The recent disappearance of 43 college students in the Mexican state of Guerrero has sent thousands of protesters into the streets of Mexico City and other towns and cities, demanding an end to what is seen as collusion between corrupt local governments and drug cartels.

Since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country's drug cartels on Dec. 11, 2006, there have been more than 100,000 deaths and more than 22,000 disappearances in Mexico.

Yet in February last year, Canada added Mexico to an official list of "safe countries" whose citizens will be given less consideration when making refugee claims. Mexico was added to the list along with Norway, Japan, Israel (not counting the occupied territories), Iceland, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland.

The only other Latin American country designated as safe is Chile. Not even Costa Rica, long considered a model of democracy and respect for human rights, is on the list.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said it makes no sense to list Mexico alongside some of the safest countries in the world.

Mexico violence

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest over the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students, near the Benito Juarez International airport in Mexico City (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

​"We should re-evaluate that and not say that the whole country is safe, and therefore people who are fleeing should have no issue in returning, They do, because their life hangs in the balance. Just because we have good diplomatic relations with a country doesn't mean it's safe."

John Babcock, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Develoment, told CBC News "the Government of Canada is deeply concerned with the recent series of violent events in the states of Guerrero and Mexico. Our hearts go out to the families of the missing students."

Babcock also said Canadian officials "will continue to closely monitor the unfolding situation."

Mexico's ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez, said Mexico was put on the list in the first place because a high proportion of Mexican refugee claims were found to be without merit.

And he said any change could harm Canada's ties to one of its largest trading partners.


Mexican citizen militiamen search police officers after taking over the city of Mugica. The self-defence group said it acted to liberate the area from municipal governments and police forces that were working for the Knights Templar drug cartel. (Associated Press)

"Do you want to damage a very vast relationship, acting on ill-conceived, inadequately informed requests of a limited group of people?"

Mexico has seen protests before that expressed the exhaustion of its people over the toll of the drug wars. But many commentators see something different in the recent protests that have rocked the capital and cities and towns across the country.

Turning point in Mexico

Many Mexicans have come to believe that the lines between police and criminals, always blurred, are being erased. In Iguala, it was the police, acting under orders of local Mayor Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez, who turned over dozens of now missing students to the killers of the Guerreros Unidos cartel, after they had themselves shot and killed five innocent people.

And in Apatzingán, in the neighbouring state of Michoacan, local citizen militias took up arms after years of inaction by the federal government.

In a few days of fierce fighting, they drove out the local Knights Templar cartel and made prisoners of the local police, seizing their weapons. Local politicians, accused by the "self-defence groups" of working with the Knights Templar, fled before them.

Problems are local, ambassador says

Ambassador Suarez concedes that Iguala is not the only part of Mexico where the local authorities are in cahoots with organized crime.

"There are specific cases in certain areas of the country, the poorest areas where social problems are the most severe, and there the local authorities, first, are weak, the police have been infiltrated, and there are strong relationships with organized crime and the narco."

The ambassador said Guerrero state, where the Iguala massacre occurred, is one of those. Michoacan next door, and Tamaulipas state near the U.S. border, have similar problems.

But he said the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto is determined to restore the rule of law in the country.

However, many Mexicans have come to see the president himself as symptomatic of the corruption and collusion that taint Mexico's political life.

It was recently revealed that his family's $7-million mansion is owned by Grupo Higa, a construction company that received millions of dollars in contracts in the state of Mexico when Pena Nieto was governor.

With files from wire services