MP Jason Kenney is travelling to Mexico this week to facilitate the prisoner transfer process in the Brenda Martin case, CBC News has learned.
Kenney, the Conservative government's secretary of state for multiculturalism, will meet with senior Mexican officials on Friday.
A Mexican judge on Tuesday found Martin, a Canadian who had been working in Mexico, guilty of money laundering. She was sentenced to five years in prison without parole, and a fine of close to $3,500.
Debra Tieleman, Martin's friend and supporter, said news that Kenney is travelling to Mexico is a "great development." She said she got confirmation of his trip in an e-mail and will be speaking to people from his office Wednesday night.
"I think they're anxious to get this expedited and off their plate," said Tieleman, who is in Mexico to offer support to her friend.
"I do believe this is good for Brenda," she added. "I think to have Jason come and be able to give Brenda some kind of assurance from the government that this is going to be expedited, and they can have her home in a couple of weeks, will give Brenda something to hold on to.
"It's going to take an awful lot to convince Brenda that she won't be in a Mexican prison forever."
Transfer could take weeks
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Wednesday from New Orleans that the government expects the prisoner transfer to happen as quickly as possible, but has warned it could take weeks or months.
"Every indication I have is that the Mexican authorities are going to recognize that we want this to move quickly and that they are going to also move things quickly on their side," said Day.
Gar Pardy, a former senior official with Foreign Affairs, said the fact that Day has spoken out on the case and Kenney is going to Mexico is a good sign that there's Canadian political will to bring Martin home soon.
Pardy said if Martin is transferred to a Canadian prison, she will likely see her sentenced shortened so that it matches the more lenient sentences handed down in Canada.
He noted Martin could get parole within weeks in Canada because she has already served two years in a Mexican jail. Canadian prisoners are usually eligible for full parole after serving one-third of their sentence.
However, he cautioned that Canadian officials will have to be upfront with Mexico about their plans for Martin.
"Not to do so, I think, could complicate the transfer process not only for Ms. Martin but for other Canadians who may be looking for transfers in the future," Pardy told CBC News on Wednesday.
"I think we've got to make sure the Mexicans retain confidence in the Canadian process."
Supporters raise $27,000 for Martin
Back in Canada, supporters have raised more than $27,000 over the past year to help Martin pay for her legal fees, which are expected to top $100,000.
Former Liberal MP Paul Macklin, who used to represent Martin's hometown of Trenton, Ont., is heading the fundraising campaign and said the guilty verdict is not deterring Martin's supporters.
"She's lost over two years of her life, she now has a conviction, and then she's going to be facing legal bills and costs," Macklin said. "It really is going to be an awfully difficult time for her."
Martin, 51, was accused of participating in a $60-million internet fraud scheme run by Canadian Alyn Waage, who was convicted of fraud in 2006 and is serving a 10-year term in a U.S. prison.
Mexican investigators said Martin, who worked as Waage's chef in Puerto Vallarta for 10 months, accepted a severance package knowing the money came from the scam.
But Martin maintained her innocence, saying she knew nothing of Waage's schemes. Waage corroborated her story in testimony.
Martin has been in jail in Mexico since 2006. Her family and friends say the imprisonment has taken its toll on her, leaving her depressed, heavily sedated and on 24-hour suicide watch in Puente Grande women's prison.
The nature of Mexico's justice system, which does not include oral trials and puts the onus on the accused to prove his or her innocence rather than on the prosecution to prove guilt, meant Martin had to wait out the legal process in prison.