Pubdate: Mon, 06 Oct 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Estanislao Oziewiz


A Canadian-U.S. missionary credits the "hand of God" for protecting him
while he languishes in a Mexican prison on what he and his supporters say
are trumped-up drug charges.

"I want to get out of here so bad you wouldn't believe it," Steve Frey, 48,
said from his cell in a federal prison in Reynosa, Mexico. Although
conditions are difficult, Mr. Frey said, he is not being abused or

Mr. Frey, a citizen of Canada as well as the United States, spoke by
cellphone in a call arranged and broadcast last week by Listen Up, a
religious television program based in Burlington, Ont.

He was arrested on Aug. 19 in Reynosa and charged with transporting a
prohibited, controlled substance, skirting checkpoints and taking items into
the country without permission and without paying duties.

Reynosa is on the northeast border of Mexico and the United States, just up
the Rio Grande from the Gulf of Mexico.

For several years, Mr. Frey, a nurse, has taken medical supplies and
over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to impoverished Huasteca aboriginals in the
Valles region of Mexico.

Among the drugs were bottles of cough syrup and decongestant tablets.
According to Mr. Frey and his supporters, Mexican authorities are concerned
about the drug ingredient pseudoephedrine.

The practice of evading border patrols to avoid paying duty when bringing in
donations of U.S. medical supplies is routine, to the point that a U.S.
doctor who worked with Mr. Frey told The Associated Press that it is done
with the knowledge that "it could land you in jail."

Mr. Frey's father, Alvin, said from his southern Manitoba home that his son
paid a $6,600 (U.S.) customs fine, and the only remaining issue is whether
the drugs he took into Mexico are legal.

Flor De Liz Vasquez, a spokeswoman for the Mexican embassy, said there is a
permit system for importing donated medication, as well as laws controlling
prohibited drugs.

"The laws have to be appropriately applied," she said.

Mr. Frey was brought to trial quickly, but the judge reserved her decision.
Ms. De Liz Vasquez confirmed that it may be four months before the judge
renders her verdict.

Mr. Frey had a lawyer, who could call witnesses, one of whom testified that
the medications contain no illicit substances. Mr. Frey had access to
Canadian and U.S. consular officials and was visited by family and friends.

Nevertheless, he remains in prison, worried that if convicted, he could
receive a 20-year term.

"Conditions are quite grim. First of all, you're dealing with intense heat,
and so there's all the things that go with that.

"One of the biggest issues probably is physical danger. There's always the
potential of being robbed, always the potential of being stabbed, always the
potential of things like that happening.

"Again, I want to emphasize that God has protected me from all that. I am so
grateful. I see the hand of God through all of this."

Mr. Frey divided his time among southern Manitoba, where he has lived since
he was a teenager, the Houston headquarters of the Cornerstone International
ministry and the Valles area north of Mexico City.

Marie-Christine Lilkoff, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign
Affairs, said officials are in contact with their U.S. counterparts and "we
are following the case closely."
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