Tuesday, July 24, 2012
John Baird troubled by reports Eritrean dictatorship using Toronto consulate to ‘extort’ citizens | Canadian Politics | Canada | News | National Post
Jul 23, 2012 – 11:58 PM ET | Last Updated: Jul 24, 2012 12:00 AM ET
Aaron Lynett / National Post
‘The Eritrean consulate in Toronto has been undermining Canadian law for years,’ says journalist Aaron Berhane.
An African dictatorship whose consulate in Toronto has allegedly been using coercion to collect “taxes” to finance its military has been told by Canada that its actions “could be criminal,” according to a diplomatic letter obtained by the National Post.
John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, sent the letter to his Eritrean counterpart after the Post revealed the consulate of Eritrea in Toronto was collecting a 2% income tax from members of the Eritrean diaspora in Canada — a levy some called extortion.
The letter said Canada was “very concerned” about a United Nations report that alleged Eritrea was arming, training and financing armed groups such as Al Shabab, the Somali Islamists linked to al-Qaeda who have called for terrorist attacks in Canada.
“Canada is also very concerned about recent media reports that suggest that Eritrea is using consular premises to collect a 2 percent tax on Eritrean Canadians using coercive methods.
The Eritrean authorities continue to rely heavily on extraterritorial taxation among Eritrean diaspora communities to generate hard currency
Using consular premises would contravene the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the use of coercive methods could be criminal,” it reads.
A copy of Mr. Baird’s letter to Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed was obtained by the Post after the UN Security Council released its latest report on an arms embargo imposed on Eritrea.
The report by the UN Monitoring Group said Eritrea continued to violate the embargo and was using thuggery to collect money in countries such as Canada, some of it for military purposes.
“The Eritrean authorities continue to rely heavily on extraterritorial taxation among Eritrean diaspora communities to generate hard currency.
The Monitoring Group has confirmed that the collection of such taxes routinely involves threats, harassment and intimidation,” it said.
The report singled out the Eritrean consulate in Toronto, which the UN investigators said was raising money for military purposes through a dubious 2% income tax levied on members of the diaspora. Those who refuse to pay suffer retribution, it said.
“According to a recent Royal Canadian Mounted Police assessment, which is consistent with the Monitoring Group’s own findings, refusal to pay the tax often results in denial of service or threats against, or harassment of, family members still residing in Eritrea, or possible arrest of the individual should they travel to Eritrea without paying the taxes alleged to be owing,” it said.
The report recounted the case of a man who had immigrated to Canada from Eritrea. Before he could become a permanent resident, Canadian immigration authorities required him to present a valid Eritrean passport.
Since he didn’t have one, he applied at the Eritrean consulate in Toronto. But the consulate told him he would first have to pay a retroactive income tax, which included a contribution to the “Eritrean defence fund.”
When the man responded that he was not willing to contribute to Eritrea’s military budget, the consulate refused to renew his passport. He pleaded with Canadian immigration officials, arguing he would be violating UN sanctions if he gave money to the Eritrean military, but they insisted he provide a valid passport. He “had no choice but to pay the entire sum,” the report said.
In another case, a February concert in Calgary hosted by Eritrea’s ruling Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice party was billed as a fundraiser for “orphans and children” but an RCMP report cited by the UN monitoring group said the money was actually handed over to Eritrean government agents.
The UN panel that wrote the report visited Canada as part of its investigation. The Nairobi-based researchers, headed by Canadian Matt Bryden, investigate alleged violations of the UN Security Council resolutions covering Somalia and Eritrea.
Mr. Baird’s press secretary, Rick Roth, said the government would review the report’s findings before commenting.
“We encourage anyone who may experience this type of intimidation to contact local police authorities and/or the RCMP,” he said. “Our government stands firmly against terrorist organizations and those who support them.”
Eritrea has no embassy in Ottawa. Its only accredited diplomat is the Toronto-based consul, Semere Ghebremariam O. Micael, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. He could not be reached for comment.
Aaron Berhane, a journalist who fled Eritrea and now lives in Toronto, said more Eritrean-Canadians were now speaking out against the fundraising efforts of the regime, which is consistently ranked one of the most repressive in Africa.
“The Eritrean consulate in Toronto has been undermining Canadian law for years. It extorts Eritrean-Canadian citizens, community centers and churches to collect money illegally,” he said.
He wants the Canadian government to shut down the consulate office. “Enough is enough.”
The UN report said Eritrea had backed off its support for Al Shabab in recent months due to international scrutiny but the country continues to support other militant groups and to traffic weapons, some of which reportedly end up in the Middle East.