Estrella Mendez

In April, 2001, Estrella Mendez was charged with breaking Canadian immigration law. According to these charges, Estrella, an immigration consultant, had been telling newcomers to Canada to lie when they applied for refugee status. At the time, the punishment for this offence was up to five years in jail and a fine of up to Can$10,000.

In her work as an immigration consultant, Estrella had been helping people immigrate to Canada. The Canadian national police, the RCMP, arrested her after a five-month investigation. They began their investigation after getting a report about Estrella from Susana Framarini. Susana and her family had recently arrived in Canada from Argentina.

Susana and her husband said that Estrella tricked them into coming to Canada. She told them that, once they got into the country, it would be easy for them to get refugee status. Because of Estrella’s promises, the Framarini family—Estrella, her husband, and their three-year-old daughter—decided to leave everything behind in Argentina and come to Canada to start a new life. They flew to the US on visitors’ visas, and then travelled to Buffalo, New York, near the Canadian border. There, with Estrella’s help, they crossed over into Canada. They paid Estrella $2000 for this help.

When they got into Canada, however, they soon discovered that they did not really qualify as refugees. The Canadian government only accepts as refugees people who have been persecuted because of their membership in religious, political, or social groups; neither Susana nor her husband belonged to a group of that kind. When she learned that she did not qualify as a refugee, Susana went to see Estrella. She was angry because she felt Estrella had been dishonest with her and her family. Estrella told Susana that she would have to tell lies to the Refugee Board of the Canadian government. Estrella also asked her for more money and said she would be in trouble if she did not do as she was told.

That was when Susana and her husband decided to tell their story to the police.

Sharon Paine, the police officer who charged Estrella with committing a crime, explained that it was unusual for immigrants who have an experience like Susana’s to go to the police. Sharon said that although there was no reason to be afraid of the police in Canada, people from other parts of the world often do not understand that.

This case was embarrassing to an important Canadian politician, Maria Minna, who was the Minister of International Cooperation in the Canadian government at the time. She had known Estrella for a long time and Estrella had worked for her in her last election campaign.

- information from: The National Post, 01.04 (Finbarr O’Reilly).