Source: Vancouver Province (Canada)
Pubdate: Sun, 13 Sep 1998
Author: Adrienne Tanner, Staff Reporter for The Province


Backlogs in Vancouver's court and refugee hearing system are harbouring
dozens of Central Americans busted for drug trafficking this year.

Lower Mainland police have laid 225 drug trafficking charges against Central
Americans since Jan. 1.

There are likely fewer than 225 Hispanic pushers on the street. Some could
be facing more than one charge, say police patrolling the hotspots along the
SkyTrain stops in Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster. But because the
route is policed by three separate departments, it's difficult to spot the

Many of the accused dealers are Hondurans who have filed refugee claims and
are legally in Canada awaiting their hearings.

When news of the Honduran drug gangs broke last month, the Immigration and
Refugee Board vowed to fast-track all 177 claims filed by Hondurans since
Jan. 1.

So far, only 24 hearings have been held. Of those, two were found to be
genuine refugees, 16 were turned down and six cases are still undecided.

IRB director Lynn Gates said another batch will be heard in November and

Meanwhile, the court system is moving so slowly it seems unlikely verdicts
on the trafficking charges will come in time to be considered at the refugee

"Right now I've got court dates booked through December of 1999," said
Burnaby RCMP Cpl. Brian MacDonald.

Until the accused are tried and convicted, Immigration Canada can not use
the information to help speed the deportation of foreign criminals, said Rob
Johnston, the department's director of enforcement.

Police and lawyers are frustrated by the long delays and what appears to be
a concerted abuse of Canada's refugee system. And as public pressure mounts
to clean up the drug problem, refugee advocates fear the ensuing backlash
will harm the chances of legitimate refugees.

"You don't want to jeopardize the whole system for the sake of a few bad
claims," said Alistair Boulton, head of the Canadian Bar Association's
refugee committee in B.C.

The problem is easily solved by speeding up the refugee hearing process, he

Two years ago, when Canada lifted the visa requirement for Chilean visitors,
there was a sudden surge of illegitimate refugee claims. The Immigration and
Refugee Board kicked into high gear and quickly handled the cases.

Social workers at agencies that help refugees say the backlash is already
being felt.

Louis Alberto Garrigo of Storefront Orientation Services said he's hitting
more red tape when trying to get help for genuine Central American refugees.

Even the streets are more cruel than usual.

Outreach worker Byron Cruz said the young Hispanic dealers in Victory Square
are being attacked by rival groups of skinheads.

Last week, seven Hispanic youths were beaten with baseball bats and blinded
with pepper spray.

Cruz said one innocent Hispanic youth who was not connected to the dealers
was caught in the fight as he stood waiting for the bus.

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Checked-by: Don Beck