A new report is calling on Ottawa to remove Mexico from its refugee "safe" list, highlighting the human rights abuses suffered by sexual minorities and people living with HIV in that country.

According to the report, published by the University of Toronto's International Human Rights Program on Monday, failure to remove Mexico from Ottawa's designated countries of origin (DCO) list could mean that Canada is violating its international legal obligations. 

The 54-page report is based on interviews with more than 50 Mexican healthcare workers, human rights activists, journalists, LGBT community members, and HIV patients.

It found that, while Mexico has enacted an "impressive" array of human rights legislation including universal healthcare for all, vulnerable Mexicans actually have little legal protection. This is especially true for people living with HIV and sexual minorities, the report said.

"We uncovered that the scene that Mexico portrays in terms of its announcement of universal access to healthcare is not really the case on the ground," the report's co-author and supervising lawyer Kristin Marshall told CTV News Channel.

Marshall said that, while Mexico has legislation in place to prevent the discrimination of sexual minorities, "these rights are not respected and there's no recourse when there is a violation."

The report noted some of the violence sexual minorities face in Mexico. For example:

  • In June 2015, unknown armed assailants beat and shot a transgender woman in the head, before wrapping her body in a Mexican flag. The attack, which took place a few days before Mexico City hosted its Pride parade, was apparently a protest against the Mexican Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage, the report said.
  • A UN Special Rapporteur found that, between 2005 to 2013, there were 555 reported homicides in Mexico targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The actual number is likely much higher, as many crimes in Mexico go unreported, the report said.

The report also noted some of the barriers and discrimination sexual minorities and HIV patients in Mexico face when accessing healthcare.

For example:

  • Transgender women reported that they are routinely denied HIV treatment, and face discrimination from healthcare workers. Many said they can’t even enter hospitals or healthcare clinics because they lack ID, and fear the police officers stationed at the hospital entrances.
  • The report highlighted the case of Julio, a gay asylum-seeker from El Salvador, who nearly died from a brain infection after being denied HIV treatment for 18 months because of a lack of sufficient ID.
  • The report also found that the privacy rights of HIV patients are often infringed. For example, when a woman is diagnosed with HIV, her husband is often notified first, Marshall said.

Mexico was placed on the DCO list, by the former Conservative government in 2013. Countries on the DCO list "do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection," according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 

Refugee claimants from these countries will have their applications processed faster, meaning the claimants have less time to prepare their case.

According to CIC, the aim of the DCO program is to ensure that refugees in need of protection get it faster, while those with "unfounded claims are sent home quickly through expedited processing."

However, the U of T report argues that Mexico should be removed from Canada's DCO list, as it remains unsafe for many Mexicans. The report also calls for greater Canadian investment in Mexican HIV prevention, care and treatment.

Samer Muscati, U of T's IHRP director, said Canada needs to look beyond its trading relationship with Mexico.

"A country that regularly denies access to fundamental health rights and HIV treatment for its marginalized communities cannot be called a 'safe' country," he said in a statement.

"Mexico may be one of Canada’s largest trading partners, but Canada has an obligation to look past that relationship and acknowledge the harsh reality facing sexual minorities and others affected by HIV in Mexico."

The report was released on World Refugee Day and ahead of the Three Amigos summit when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosts U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Ottawa on June 29.