Ottawa issues formal apology to India over visa row
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney responds to a question from the media following Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday May 27, 2010. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Saturday, May 29, 2010 12:58PM EDT
Ottawa has been forced to issue a formal apology to India over its treatment of Indian army and police officers seeking to visit Canada.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made an unreserved apology Friday for a series of decisions by Canadian visa officers in India to reject dozens of Indian citizens from entering Canada based on their service in India's military or paramilitary forces.
The visa rejections caused widespread public outrage in India, because Canadian officials claimed applicants' service in India's army, police, and intelligence units made them complicit in torture and other human rights violations.
"Canada has the highest regard for India, its government institutions and processes," Kenney said in a statement.
"The government of Canada therefore deeply regrets the recent incident in which letters drafted by public service officials during routine visa refusals to Indian nationals cast false aspersions on the legitimacy of work carried out by Indian defence and security institutions, which operate under the framework of democratic processes and the rule of law."
The issue has been a top news story in India, with editorial writers pillorying Canada for what one newspaper called "the foul language used by its officials against Indian security and intelligence establishments."
The uproar started two weeks ago, when a retired constable named Fateh Singh Pandher complained to local reporters about his treatment when he applied to move to Canada, where his daughter now lives.
His application was rejected in a letter from a Canadian diplomat that noted his service as a constable in the Border Security Force, which the letter says "has engaged in systematic attacks on civilians and has been responsible for systematically torturing suspected criminals."
After that story emerged, others started coming forward and Indian newspapers and television reported on every new case, which included members of India's army, police, paramilitary and intelligence forces.
Their complaints were similar: that Canadian visa officials had broadly interpreted a rule forbidding entry for war criminals to unfairly encompass the Indian military and police.
The visa officers' letters were taken by many as a national insult, written under official Canadian letterhead. Canada's high commissioner was summoned by the Indian government to explain.
Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna declared the Canadian actions "entirely unacceptable" and threatened retaliation if no corrective steps were taken by Canada.
In his unprecedented apology, Kenney said the visa officers should never have cast India's security institutions in such a light.
"This language, or the inaccurate impression it has created, in no way reflects the policy or position of the Government of Canada," the minister said, adding: "Canada has the highest regard for India, its government institutions and processes."
The apology didn't end there: It came with a pledge that Canada will review its policy on declaring foreigners inadmissible.
"This unfortunate incident has demonstrated that the deliberately broad legislation may create instances when the net is cast too widely by officials, creating irritants with our trusted and valued international allies," Kenney said in his apology. "For this reason the admissibility policy within the legislation is under active review at this time."
Shortly after the apology, Krishna said that Canada had realized its "mistake" and India will treat it as a "closed chapter."
"We have received a copy of the statement made by Jason Kenney, Canadian Minister for Citizenship. He has expressed high regards for India. They have deeply regretted the recent letter drafted by low level officials on routine visa applications casting aspersions on security forces," he told reporters in Bangalore.
The Harper government is anxious not to offend India as it tries to tap into its powerhouse economy. But the apology is also likely aimed at the one million Indo-Canadians who have followed the controversy closely.