Toronto Star: Politicians repudiate Canadian values over India

In the international uproar over a Canadian immigration officer who denied a visa to a former member of a “notoriously violent” Indian paramilitary force one thing is clear: Some Canadian politicians are working for everyone but Canadians.\

by: Gian Singh Sandhu, Senior Policy Adviser

World Sikh Organization of Canada

In the international uproar over a Canadian immigration officer who denied a visa to a former member of a “notoriously violent” Indian paramilitary force one thing is clear: Some Canadian politicians are working for everyone but Canadians.

The story broke in India two weeks ago after a would-be immigrant complained that an unnamed visa officer declined his application on the grounds that he had worked with the Border Security Force, a paramilitary group. The rejection letter noted that the BSF had been involved in attacks on civilians and had engaged in “systematic torture.” Soon other rejected applicants came forward complaining that they, too, were banned under a rule that forbids entry to war criminals or anyone who has engaged in “terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide.”

Instead of commending the visa officer for doing the job Canadians expect — excluding those who ignore Canadian human rights standards — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney opted to offer India a grovelling apology. (The Tories have been courting India's market of more than 1 billion people as a trading partner.)

Visa officers have “too much latitude,” Kenney told several news outlets.

I suspect most Canadians would say that it is Kenny who has been given too much latitude. This is a point that voters might take up with the opposition if it weren't for the fact that Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh told the Hindustan Times that India's anger is justified.

Dosanjh compares India to two other nations known for human rights abuses, China and Israel. He suggests that India is entitled to the same low standards of scrutiny on immigrants that Canada has (supposedly) granted them.

“Will they dare do this to the Chinese or Israelis? Never. I am very angry about how the Canadian government is treating individual members of Indian security agencies,” Dosanjh is quoted as saying. “Indian security agencies may have the same kind of operational difficulties that Israeli forces are going through in the Middle East. But Canadians dare not treat Israeli agencies the way they are treating Indian agencies.”

If that's true, what makes Dosanjh think it's in the best interests of Canadians to lower the standard of scrutiny for Indian immigrants rather than raise it for those from China or Israel?

While Kenney and Dosanjh both show a touching enthusiasm for maintaining the good name of India's security forces, it's a shame they don't show more concern for the welfare of the Canadians who elected them.

Amnesty International's 2010 report notes that Indian police and paramilitary forces engage in the torture, abduction and killing of civilians as well as harassing human rights defenders reporting on their actions. (This same report highlights the Canadian government's poor treatment of aboriginals, which may be why Kenney prefers to ignore it.)

The Toronto Star has reported that Meenakshi Ganguly, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, was not surprised by the Canadian immigration officer's assessment of the Border Security Force. Human Rights Watch's reports show that the BSF has committed human rights violations both in the Indian-administered Kashmir and along the India-Bangladesh border.

But then those are just the views of “some ridiculous human rights activist body,” as the New Delhi Sunday Pioneer characterizes critics. It dismisses Canada's immigration officers as being “preachy moralists” who don't understand “the complexities of a country.”

“Since there are no accepted global yardsticks, Canada has set up its own war crimes section where, presumably, gullible, starry-eyed youngsters, fresh from university and an internship with some ridiculous human rights activist body, sit in judgment over the Indian army,” writes the Sunday Pioneer.

That article brags that India only rejects visa applicants on reasonable grounds, citing the barring of Salman Rushdie, whose book The Satanic Verses earned him death threats from Muslims. “Where Canada differs is by statutorily barring all those it considers guilty or complicit of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Yes, author Swapan Dasgupta does seem to have it right. Unlike India, Canada protects freedom of speech and human rights. And most Canadians consider it perfectly reasonable to expect that immigrants share those values.

Or so I thought until I read of the disgraceful performances by Kenney and Dosanjh.

I think that it's fair to say that India defines the word democracy differently than Canada — which is its right. But Kenney and Dosanjh were elected to represent Canadian views and values, not Indian ones.

Gian Singh Sandhu is the founding president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada and currently serves as senior policy adviser to the group. He is a member of the Order of British Columbia and has served as CEO and president of a major forest company in British Columbia.

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