Torstar News Service
Human rights advocate Luis Alberto Mata, centre, with wife Diana and son Jacobo, was delighted to learn Friday that his 12-year struggle to attain permanent residence in Canada is finally coming to an end.

After a 12-year delay, an accepted refugee from Colombia has won a bittersweet battle against Ottawa to gain permanent resident status.

Luis Alberto Mata, who was granted asylum in Canada in 2003, was notified Friday by the federal justice department that he will receive his permanent resident visa by the end of the month.

“I’m really happy and grateful that the Department of Justice did something that I’d deserved for many years,” said the Toronto man, who has lived in limbo as a “protected person” because immigration officials would not render a decision on his permanent residence application all these years.

“I was sad and didn’t see any hope in my life. Now I can finally get the security that I need to establish myself in Canada and move forward.”

Mata and his supporters had been kept in the dark about what caused the inaction by immigration officials, but believed it was a result of the human rights activist being mislabeled as a “guerrilla sympathizer and collaborator” in propaganda by previous Colombia authorities.

The notification from the justice department came after Torstar News Service story last month featuring Mata’s fight, the launch of a public petition by his supporters and a legal application by his lawyer, Leigh Salsberg, for a court order to force immigration officials to act.

Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International Canada, a supporting organization of Mata’s campaign, said she was surprised by Friday’s news.

“The whole thing was so unpredictable and arbitrary, outside of the judiciary proceeding. It’s like a black hole, and no one really knew what was going to happen,” she said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. Until Luis has the immigration paper in his hand, I won’t be able to believe that all barriers have been removed.”

Salsberg said she only learned of immigration officials’ security clearance from her justice department counterparts after her client went to court for the mandamus application on May 1.

“It’s definitely bittersweet. As a lawyer, I’m feeling if Luis had filed the court application sooner, (immigration) officials could’ve got on to it earlier,” she said.

Mata, 52, his wife, Diana Marcela Gallego, 47, a lawyer, fled to Canada in 2002 after receiving repeated threats from paramilitary forces. The threat had been so serious that Amnesty International had issued a “call for urgent action” with Colombian authorities to advocate for their safety.

Salsberg said she had no clue why officials had a change of heart, but suspected the delay stemmed from Mata’s membership in the Patriotic Union, a movement that came out of the peace dialogues between the notorious FARC guerrilla movement and the Colombian government in 1985.

The leftist political party was founded by FARC (the Revolutionary armed Forces of Colombia) and the Colombian Communist Party.