Haitian community doesn’t know him, but Canada says he is a war criminal
Here is what we know about Mathurin Prince.
Born in Haiti, he’s 50 and once lived in Gloucester. The Canadian government says he applied for refugee status, but was found to have violated “human or international rights” and is inadmissible to Canada. He vanished sometime after being scheduled for deportation.
Last week Prince and 29 other men found inadmissible to Canada for the same reasons have been named in Canada’s first list of people “most wanted” for deportation.
Photographs of the men were posted on the website of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and distributed to media. Tips poured in from the public, and five of the men were brought into custody and one has been deported.
Allegedly dangerous men are off the streets and the Conservative government is looking tough on crime, with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney holding press conferences to update the public on the apprehension of people they call “war criminals.”
But legal experts say the publication of such a most-wanted list violates established legal principles and may not even achieve what victims of crimes against humanity want most: justice.
Very little has been made public about the exact allegations against most of the men on the list, but court documents show that at least one has admitted to horrific deeds. Jose Domingo Malaga Arica, a former helicopter gunner with the Peruvian army, says he knowingly transported members of the Shining Path guerrilla movement for torture.
Another suspect, apprehended Thursday, has admitted to being a member of the security agencies in Congo under dictators Mobutu Sese Seko and Laurent Kabila.
But his case offers no details about his alleged crimes.
According to Michael Patton, director of communications for Toews, all the men have been through a refugee determination hearing. They had a chance to defend themselves and were represented by a lawyer; several also asked a federal court judge to order a review of their case.
However, there is no indication whether any of the 30 have been charged or convicted in a criminal court, where the burden of proof is much higher. In a refugee hearing, it is enough for the Immigration and Refugee Board judge to conclude the evidence suggests the person is implicated in a crime.
In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security publishes its own list of those “most wanted” for deportation, but every one of those men has been indicted by a grand jury or convicted in a criminal court.
Elise Groulx, a Montreal lawyer who specializes in international criminal law, says the public labelling of men as “war criminals” without any criminal procedure is similar to labelling former IMF president Dominic Strauss-Kahn a rapist before he has ever been to trial. Groulx says in the Canadian justice system, as elsewhere, the presumption of innocence would be restored in the criminal trial, but if someone is accused and deported, they lose the opportunity to adequately defend themselves.
“When a person is tagged with being a war criminal without a trial, and their picture is posted, it certainly jeopardizes his right of presumption of innocence, which goes against all the international guarantees and Canadian guarantees,” says Groulx, president of the International Criminal Defence Attorney Association. “The rule of law is enabled in two ways: by bringing more alleged criminals to justice, and by ensuring they are given their day in court, to protect everybody against the arbitrary exercise of power. The health of a democracy is judged by the quality of its criminal procedure.”
Leaders in Ottawa’s Haitian community, and Haitian-Canadians on the street, say they’ve never heard of Mathurin Prince, nor have human rights experts who have worked on some of Haiti’s most notorious crimes against humanity cases.
“I have no idea who he is,” says Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Concannon has worked on the prosecution of crimes against humanity in Haiti since 1995, and is well-versed in cases from 1991 on.
“I’ve Googled him, I’ve looked through all the major reports, I’ve asked other people who work in human rights in Haiti and no one has heard of him,” says Concannon. “It’s possible he changed his name, or he was working at a very low-level.”
Concannon added he was puzzled that the Canadian government would label Prince a war criminal, given that “I don’t think there’s been a war in Haiti in a very long time.”
It’s estimated by government sources that more than 2,000 alleged war criminals live in Canada, and it’s not uncommon for refugees who have fled persecution to meet their persecutor walking freely. But Jane Stoyles believes it’s too simplistic to say the victims would want that person simply deported, because there’s no guarantee their tormentor will face prosecution once they leave Canada.
“It’s very sensational to say there are war criminals among us, and this is an experience some of the people we work with have had, encountering the person who abused them or killed their family,” says Stoyles. She is with the Canadian Centre for International justice, an Ottawa-based agency working with survivors of crimes against humanity. “The question is, what is the most effective response to that? The people we work with care about justice, some real consequences and accountability beyond having to leave the country.”
Although there is a federal program for prosecuting war crimes in Canada, Stoyles says it has not had a funding increase since its inception in 1998 and is unable to pursue more than one prosecution a year.
“If there really is significant evidence and a sense that there’s need for action, you’d like to see a criminal prosecution,” says Stoyles. “The result of this (most-wanted list) is going to be deportation, and people may very well be free at the end. It’s a lost opportunity to contribute to real accountability, that people will face a criminal process if they participate in war crimes, which gives victims a sense that justice has been served.”
Patton says Canada does not seek reassurances the men will be prosecuted for their alleged crimes once they are returned to their country of origin. He added that most of the men on the most-wanted list had already exhausted all appeal avenues before they disappeared, so there is little standing in the way of their removal.
“If all the ducks are in a row, it’s simply a question of contacting their country of destination, getting travel documents” and deporting them, Patton said.
Toews and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney say that public safety and national security interests override any concern over legal protections or the reputation or privacy of the men on the list.
“The notion that such an individual enjoys the same privacy rights as a law-abiding Canadian citizen is bizarre in the extreme,” Kenney has told Postmedia. “And the fact that people are concerned about this just shows the kind of ideological process obsession that some people have that overrides any consideration for the public interest or the integrity of our immigration system.”
Patton says the CBSA is planning to study the effect of publicizing the most-wanted list and the possibility of extending it to all failed refugee claimants under removal orders who can’t be located.
“This is not something we’ve ever done before,” said Patton. “Things looked quite good initially so we’ll see if it’s effective and then we’ll make a decision.”