Editorials | Issues | December 2007
|Canadian in Mexican Prison Denied Basic Rights: Lawyer|
Charles Rusnell - Edmonton Journal
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A Canadian woman imprisoned for nearly two years in Mexico was denied basic legal rights and the Canadian consulate is to blame, the woman's new lawyer said.
|"Imprisoned for nearly two years in Mexico, Brenda Martin was denied basic legal rights and the Canadian consulate is to blame," her new lawyer said.|
"The Canadian consulate has asked for information about her case, but I have not seen any evidence that (those) officials have tried to help Brenda Martin obtain her legal rights under international law," said Guillermo Cruz Rico.
Martin has been imprisoned since Feb. 17, 2006, charged with money laundering and being part of a criminal conspiracy. The 50-year-old Trenton, Ont., native worked as a chef for Alyn Waage, who operated a sophisticated Internet-based pyramid scheme from a Puerto Vallarta mansion.
Martin has strongly protested her innocence and Waage and three others directly involved in the scheme have said Martin had nothing to do with the fraud and was deliberately told nothing about it.
Cruz said Mexican police have failed to provide Martin with an interpreter, a breach of both the country's constitution and international law. He also said Martin has rarely been given a translator during recent legal proceedings in court.
Mexican federal police interviewed Martin in 2002. She gave the first statement to police at a real estate office where she worked and one of Martin's Mexican co-workers served as translator. For the second statement there was no translator; police communicated with Martin in broken English.
The police also told her she was only a witness and she was never informed she was a suspect. Despite this, the statements she gave were later used as evidence to support her arrest.
Because of the language gap, Martin has never understood the charges or evidence against her.
"If you are not able to know the accusations against you, then you are not able to mount a proper defence," Cruz said.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Dan McTeague has repeatedly called on the government to help Martin. Foreign Affairs has offered some aid to her, visiting her regularly and arranging a weekly phone call from Martin to her mother through the Canadian consul in Guadalajara.
The Mexican embassy in Ottawa did not return multiple calls made over the last month.
In an extraordinary turn of events, one of Martin's friends from her teenage years in Trenton, Ont. has given Martin a glimmer of hope.
Deb Tieleman of Waterloo, Ont., who only discovered Martin was in trouble after randomly Googling her name, immediately set out to help her old friend once she read a news story detailing Martin's plight.
She found Cruz in Toronto and hired him.
She then flew to Mexico with the lawyer and interviewed Martin and began reviewing the voluminous file.
Cruz said there is no credible evidence to support the charges against her.
Tieleman, who owns an import business and travels all over the world, said she was appalled at the indifference of the Canadian consulate to Martin's legal plight.
"She has been totally abandoned down there. As a Canadian who travels extensively, I am terrified of getting into trouble in a foreign country because I know the Canadian government won't help me," she said.
Tieleman was shocked when she saw Martin for the first time in prison, looking "absolutely gaunt" and weighing less than 100 pounds.
"I think the ordeal has left her psychologically damaged," Tieleman said.
Tieleman and Cruz are to prepare in Guadalajara for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday.The final arguments in Martin's case are in January.
Martin Preliminary Hearing Begins Tuesday
Luke Hendry - The Intelligencer
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Brenda Martin could be about to have the best birthday of her life.
For the past two years, the former Trenton resident has been in a Mexican prison for her alleged role in an investment scheme.
But in recent days, new hope has surfaced.
Toronto lawyer Guillermo Cruz, who specializes in Mexican law, is now working on Martin's behalf.
Cruz left for Mexico Sunday to prepare for a preliminary hearing there Tuesday.
It's the latest move in a process begun last week when Cruz, his lawyer father and a second Mexican lawyer were in Mexico to file a constitutional injunction on Martin's behalf.
"The main point here is we have to cover all the options in order to help Brenda," Cruz told The Intelligencer Saturday in a telephone interview from Toronto.
"According to the Mexican constitution, any person that is in a Mexican jail is protected by the constitution. And the constitution says that any person has the right to get a fair trial and due process as well," he said.
"Brenda is a Canadian citizen; her mother tongue is English. So in that case she has the right to get all the information in this case in her own language."
"We quickly realized that situation didn't happen, so that's the main issue right now."
That issue dates back to before Martin was even charged; it's alleged she was never given access to a proper interpreter, nor to legal information in English.
Cruz said he believes Martin's civil rights could be violated, and that violation could lead to her release.
The lawyer said he began work on the case Nov. 21, but because of confidentiality, could not say who hired him.
He made it clear, however, that he represents Martin.
The new civil action is separate from Martin's criminal case, but intertwined.
Tuesday's preliminary hearing is just that: an early discussion of the civil matter.
The actual hearing will be held Jan. 7, 2008 - Martin's birthday.
Cruz said the hearing's judge could make three different rulings, including a finding that Martin's rights were violated.
"The judge could order Brenda has to be released. That would be the best scenario," Cruz said.
But the judge could also order a mistrial in the criminal case, starting that process from scratch. Cruz said he and others are now preparing Martin's defence in case it's needed.
The judge's third option, however, is to allow Martin's case to run its course, leaving her in jail awaiting sentencing.
Cruz said he's optimistic about the chances of winning Martin's freedom.
"For sure this one could work," he said. "I have faith."
Joining Cruz last week in Mexico was Debbie Tieleman, Martin's friend since age 14. A former Bayside resident, she now lives in London, Ont.
Tieleman will now rejoin the lawyers in Mexico and, in an interview Saturday, said she was also hopeful about their chances.
"They've accomplished in a few days what hasn't been accomplished in about two years," Tieleman said, calling the civil action "an incredible window of opportunity."
"It's probably the best news Brenda's had in a while."
Tieleman was last in Mexico from Nov. 25 to 29, and said she was granted special permission to spend three days at the Guadalajara prison with Martin.
"It was wonderful to see her, absolutely incredible," she said.
"It was a little bit shocking," Tieleman added. "She's been through a lot, and you see it the minute - the minute - you see her. It's all over her face."
"She probably weighs about 94 pounds," she said, adding Martin's healthy weight is probably about 120 or 125 pounds.
"She's not as mentally stable as she could be," she said, blaming the prison ordeal for her friend's deterioration but noting the latest news appears to be buoying Martin's spirit.
"By the time we left, Brenda was a bit of a different person."
Tieleman said the Canadian government has failed Martin by not ensuring she received proper legal assistance, such as information in English.
Back in Trenton, meanwhile, Martin's mother, Marjorie Bletcher, said she too is hopeful, but very cautious.
"It looks good, but I'm scared to get my hopes up. Every time you do, it sort of gets let down," Bletcher said. "This has been really hard on her, and it's been hard on me too. I feel like I've been in prison too."
She said she spoke to her daughter by telephone Thursday.
"She was in pretty good spirits, the best I've heard for a long time. I think she's got a little bit of hope now," Bletcher said.
"We just want everybody to pray that everything turns out OK."