The Mexican ambassador to Canada says his country is "really mad" at the Harper government for the continued imposition of a visa on its travellers here.
Ambassador Francisco Suarez told The Canadian Press in an exclusive interview that Mexico is so upset that if the issue isn't resolved by next year, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto might have to postpone a planned visit to Canada.
That would cast a shadow over the festivities that Mexico and Canada are planning for 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations.
"We're now saying it's a major irritant," said Suarez, who assumed his new post in Ottawa three months ago.
"We're now really mad. Canada has the most stringent visa system for Mexicans of any country in the world."
While Mexico's relations with Canada are generally very good, the visa issue could become an obstacle to deepening economic co-operation in areas such as energy and natural resources, the envoy said.
Canada imposed a visa on Mexican travellers in 2009, facing a growing number of refugee cases where claims were denied. Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself has said he would like to see it lifted but says Canada has to reform its own backlogged refugee system first.
The visiting Mexican foreign minister, Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena, said little in Ottawa this summer standing next to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird when Baird was unable to give a timeline for lifting the visa.
Mexican president could cancel trip to Ottawa
Suarez said the time has come to carve out a "roadmap" that will keep the issue from dragging on for months and years.
If that's not in place by the time Harper is expected to travel to Mexico in the late months of this year or in January, the visit will not be productive, the envoy said.
Pena Nieto's planned trip to Ottawa in the second quarter of 2014 won't go ahead either if the issue isn't close to being resolved, said Suarez.
"President Pena Nieto cannot come here if the topic is not solved," he said. "It will have to be delayed."
Suarez also spoke of common economic interests between the two countries, saying Mexico supports Canadian efforts to persuade the United States to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Mexico is keen, too, to see other Canadian firms such as Bombardier and Goldcorp possibly invest in future infrastructure and mining projects in Mexico, the ambassador said.
But at the moment, Suarez said, Canadian popularity is plummeting in Mexico.
Suarez said Mexicans have an easier time getting visas to the United States, which has serious border and immigration issues with its southern neighbour, and face no such restrictions in European Union countries.
"The Canadians require 10 times more information than the Americans."
Stories of Mexican visa woes make headlines in his country, while other incidents have affected high-ranking officials, himself included, Suarez said.
Suarez said he found the Canadian visa forms personally offensive when he filled them out for a visit to Canada in recent years, prior to his return to the foreign service.
"I had to put the date that my mother and father died, 15 and 20 years ago. What's the use of putting the date of your mother and father (who) died 15 and 20 years ago?"
Canada recently placed Mexico on a list of "safe" countries, making it harder for refugee claimants from there to get asylum. The government pointed to the high rejection rate for refugee claims out of Mexico — it hit 83 per cent in 2011 — as supporting the notion that people there aren't at considerable risk.
Refugee advocates have said, however, that the government is downplaying the security threats in a country that has seen tens of thousands of people killed in the ongoing drug war. The high absolute number of successful refugee claims, more than 1,000 in 2011, shows many Mexicans have cause to fear for their lives, the advocates say.
CBC News reported last year on the case of a Mexican secretary who was beaten to death in her home country after Canada deported her when her refugee claim was denied.