Vamos a Canada!' says the ad. 'It doesn't matter if you don't have a permit to stay or a visa. We'll help you find a job!' Julio Sanchez never believed such claims, which appeared daily in the Mexican papers. Like all the others, they probably weren't true. But Mr Sanchez would have flown to Canada anyway. In the end, he didn't have much choice. The drug lords left him a message as clear as the scar that extends from his ear to his temple. And so Canada it was. After all, if you want to go to Toronto, you don't have to pass through the drug battle ground of Tijuana. And you don't need a visa. Tens of thousands of Mexican refugees are fleeing a drug war in which police do business with the traffickers and the state stands idly by. If someone like former anti-crime special investigation chief Noe Ramirez was arrested for giving information about the investigation to the drug lords, it means in Mexico, you can't trust anyone. The people fleeing the country are not just the poor or hunted. Death has entered the houses of doctors, architects and lawyers who have lost faith in their government and the 30,000 soldiers it called in to replace corrupt policemen. Some of them could apply for regular work permits to come to Canada as skilled immigrants, but then they might wait in Mexico for approval for more than a year. Mr Sanchez didn't have a year. The day he boarded a plane to Toronto, the drug lords decapitated 10 of his colleagues. 'Maybe my head wouldn't be in front of you now if I hadn't left,' he says. He arrived in Toronto two months ago. He has no house and no job and shares a room with three others in the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) Refugee Centre. We met at the centre, while he was standing in line with other refugees. There is a woman who is breastfeeding her baby. She came to Canada with her child a few days ago. Beside her, a young boy struggles to keep his eyes open. He hasn't slept for days. Mr Sanchez is holding a folder full of papers. He is a former city councillor and 'Sanchez' is not his real name because the things he holds in his arms are detailed accusations against Alejandro Patron Laviada, brother of the former governor of Yucatan state, Patricio Laviada, who is currently serving as attorney general of environmental protection, a post to which he was appointed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Alejandro Laviada has been reported in Mexican newspapers as being a friend of Ignacio Coronel Villareal, the drug lord of the Sinaloa cartel. Mr Sanchez was never afraid of making public accusations - and suffered the consequences. 'A year ago,' he tells me, 'five people approached me on the street. They asked another man who was with them if I was 'the guy'. When the man confirmed, I realised I was going to die.' They severely beat him, 'kicking my stomach, stepping on my chest and crushing my head on the sidewalk. I was unconscious', Mr Sanchez recounts, 'and I could just hear them insulting me and yelling'. They left him bleeding on the ground, confident that he had learned his lesson. But Mr Sanchez didn't give up. He went directly to the police station, where the officers already seemed to know his attackers. 'The police officer glared at me and asked me to leave.' It was then that he realised he must leave the country. According to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, claims for asylum from Mexicans have shot up in the past 10 years from fewer than 1,000 to more than 6,000 a year. Mexico is now the top country for applicants seeking refugee status in Canada. Francisco Rico-Martinez, director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, says: 'When the situation in Mexico became more problematic and unstable, people decided to escape. The cartels are fighting for territorial domination ... so there is a lot of extortion. 'When you escape from something, you are looking for the easy way out, and the easy way out for Mexicans is Canada. 'Canada,' he explains, 'doesn't require visas and the United States has one of the most discriminatory policies against Mexicans.' Today in Canada, there are more than 10,000 Mexican refugees waiting for their cases to be heard, the largest number from one country since the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board was established. To face the ever-increasing influx, Ottawa is now making Mexican cases a priority. Some cases are heard within five months, while claims from other trouble spots take at least a year. Some people think the drug war is not the only reason for the Mexican exodus. Mauricio Guerrero, a spokesman for the Mexican embassy in Ottawa, told the Toronto Star: 'The reason we are seeing more Mexican refugees in Canada is related to the dishonest coyotes who are promoting Canada to people who want to immigrate here. 'They leave Mexico for Canada with the idea of a better experience, a better life,' he says. 'The government is on the right track to fight against drug dealing and corruption.' Mexican newspapers are swamped with unauthorised advertisements about Canada. 'There is a parallel system - besides the war and the poverty - that is taking advantage of the suffering and desperation of those people,' explains Mr Rico-Martinez, who came to Canada as a refugee in 1991. 'There are thousands of advertisements that encourage people to come to Canada. They promise Mexicans jobs and visas that they don't have. People fall in their trap, pay them, and when they come to Toronto, they are forced to share their room with seven other people and work as an illegal immigrant for private companies' greed for low-cost labour.' The Mexican exodus has changed Ontario's demography. In some Toronto neighbourhoods, you hear more Spanish than English. 'My concern is that we are going to be swarmed by Mexicans,' continues Mr Rico-Martinez, 'and Ottawa has decided simply to ignore the problem because it's the cheapest way to face it. But at the same time, they are trying to discourage them. 'In the airport in Mexico City, Canadian immigration officers check the names of the passengers on their lists, and if they detect that you have a relative who came to Canada and made an application as a refugee, they don't allow you to board the plane.' This is precisely what happened to Mr Sanchez's family. Since he has already applied for refugee status, Canadian officials won't let his wife and three children board a plane to Canada. He fears that his run-ins with the drug lords will turn into a vendetta against his family. 'In Canada,' Mr Rico-Martinez says, 'only 11 per cent of all Mexicans' refugee claims are accepted, compared with an overall acceptance rate of 34 per cent.'