OTTAWA — A Quebec separatist organization is outraged after Ottawa denied entry into Canada for former Catalan president Charles Puigdemont, who is exiled in Belgium after rallying Catalonians to vote in favour of separating from Spain in a 2017 referendum the state declared illegal.
Puigdemont’s electronic travel authorization was revoked the night before before he was set to fly to Quebec for a tour sponsored by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, according to the organization, which advocates for Quebec’s independence. The story was making the rounds in Quebec media on Monday morning.
Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for immigration minister Ahmed Hussen, would not comment on this specific case, citing privacy laws, but explained ETAs are evaluated by “well-trained immigration officers based on the information provided by the client,” on a case-by-case basis. Reasons for revoking an ETA include “criminality, having a serious health problem, having lied in their application or during an interview,” he said.
Although a Spanish court struck down an international warrant for his arrest, Puigdemont is still wanted by authorities inside Spain for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. As leader of the Catalan region, he had organized a referendum on its independence. But Spain was firm in its position that the vote was unconstitutional and that it wouldn’t recognize a new republic.
In a tense vote Oct. 1, 2017 that was extensively covered in Quebec media — then-Bloc Québécois leader Martine Ouellet was in Spain for the election, posting social media videos from the ground — just over 40 per cent of Catalans made it to the polls, 92 per cent of whom said “yes” to nationhood.
In the aftermath, Spain invoked for the first time a part of its constitution that allowed direct rule over the region, removing Puigdemont, charging him and another dozen or so politicians with crimes against the state, and installing central authority for several months. Local rule has since been re-established. Quim Torra, the current president, is an independent but had been elected to the Catalan parliament as part of Puigdemont’s separatist coalition.
The question over Catalonia’s future remains a hot issue in Spanish politics at the national level, with a separatist bloc essentially forcing a snap election this spring. A Catalan party, which has lobbied for a legal referendum, could be part of a new ruling coalition led by Spain’s Socialists — they are in negotiations with potential allies this week after winning big in a national election on Sunday.
It is in this context that the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste is accusing the Canadian government of taking sides with a Spanish government it deems a suppressor of the right to self-determination. In a press release on Monday the society said a lawyer is contesting Puigdemont’s ETA revocation in federal court. Its president Maxime Laporte challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene, saying in a French statement, “It is absolutely shameful that Canada is again an accomplice to Spanish authoritarianism.”
In theory, Puigdemont could just apply again. Speaking hypothetically about cases involving political persecution, an immigration official who was not authorized to speak on the record said applicants can come back with more information or documentation that shores up their case. In rare cases, if all other avenues have been exhausted, the immigration minister has the power to issue a temporary residence permit to an individual who is not able to gain access otherwise.