Catalan leader heads to court after Canada refuses him entry for speaking visit

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont fled Spain in 2017 to avoid prosecution after his regional government held an unauthorized referendum on independence. AP Photo/Riccardo Periggiani

The exiled former president of Spain’s Catalonia region is fighting a Canadian government decision to refuse him entry into the country to attend an event hosted by a Quebec nationalist group.

Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain in 2017 to avoid prosecution after his regional government held an unauthorized referendum on independence, has hired Montreal immigration lawyer Stéphane Handfield to plead his case.

Handfield filed a motion Monday in Federal Court seeking judicial review of the Immigration Department decision.

He said the Catalan separatist, who lives in exile in Belgium, received an Electronic Travel Authorization from Canada. But on March 31, two days before his scheduled arrival in Quebec, the government revoked the permit without giving a reason, Handfield said.

“It’s as if we’re saying he is undesirable in Canada,” Handfield said in an interview. “That he is akin to a terrorist or a member of organized crime.”

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READ MORE: Catalan separatists on trial for rebellion in Spain amid protests

Maxime Laporte, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the nationalist group that had invited Puigdemont, accused the federal government of denying Quebecers the right to hear the Catalan separatist politician’s “liberating speech.”

Mathieu Genest, spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said in an email that the government cannot comment on specific cases.

But he said reasons that someone can be found to be inadmissible to Canada include “criminality, having a serious health problem (and) having lied in their application or during an interview.”

READ MORE: Catalan separatists set to win regional elections, deepening Spain’s political crisis

The news Monday that Puigdemont had been denied entry into Canada was criticized by sovereigntist political parties in Quebec as well as by the federal New Democrats.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters in Ottawa he saw no reason why Puigdemont wouldn’t be allowed into Canada. “It’s worrying,” he said. Parti Québécois deputy leader Véronique Hivon called the decision unacceptable.

Handfield’s motion asks the Federal Court to review the decision to “cancel the Electronic Travel Authorization” of his client. The lawyer said he is seeking a written response from the federal government outlining its motives for refusing Puigdemont entry into Canada.

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WATCH: Thousands protest in Madrid against government’s Catalonia policy

Click to play video: 'Thousands protest in Madrid against government’s Catalonia policy' Thousands protest in Madrid against government’s Catalonia policy
Thousands protest in Madrid against government’s Catalonia policy – Feb 10, 2019

The former Catalan president is considered a fugitive by the Spanish government. The 2017 referendum led to an independence declaration, but no action was taken to implement it, and no countries recognized the new Catalan republic.

A little less than half of voters in the region of 7.5 million support pro-independence parties, results of the last regional election show.

Also on Monday, Spanish political party officials said the country’s Electoral Board has ruled that Puigdemont and two other Catalan separatists who fled abroad to escape arrest can’t stand as candidates in next month’s European Parliament elections.

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