When Uganda’s President signed an anti-gay bill into law earlier this year, Ottawa rightly expressed outrage. The law – punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with life in prison – was called “abhorrent” by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Canada now proudly touts its work on this issue as part of its “principled position” on human rights. Ottawa has also reportedly even funnelled money to opponents of the law inside Uganda.
These admirable efforts make all the more incomprehensible a recent decision to deny visitor visas to 10 Ugandan activists invited to attend a conference on gay rights at the University of Toronto. The Canadian government worries the Ugandans will try to claim political asylum if they are allowed into the country. So, visas denied.
It’s a hypocritical decision. These Ugandan activists work on the front lines, trying to protect their communities from appalling treatment at the hand of the state. Canada’s decision to refuse them visas undermines them, not to mention Ottawa’s efforts to defend the rights of homosexual people around the world.
A few thoughts:
– an official at a Canadian visa office is not always a Canadian who is aware of Charter Rights and Freedoms, such as Section 15, the right to be free from discrimination.- in many cases, the visa officer making these decisions can be a local staff member who lives in the area. They are locals hired by the Canadian government to carry out the work of the Canadian government.
– in effect, the decision maker can have biases, assumptions and preconceived notions when assessing an application.
– when an official refers to treating everyone equally, such treatment can result in discrimination; what is key is to recognize an applicant’s circumstances in order to deliver an equitable decision.
– Toronto is world-renowned for its annual Pride Day celebration, which has a huge, positive impact on the economy
– to deny entry to those who support human rights contradicts some of the objectives of our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act:
Refugee Act3.(1) Objectives – immigration – The objectives of this Act with respect to immigration are
(a) to permit Canada to pursue the maximum social, cultural and economic benefits of immigration;
(b) to enrich and strengthen the social and cultural fabric of Canadian society, while respecting the federal, bilingual and multi-cultural character of Canada;
(b.1) to support and assist the development of minority official languages communities in Canada;
(c) to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy, to which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions of Canada;
(d) to see that families are reunited in Canada;
(e) to promote the successful integration of permanent residents intoCanada, while recognizing that integration involves mutual obligations for new immigrants and Canadian society;
(f) to support, by means of consistent standards and prompt processing, the attainment of immigration goals established by the Government of Canada in consultation with the provinces;
(g) to facilitate the entry of visitors, students and temporary workers for purposes such as trade, commerce, tourism, international understanding and cultural, educational and scientific activities;
(h) to protect public health and safety and to maintain the security of Canadian society;
(i) to promote international justice and security by fostering respect for human rights and by denying access to Canadian territory to persons who are criminals or security risks; and
(j) to work in cooperation with the provinces to secure better recognition of the foreign credentials of permanent residents and their more rapid integration into society.
Visas Should Be Granted
In my opinion, the refusal of the Ugandan applicants contradict (a), (b), (c), (h), and (i).
Karen Kwan Anderson is an immigration lawyer with Pace Immigration, an immigration law firm in Toronto, Canada.