Canada tries to strip citizenship from man accused of butchering villagers

Accused war criminal could lose citizenship

OTTAWA — Canada is moving to strip citizenship from a man accused of slaughtering villagers in Guatemala using a grenade, gun and sledgehammer.

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes concealed his brutal role in a 1982 massacre by the Guatemalan military in obtaining Canadian citizenship a decade later, the federal government says in newly filed court documents.

Sosa Orantes, 59, is now serving a 10-year sentence for immigration fraud in the United States, where he also held citizenship until it was revoked in 2014.

Canada has opted to strip citizenship in only a handful of modern-day war crimes cases.

The bloody, decades-long conflict between Guatemalan government forces and guerrillas intensified in the early 1980s.

The military junta began a ruthless campaign of destruction that wiped out 440 villages, killing over 75,000 people and displacing more than 250,000, the Canadian government says in documents filed in Federal Court.

The army would typically circle a village, seal it off, gather the people and separate men and women before killing villagers.

“Destruction of property, torture, sexual violence towards women and minors was widespread and systematic during these operations,” the court submission says.

Sosa Orantes was a senior member of a military special forces group that led a mission to the Guatemalan village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982 to interrogate inhabitants after some military rifles were allegedly stolen during a guerrilla ambush of troops.

The military members killed at least 162 civilians, including 67 children. Women were raped and children were thrown into an 18-metre dry well.

“The members of the special forces group killed their victims by hitting them on the head with a sledgehammer, by hitting their heads on a tree, by shooting them, or by slitting their throats,” the federal submission says.

“In other cases, victims were simply thrown into the well while they were still alive.”

At one point, Sosa Orantes fired his rifle into the well, then tossed in a grenade, the documents say.

In supervising the killings at the well, he mocked subordinates “who showed any hesitation to commit the murders.”

There were only three survivors, and the missing rifles were not found.

Sosa Orantes left Guatemala for California in 1985. After being denied asylum in the U.S., he visited the Canadian consulate in San Francisco to seek haven in Canada. He was granted refugee status, later becoming a permanent resident and citizen of Canada.

The federal government argues in the court filing that Sosa Orantes failed to disclose details of his military involvement that would have made him inadmissible to Canada.

Sosa Orantes married an American woman and attained U.S. citizenship in September 2008.

In 2010, the U.S. discovered he had committed immigration fraud by concealing his past. He was arrested the following year in Lethbridge, Alta., while visiting family. He was subsequently extradited to the U.S. to face trial.

Sosa Orantes has denied being in Las Dos Erres the day of the massacre.

In ordering his extradition to the U.S., the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench said the evidence establishes Sosa Orantes was one of the commanding officers who decided to murder the villagers and that he “actively participated in the killings with a sledgehammer, with a firearm and a grenade.”

“It is difficult for this court to comprehend the murderous acts of depraved cruelty on the scale disclosed by the evidence.”

U.S. immigration officials say they will seek to deport Sosa Orantes to Guatemala upon conclusion of his sentence.  

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Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press