After Jose Figueroa finished telling his story and left the stage, the crowd in the Chan performing centre for the arts in Vancouver rose to its feet and gave him a standing ovation.
The Langley resident was one of the featured speakers at the third annual TEDxVancouver conference on Saturday Nov. 12, along with notables like Vancouver Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival artistic director Christopher Graze and famed Canadian general Romeo Dallaire.
The prestigious TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conferences are operated by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation in the U.S. and Canada to disseminate “ideas worth spreading”
Figueroa, who is fighting extradition from Canada back to his native El Salvador, explained how he was declared inadmissible under loosely-worded Canadian immigration laws that declared him a terrorist.
The married father of three Canadian-born children was ordered deported to El Salvador for belonging to the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a group linked to violent acts against the regime that ruled the country during the civil war from 1980 to 1992.
Even though the FMLN went on to win a nonviolent and democratic election to become the government of El Salvador and even though the government of Canada has formally recognized the FMLN, the immigration laws still consider it a terrorist group.
“Can you imagine one day being told that you were actually a member of a terrorist organization?” Figueroa said.
“This was not true. It was a mistake – how could someone say such a thing? “
There is an urgent need to find a better definition of terrorism, he said.
“Our failure in defining the “T” word has made it a word that no one can truly understand or agree upon,” Figueroa said.
“Every country has the right and the obligation to protect its citizen against terrorism. While doing so they also have the obligation to protect innocent people mischaracterized as terrorists.”
After his speech, a delighted Figueroa said the unexpected invitation to speak has lifted his family’s morale.
“Thank God, it went really good,” he said.
“TED meant a great opportunity to continue on our fight for the right of my family and many other people.”
Figueroa has been told it will be seven to nine years before there is a ruling on his application to the ministry of public safety for “ministerial relief” that would allow him to remain in Canada.
Figueroa’s TEDxVancouver speaking notes: