic, rogue justice systems.
Sadly, that’s not true. Movies depicting Delta force raids to free Americans from foreign prisons are pure fiction. Going to war over unseemly judicial practices isn’t an option. Beyond that is a reliance on diplomacy and, as the William Sampson case demonstrated, that isn’t always enough.
Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has sent a diplomatic note urging the Mexican government to respect her rights. Helena Guergis, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, claims Canada’s consular officials are working on Martin’s behalf. She also travelled to Mexico City for official discussions, but didn’t meet with Martin. That’s her prerogative, but her disclaimer comment that “it’s not my job” (to meet with Ms. Martin) didn’t exactly reassure Canadians that the government is doing all it can.
Former prime minister Paul Martin visited Martin this week and is now attempting to schedule meetings with Mexican officials. But it is unclear what — if anything — he can accomplish. He is in meetings to discuss expanding the G-8 to include Mexico, and that may be one card that Martin can play.
It’s fine for Canadians to urge the government to be more proactive, but government intervention and diplomacy are clearly limited. It may take action from the million-plus Canadians (including a high number from the Prairie provinces) who travel there to roast in the sun. A commitment to redirect our tourism dollars and itineraries away from Mexico would speak volumes, and could accomplish what diplomacy can’t.
A boycott wouldn’t just be a statement about Brenda Martin. It would be a statement about Mexico’s medieval justice system and its corrupt/inept police force. Lest we forget, six Canadian tourists (including two from Alberta) have died in Mexico over the past two years — all of them in suspicious circumstances. Unexplained falls from balconies that don’t match injuries to the bodies, a beating disguised as a hit-and-run, and a couple of sliced throats; yet Mexican officials have done nothing.
Mexico has become an unsafe place for Canadian tourists. The U.S. is now warning Americans that well-organized kidnapping cells are holding American tourists ransom. In the last six months of 2007, at least 27 American tourists were kidnapped, beaten, tortured and raped. The glossy travel brochures may not mention it, but Mexico has a problem. It’s time for Canadians to act.