Alleged Remark Stirs Ire Of B.C. Delegation

Alleged remark stirs ire of B.C. delegation

Canada's low admission rate for Indians is a concern, B.C. Attorney-General says

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
December 18, 2007

VANCOUVER, TORONTO British Columbia's Attorney-General says alleged comments by a Canadian visa officer in New Delhi have sparked outrage among a group of B.C. college and university leaders who visited India earlier this month.

The delegation, involved in ongoing efforts to attract students and professionals to Canada, were angered by the alleged comments made by chief visa officer Brian Hudson during a briefing, Wally Oppal said.

In an interview, Mr. Oppal declined to label what was allegedly said as racist, noting: “Other people think it is. I am not prepared to throw that word around, but the fact is there were people in the room who drew that inference.”

The minister said he is drafting a letter for Immigration Minister Diane Finley that he expects will be delivered today.

“I am going to express my concern about the comments made by this person. It clearly reflects the comment of our visa officers in Asia. It runs contrary to the best interests of Canada,” Mr. Oppal said.

“We are competing with other nations in the world to attract highly skilled people.”

“[Mr. Hudson] said he did not understand why the heck we were recruiting in the Punjab; the state of the Punjab has the highest crime and forgery rate anywhere; the highest human-trafficking statistics in the world, and that we should be recruiting in South India,” Mr. Oppal alleged.

“The people in the room were apparently offended, so much so that they approached me and approached the Premier with respect to the statements that were made.”

University of British Columbia president Stephen Toope did not hear the specific comments, his spokesman said. Other members of the delegation cited by Mr. Oppal were not available for comment yesterday.

Reached at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi today, Mr. Hudson, the chief visa officer who allegedly made the statements, declined comment.

“I'd rather you talked to the people in Ottawa,” he said. “… I'm not going to jump into the political arena.”

From Ottawa, a spokesman for Ms. Finley last night said the department could not comment on the matter without seeing Mr. Oppal's actual letter.

“We take all allegations of bias on the part of the department seriously,” said Mike Fraser.

Mr. Oppal said he would not specifically be calling for the dismissal of the visa officer. He said his larger concern is how visas to students and other professionals from India are dealt with.

He noted that Canada receives only 2,500 of about 100,000 students from India who annually study abroad. By comparison, he said 60,000 go to the United States and 30,000 to Australia.

“I think they are working contrary to our best interests,” Mr. Oppal said of Canada's visa officers in India.

The combination of a booming economy, aging population and low birth rate in Canada are fuelling a need for qualified immigrants, he said.

“All of this is starting to fester in the Indian community. I get calls from people in the Asian community suggesting perhaps our officials are racist,” he said. “These are the words of people who are very frustrated and angry at what's taking place.”

The minister said concerns about low admission rates of Asians had been raised earlier this year in federal-provincial meetings on immigration.

The visa official's alleged remarks, he said, “are contrary to the best interests of Canada. We are recruiting people from all over the world. We're not asking they sanction people who are fraudulent. We want qualified people. Universities want qualified people. I find it difficult to believe that the American acceptance rate is much higher than ours. I wonder why that is the case.”