Ottawa errs in war crime report
Serb whom Ottawa says it deported is to appear in court in Toronto tomorrow
By Adrian Humphreys
May 17, 2004
A major government report on the handling of war criminals in Canada is riddled with errors, a National Post investigation has found.
Of five war criminals the government claimed it has removed from Canada because of alleged complicity in wartime atrocities, one remains in the country, a second was ejected for petty street crimes with no mention of atrocities and a third did not leave during the time period claimed.
For the remaining two alleged war criminals Ottawa says it has deported, no public information is available. Anne McLellan, the Minister of Public Safety, and Irwin Cotler, the Minister of Justice, released the figures this month in the annual report on the government's War Crimes Program.
"Our ... efforts in managing Canada’s War Crimes Program send a very clear and strong message that war criminals and those involved in crimes against humanity will never be welcome in Canada," Ms. McLellan said at the time.
A closer examination of the report, however, calls into question the government's resolve on the file.
When [Mr. Demirovic] appears at a closed-door admissibility hearing tomorrow morning in Toronto, it might come as a surprise to those who prepared the report.
Mr. Demirovic, 28, is accused in Serbia of being part of a paramilitary unit called the Scorpions during the 1999 Kosovo conflict and helping to round up three families in the village of Podujevo, who were then shot. Nineteen ethnic Albanians died. The youngest was two years old.
Mr. Demirovic came to Canada in 2001 and was arrested in January, 2003, when heavily armed police, acting on an Interpol warrant, arrived at his parents’ home in Windsor, Ont. Last September, Saranda Bogujevci, who was 13 years old and survived the shootings despite being hit by 16 bullets, travelled to Canada to ask the government to deport Mr. Demirovic to face trial.
Despite his continuing appeal to remain here, Mr. Demirovic is one of five alleged war criminals whom the federal government told the Post had been deported for war crimes between April 1, 2002, and March 31, 2003, the most recent figures available.
"I have absolutely no idea how that could be. He has not been deported, he hasn’t even been in custody," said Dragi Zekavica, Mr. Demirovic's Toronto lawyer.
"He has not left Canada. I spoke with him a week and a half ago."
In the War Crimes Program report, released May 4,2004, Ottawa said officials stopped 355 suspected war criminals from reaching Canada through offshore screening.
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In the report, the government said officials had prevented successful immigration and refugee claims in Canada by another 73 people by documenting participation in war crimes; and enforced 48 removal orders against people deemed complicit in contemporary wartime atrocities.
It is in the numbers of those claimed to have been removed, however, that the statistics are found wanting.
Aurelio Amaya-Zelaya is also one of the five removed from Canada because of war crimes, according to the government.
Now 39, Mr. Amaya-Zelaya was born in Olomega-la-Union, El Salvador, and came to Canada on June 4, 1989.
He was granted refugee status on Nov. 22, 1989, and two days later was arrested by Vancouver police and charged with attempted murder, possession of a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault. In 1994, he was convicted of trafficking cocaine and a year later for possession of a narcotic. Over the next few years, he faced more convictions for violence, drugs and other crimes.
By the summer of 2002, the government appears to have run out of patience. "The Minister of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration is of the opinion that you constitute a danger to the public in Canada," an immigration officer said in a letter hand-delivered to him at his home in Surrey, B.C.
He was facing yet another round of charges, including assault and threatening, when immigration officials and the RCMP visited his apartment in June looking to arrest him but could not find him, government documents say.
It was not until July 24, 2002, that he was arrested and 10 days later he was flown out of Canada. However, his deportation order, obtained by the Post, cites as the sole reason for his removal his assault convictions in Canada.
There is no mention of foreign crimes anywhere in his lengthy government files that were made public, although an early immigration document shows Mr. Amaya-Zelaya’s reason for seeking refugee status is his claim he was kidnapped by guerrillas and forced to work with them before escaping. He said he was in danger from the military in his homeland because of his forced involvement with the rebels.
Also one of the five is Jorge Anibal Azalgado, according to the government.
Mr. Azalgado, along with his wife, Erica Moyanao Castro, and three children arrived in Canada from Argentina on Oct. 11, 2000. Nine days later they all made claims to stay as refugees.
It took a year for their applications to be heard. At the private hearings came dark allegations by both sides. From the Azalgados, there was talk of a kidnap plot against the children and Ms. Castro being the victim of rape.
From the government came allegations against Mr. Azalgado from his time in the Argentinian army, the details of which the government will not release.
On Aug. 2, 2002, the family’s claims for refugee status were turned down. Mr. Azalgado was refused under Article 1(f)(a) of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, according to immigration documents. It is an ominous mark against him; that section strips refugee status from anyone who has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity. The rest of his family was refused entry because they did not meet the definition of a refugee.
When the government went looking for the Azalgados, however, they could not he found.
For nearly a year the family remained secretly in Canada, avoiding a warrant issued for their removal.
Then, on March 20, 2003, Ms. Castro’s car was stopped by Toronto police investigating a traffic violation. She handed the officer an identification card that was not hers. The deceit was quickly uncovered and when her true identity was learned the entire family was arrested that day. It appears that Mr. Azalgado was removed from Canada because of concerns over his complicity in war crimes. However, his date of departure was not until May 27, 2003, the Post has learned. That is nearly two months after the close of the reporting period of the audit.
© National Post 2004
National Post as posted by Will Zuzak at