Mexico slaps visa requirements on Canadian diplomats

Mexico has retaliated against Canada for imposing visa restrictions, saying Canadian officials and diplomats will need visas to enter Mexico.
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon meet in Washington on Thursday amid a diplomatic row between Canada and Mexico. ((Evan Vucci/Associated Press))

Mexico has retaliated against Canada for imposing visa restrictions, saying Canadian officials and diplomats will need visas to enter Mexico.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa made the announcement Thursday during trilateral talks in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

She said Mexico would not force Canadian tourists — who number 1.3 million a year and are vital to the Mexican economy — to get visas to visit.

"We stated with a great deal of respect, but also very firmly, that we were in disagreement with this measure, that it was our opinion that this is not something that is going to help to resolve the problem that Canada’s trying to solve," Espinosa said.

Ottawa announced earlier this week that travellers from Mexico and the Czech Republic will need visas to enter Canada because of skyrocketing rates of refugee claimants from the two countries.

Czech officials promptly recalled their ambassador and applied visa restrictions on Canadian diplomats. They also urged the European Union to require visas from Canadians entering all 27 EU countries.

Cannon said the visa requirement on Mexicans entering Canada will remain in place until the two countries can work out a way to lower the number of unfounded refugee claims.

The numbers of "people seeking refugee status are unduly high. We are in a position where we need to look at and find solutions," Cannon said.

Kenney on the case

Cannon said senior officials from Mexico and Canada, including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and his Mexican counterpart, will be working together to "find a way to eventually lift the visa requirement."

"From now until such time as that occurs, we have to be able to straighten this out," he said.

When asked whether the government was surprised by the outcry surrounding the decision, Cannon said Canada is "not looking for difficulties with our allies."

"We reached an unacceptable level. We had to intervene and act," he said. "Canada acted according to what it needs to do."

He praised the "strong and productive" relationship Canada has with Mexico, saying "relations far supersede the elements of visa requirements."

Espinosa also said she is hopeful an end to the diplomatic spat could be reached quickly.

1,300 visas issued

Hundreds of people have been lining up outside the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City to apply for visas since the requirement was announced.

Jose Herran-Lima, a minister-counsellor with the Canadian Embassy, said officials issued about 1,300 visas over the past two days. About 4,000 people have inquired at the embassy, he said.

"The atmosphere is calm. People are very orderly," he said. "We realize that… this is high season for Mexicans going to Canada.

"Our immigration officers… have done an outstanding job in trying to issue visas in what I call a first-serve basis so the people that are leaving sooner are getting attended first," he said. "That has been very successful."

Mexico is the No. 1 source of refugee claims to Canada, with the number almost tripling to more than 9,400 since 2005, the Immigration Department said in a release Monday. The figure represents one-quarter of all claims made. About 90 per cent of the claims are rejected.

The Czech Republic ranks second with nearly 3,000 refugee claims filed since the visa requirement for visitors from that country was lifted in October 2007. That compares with fewer than five claims in 2006, the department said.

With files from The Canadian Press