Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Senior Mexican police officer Gustavo Gutierrez Masareno says he came to Canada after gunmen threatened his family.
Senior Mexican police officer Gustavo Gutierrez Masareno says he came to Canada after gunmen threatened his family.

Canada rejects Mexican police officer's claim for asylum Add to ...

Gustavo Gutierrez Masareno was the model Mexican law-enforcement officer.

His portrait was displayed on billboards in Ciudad Juarez as the new face of authority: trustworthy, respectful of human rights.

He had been honoured by the state governor of Chihuahua for solving cold-case murders of women and girls in a region notorious throughout the world for its feminicidios - more than 400 femicides in the past 10 years alone linked to sex crimes.

He could boast that everyone in the female-homicide unit of the state police that he commanded was incorruptible.

Yet none of those testaments to his uprightness was enough to make Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board believe him when he said in his claim for asylum that his life was at risk and Mexican authorities could not guarantee his safety.

The board ruled that Mexico wasn't dangerous enough for Mr. Gutierrez to have to leave.

Mr. Gutierrez, 38, fled Juarez after he confronted the army on civil-rights abuses and began receiving death threats. The Chihuahua Attorney-General's office advised him to go into hiding because it couldn't protect him, he said.

He said he came to Canada with his family after men with guns appeared outside his home, one of them pointedly asking his wife about the couple's children.

Mr. Gutierrez is one of several Mexicans in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada who say they have received death threats from either drug cartels or the army or police, and whose refugee claims have been rejected. Like Mr. Gutierrez, they are appealing the IRB decisions.

"Board members tend to reject Mexican claims because of purported efforts by the Mexican authorities to provide protection," said Mordechai Wasserman, Mr. Gutierrez's lawyer.

"They ignore the fact that violence and corruption are out of control in the country, and that despite the good intentions of the Mexican federal government, the police are either unable or unwilling to provide protection. In my opinion, they've lost sight of the primary purpose of the refugee convention, which is to provide real protection to people in danger."

Mexico has been described as a country on the cusp of being a failed state, with pandemic police corruption, increasing allegations of human-rights abuses by the army and open warfare between the drug cartels and state and federal governments.

In 2008, more than 1,300 people - including 40 police officers - were murdered in the drug battles in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.3 million that sits on the drug-trade route into neighbouring El Paso, Texas, and is Mexico's most violent city. Its police chief, Roberto Orduna Cruz, resigned after posters warned that a police officer would be killed every 48 hours unless the chief stepped down. A hit list of names was left at a monument in the city for police officers killed in the line of duty.

"I was lucky," Mr. Gutierrez said in an interview yesterday. "Some of my friends, they don't receive any warning."

Although he is careful to say the death threats he received could have come from one of several sources, his troubles began after Mexican President Felipe Calderon ordered thousands of soldiers into Juarez - the city now looks like it's under military occupation - to confront the drug gangs and root out police corruption.

Almost immediately the army was accused of human-rights abuses.

In April, 2008, Mr. Gutierrez advised female police officers who were stripped in front of troops and others who were beaten by soldiers on how to lay formal civil-rights complaints. He acted to protect police officers he knew were clean from being detained by the military.

"If I'd let them take those guys to Mexico City," he said, "everything I'd worked for would have fallen to the floor."

In May, soldiers began stopping his police vehicle and searching it. They would check whether the revolver and machine gun he carried matched the licences he had for them. Or they'd stop his car 150 metres from his office and demand to know who he was speaking to on the phone.

Then he received a text message sent to his private cellphone that told him he was sticking his nose in the wrong places and to be careful. A second text message arrived a day or so later telling him not to be so cocky. "You're close to being a statistic," it said. The third message said simply: "You're next."

After consultation with the state Attorney-General's officials, Mr. Gutierrez spent that night in his office protected by four trusted police colleagues. Then in the morning they took him to the airport and he flew into hiding.

Lawyer Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, in charge of the Juarez office of the Chiahuahua State Human Rights Commission since April, 2008, repeatedly has spoken out on the increasing number of complaints made against the army of human rights violations, including torture and extrajudicial executions.

According to Amnesty International, Mr. de la Rosa was ordered by his superiors a few days ago to stop receiving public complaints about the military.

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular