Hélène Scherrer was looking forward to a week’s worth of sunshine when she packed her bags and headed to Mexico last month. What she got instead was a close-up view of the ongoing diplomatic spat between Canada and its southernmost NAFTA partner.
As soon as she arrived, Scherrer was promptly turned back home. As a former cabinet minister in Paul Martin’s government, Scherrer holds a green-coloured diplomatic passport, meaning she has to get a visa when travelling to Mexico, even though Canadians travelling with ordinary blue passports don’t need one. It was a costly mistake; the former heritage minister figures her aborted holiday cost her about $4,000.
The unusual visa requirement dates back to last July, when Ottawa began requiring Mexicans to obtain tourist visas when visiting Canada in a bid to clamp down on the number of Mexicans making refugee claims. Worried that a similar move might hurt its all-important tourism industry, Mexico retaliated by requiring visas only for those travelling with official or diplomatic passports.
With no end to the squabbling in sight, Canadian officials say travellers will simply have to live with whatever restrictions the Mexican government imposes. “Those holding diplomatic or official passports have a responsibility to stay informed about restrictions on their use abroad,” Peter Kent, the minister of state of foreign affairs, told the House of Commons last Friday.
Scherrer isn’t the first Canadian to see her trip cut short because of the new rules. In February, NDP MP Bruce Hyer was turned away for the same reason. Reports suggest it’s happened about 10 times. “It’s a pity Scherrer didn’t know,” says Alberto Lozano, the press attaché for the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa, noting the visa is free and can take as little as a day to obtain. “It’s an easy procedure.”