Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Happens When A Canadian Traveller Gets In Trouble

I once suggested we declare her dead.

Photo i took of Nicole Vienneau in 2002
(Wreck Beach, Vancouver)

I got the idea from Henri Cartier-Bresson, my inspiration for photography. He was once declared dead during World War II. He was missing for years. The Museum of Modern Art in New York then organized a posthumous exhibit to pay tribute to the legendary Magnum photographer. Henri then showed up and asked MoMa, Can I help?

By Henri Cartier-Bresson (Mexico, 1934)

He lived another five decades.

In Nicole Vienneau’s case, her family can't access missing person case files. Not unless she is declared dead.

The Toronto Star wrote a full page story today on this.

Police reports were sent by Nicole’s family lawyers securely via the Canadian Embassy. Then Foreign Affairs told her family, to get access, either Nicole has to be declared dead or Nicole, who is missing, has to give permission. "Privacy laws."

Nicole’s been missing for nearly three years. One year was spent trying to get these case files from Canada…files that may be critical for a missing person search.

Nicole’s mother had a good counter-argument against declaring her dead: Canada would stop looking for her.

* * *

For a half year, Foreign Affairs claimed to me directly in writing or via my Member of Parliament that they were in “regular" communication to assist Nicole’s family. They couldn’t disclose what because of “privacy.” I argued privacy shielded what they didn’t do.

I questioned how Foreign Affairs could claim to be in “regular communication” when no communication was regular. I questioned how they could be assisting by blocking case files from being shared.

Two other families who lost loved ones in Haiti reported experiencing this same false media claim. Foreign Affairs claimed they were in “regular contact” assisting those families. In The National Post, those families who lost loved ones in Haiti said they had no communication for a prolonged period of agony. I noticed in today's Toronto Star, Foreign Affairs is no longer saying, they are in "regular" contact.

Canada blocking case files from being shared with families—that is how families are dealing with Foreign Affairs most.

Today, I say, Fear for any Canadian traveller in peril abroad. This is a story of how case files are blocked by Canada from reaching families.

Today’s Toronto Star front page was a result of two emails I sent a few weeks ago – after months, and nearly a year, of trying to help Nicole’s family get files sent by their own lawyer via the Embassy.

* * *

This is one of two cases I have been rigourously pursuing for a prolonged period where information is being with-held from insiders.

Illegitimus non carborundum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Never surrender. Take turns.

* * *

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 11:26 PM...

Ministry of Foreign Affairs...

I am going to be copying Toronto reporters who are familiar with the case of Nicole Vienneau's disappearance. I dont feel it is right that her family has to file a complaint or sue the government to get all the files sent from Syria sent to the Canadian Embassy for her family. I have already spent months trying to get to the bottom of this with you.

It's been nearly a year by my count, and they've applied via the Freedom of Information Act just to get files sent by their own lawyers to the Embassy for the family. I remind you that an investigation of a missing person is at stake.

Your letter attached claims that you are in "regular communication" to assist Nicole's family. How can you possibly be assisting by with-holding information meant for them (for nearly a year by my count) - information that the family's lawyers sent to the Embassy to securely give to the family. Partial files are not acceptable for a missing person case.

I reference a blog by Nicole's brother. I have sent your letter attached here to her brother who copied his mother to verify your statements. Your letter was labelled by the family to be an exaggeration. I have been assured by the family, that contrary to your letter, you are not being accurate with your claims of assistance. I see the proof of it by your failure to hand over records about her case intended for her family to see.

This statement doesnt sound like any kind of assistance (from Feb 22, 2010, post by Nicole's brother on link above):

"In one of many ironic twists, they are denying us access to documents that our lawyer in Syria gave to the Embassy to give to us. That is, the police gave our lawyer some reports, our lawyer gave them to the Embassy to pass along to us securely, but once the documents arrived in Ottawa, the privacy zealots decided that we shouldn't be allowed to see them. And they have still decided we can't see them - different privacy folks have denied us access this time as well. It is mind-numbing how frustrating and obtuse these processes."

Though you claim the Privacy Act prevents you from sharing any information with me (and it seems even her family) - What i do know is you are with-holding a fair bit of information on the case. Please advise if you can actually facilitate information to her family.

I think a Canadian mother has a right to know information Canada has about her missing daughter. And i think given this info was sent to Canada from her mother's lawyers for her mother to receive, i dont know why it has taken nearly a year for you to send all of it.

I am very troubled by this. I am in New York City right now, but i wont rest until you hand over every file the family's lawyers wanted the family to receive. Why is there a problem? At least, let them know. I fear for any Canadian traveller who goes missing based on what you have put this family through.

In that Feb 22 post by her brother, i am referenced for helping the family with a rigourous re-examination of the hotel scene where Nicole's belongings were left behind. When i used to be a reporter decades ago - i was very tenacious and understand that i intend to do the same here.

As per my last email i expect the family to respond that you have done your job forwarding all files from the family's lawyers in Syria. I think this is a reasonable demand. These delays of handing over information are wasting and impairing precious investigation and search resources being deployed and demoralizing people helping to find what happened. I personally have already spent many hours writing to you to demand you hand over information meant for the family from their own lawyers."

Second Email (Feburary 26):

This is another story where your Ministry is falsely telling the media you are in "regular contact" with families who lost loved ones (in Haiti) this some official line being made up by some spin doctor who dont know the truth or deny the truth...why can't you just say you're too busy or something...a least that would be more truthful. It's deplorable that false statements are being made about your actions to families who lost loved ones.

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