A man who found refuge in Canada for 19 years after he was accused of using brutal prose to inspire the Rwandan genocide must turn himself in for deportation Thursday.
On Wednesday evening, Ottawa brushed aside a request from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to delay Léon Mugesera’s deportation after his final plea to remain in the country was rejected in Federal Court Wednesday morning.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a brief statement saying Mr. Mugesera will be removed as “soon as possible in accordance with Canadian law” despite a request from the UN Office to wait.
Mr. Mugesera now faces a 2 p.m. deadline to turn himself in.
“Thank you, thank you, we were so worried. What great news,” said Joachim Mutezintare, a genocide survivor living in Canada. “But you know, we will be happier when he’s in the plane.”
For years, Mr. Mutezintare has watched Mr. Mugesera, a fellow Quebec City resident, piously leading a church choir group on tours around Quebec, when he was not lecturing at Laval University or lunching with prominent friends around town.
“You know, the next step might be to seek refuge in a church. I think he sang in those churches to create his own little lobby group,” said Mr. Mutezintare, a taxi driver and leader in the local Rwandan community.
The 24 hours leading up to the deadline contained many turns. Mr. Mugesera was taken away from his Quebec City home by stretcher after he apparently passed out Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Mugesera remained in a Quebec City hospital Thursday morning, where family, Border Services agents and reporters kept vigil. His lawyer and hospital officials declined to comment on his condition.
At around the same time, the 59-year-old former politician and academic received word from the UN agency that it would examine the case. It urged Canada not to deport Mr. Mugesera in the meantime.
Experts in international law said Ottawa should follow the UN agency’s request for delay but even before the final decision, they doubted it would.
“Canada has obligations under the international torture convention to allow this procedure but if he is deported with no recourse to this mechanism, I won’t lose any sleep over it,” said Payam Akhavan, a human rights law scholar at McGill University and former UN war-crimes prosecutor.
Mr. Mugesera has used every avenue available in one of the most advanced legal systems in the world over two decades, Dr. Akhavan said, adding that the request for delay is a matter of procedure rather than a specific concern for Mr. Mugesera’s case. Final decisions from the UN agency are not binding.
Mr. Mugesera has “a tremendous amount of evidence against him,” according to Sharry Aiken, a professor of immigration and refugee law at Queen’s University, but she said the government is taking a big risk ignoring the UN.
“The world is watching and what Canada does is critical both to Mr. Mugesera and Canada’s own reputation as a defender of human rights,” Dr. Aiken said.
The Border Services Agency doesn’t normally publicize deportations so it was unclear when Mr. Mugesera might land in Rwanda. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he has been reassured by officials the deportation flight will take place “in the very near future.” Mr. Kenney suggested Mr. Mugesera’s lawyers have always been extremely effective at “running out the clock” in the case.
“Our fair legal system has determined he is here illegally, that he is guilty of serious war crimes, and that he has to face justice in his country of origin,” he said. “This fellow has had the advantage of every level of appeal including the Supreme Court of Canada. At some stage, we actually have to remove war criminals and stop talking about doing it.”
Mr. Mugesera quickly became a permanent resident after arriving in Canada in 1993 but the government revoked his status when it emerged he had delivered a speech in Rwanda one year earlier urging Hutus to kill Tutsis.
The speech, filled with literary allusion, urged Hutu ruling party faithful to drive the “cockroaches” out of the country via its rivers and streams. He also warned that those whose throats were not cut would eventually cut Hutu throats. Months later, the massacre of between 800,000 and 1.5 million Tutsis and Hutu moderates began. The machete was the weapon of choice, the rivers one of the preferred means of body disposal. The speech was replayed on the radio.
Mr. Mugesera appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and lost in 2005. Concerns for Mr. Mugesera’s safety and right to get a fair trial in Rwanda on charges of genocide prevented his removal. Those risks are assuaged now, Mr. Justice Michel Shore found in his Federal Court judgment Wednesday.
The judge endorsed the findings in an Immigration risk assessment that said Rwanda can now offer Mr. Mugesera a fair trial and that extra-judicial killings and torture no longer pose a serious risk.
Two international tribunals have also ordered accused war criminals back to Rwanda, partly because of assurances offered by the Rwandan government.
“It is reasonable to believe in the good faith of the Rwandan government and to conclude the rights of individuals accused of participating in the genocide will be respected and that they will not be persecuted,” Judge Shore wrote in his decision handed down Wednesday morning.
Judge Shore said Immigration officials had done an exhaustive review of the risks facing Mr. Mugesera, and noted the philosopher, linguist and former politician had never expressed remorse for his speech.
In fact, Mr. Mugesera has never recognized the existence of the genocide, Judge Shore noted. “He lived in Canada nearly 20 years and benefited from every opportunity to be heard,” the judge wrote.
Mr. Mutezintare, the Quebec City cab driver, said a trial in Rwanda is vital to reconciliation in the country. “What people don’t realize is he built the entire ideology behind the genocide. He is one of its most grave perpetrators.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly used the acronym UNHCR to describe the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. UNHCR stands for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.