Back in 2009, there was good reason for Ottawa to slap a visa requirement on Mexicans bound for Canada. There had been a dramatic spike in the number of Mexican asylum seekers – most of whom were not genuine – and those claims had generated a massive backlog, gumming up the entire system.
Five years later, the problem no longer exists, but the visa condition remains – giving rise to a larger crisis, placing a strain on Canada's relationship with Mexico and undermining our trade partnership. Ottawa should scrap the visa requirement before it does further damage.
Mexicans wishing to travel to Canada are subject to an onerous visa process. They must submit vehicle-registration documents, old passports and even the dates of their parents' deaths. A single-entry family visa costs $400. Many tourists and business people simply decide to travel elsewhere. Trade conferences once convened in Toronto are now being held in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the stream of bogus Mexican refugee claimants has dried up. When the visa requirement was imposed, there were 9,315 refugee claims by Mexicans. In the first nine months of 2013, there were just 95.
Other policy changes are mostly responsible for the drop. Last year, Mexico was added to the list of "safe" countries, whose citizens are fast-tracked through the refugee-claims process to cut down on fraud. The visa requirement has outlived its usefulness.
None of this is lost on Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who, in the fall of 2012, promised Mexico's president that he would eliminate the visa. Which makes it all the more confusing as to why, two years later, the PM still hasn't followed through.
Later this month, he will join his North American counterparts in Mexico for a summit aimed at strengthening the relationship. But unless Mr. Harper makes good on his visa promise, the talks will be a sideshow. Mexican leaders are growing increasingly incensed.
Francisco Suarez, Mexico's ambassador to Canada, recently told a reporter that Mexico remains "really mad" about Ottawa's intransigence. He characterized the Canada-Mexico relationship as one of "mature, dignified old age with flaws, limitations and increasing wrinkles on [its] face." Clearly, it's time for a facelift. Scrapping the visa requirement would do the trick.