Refugee Concerns Behind Travel Status Delay: China

Refugee Concerns Behind Travel Status Delay: China

Ambassador worries Chinese tourists would exploit Canada's immigration policies if it were given Approved Destination Status, a concern experts say is a red herring.

By Jeff Davis
Embassy Magazine
January 16, 2008

As frustration mounts over China's failure to grant Canada Approved Destination Status, which would open the door to greater numbers of Chinese visitors to the country, China's ambassador is pointing to immigration and refugee issues as one of the hang ups.

Meanwhile, some say China is playing politics with ADS, holding back because of cooling diplomatic relations. Canada was among the first countries to apply for ADS in 1999, and has stewed as 138 countries have received it. ADS would allow large groups of tourists to visit Canada.

When asked why Canada has not received ADS, Ambassador Lu Shumin said people in the tourist groups that would come with ADS approval may want to stay in Canada. “We have 1.3 billion people,” he told Embassy after speaking to the Canada-China Friendship Society in Ottawa on Jan. 10. “If only a very tiny proportion of the population came here, what would happen if only a few of these tourists groups wanted to stay?”

Mr. Lu said that there have been cases of Chinese coming to Canada on tourist visas, claiming refugee status, and staying for good. “We have quite a few cases here, and we haven't settled down these cases, because these people are taking advantage of your immigration policies and some of your political procedures,” he said. “In our relationship, we don't want to see more and more cases like that. “We want to make sure that when tourists from China come to this country, they are happy, and when they go back they are also happy,” he said.

Mr. Lu also cited the case of Lai Changxing, an alleged smuggling kingpin who is in Canada on a refugee claim, and other such cases as irritants slowing the progress of ADS. “There are cases like that; there are many,” he says. “I don't specify that as the major [issue], but certainly that is one.”

The Lai case has dragged on since 1999, when he claimed refugee status in Canada. Most recently, Justice Yves de Montigny overturned Mr. Lai's deportation order after a judicial review decision in April. This was done on the grounds that, despite diplomatic assurances from the Chinese he would not be tortured, Justice de Montigny still felt Mr. Lai was at risk.

Don DeVoretz, director of the Centre for Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis at Simon Fraser University, said the Chinese fail to understand that Canada cannot simply deport those who claim refugee status.

“The fundamentals of refugee law, the legal structure and appeal, prohibit us from doing what they think is the right thing to do, which is deport these people,” he added. “They really don't understand what refugee policy is all about,” he said. “They don't understand this is due process. They don't get it.”

Mr. DeVoretz said the situation has been inflamed by other issues, such as the low-key but continual protest Falun Gong is mounting against the Chinese consulate in Vancouver.

Issue Could Go to WTO

While Mr. Lu pointed towards immigration and refugee issues as the sticking point, some say this is questionable, as the United States has received ADS. Peter Showler, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and specialist in immigration and refugee law, said that, ordinarily, refugees can make the same claims in both the U.S. and Canada.

“My own assumption would be that the reasons for the difference would be political,” he said. “There are not such exceptional differences in the refugee system that would explain the difference in exit control policy by the Chinese government.

Randy Williams, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, also thinks the Chinese are withholding ADS for political reasons. “I think it's related to a cooling in the relationship between Canada and China,” he said, adding that he suspects Canada's failure to deport Mr. Lai and the recent visit by the Dalai Lama have gotten under Chinese skin. Mr. Williams said that the Canadian tourism industry is losing out as a result. Not only are many Chinese barred from visiting, he said, Canadian tourism organizations are not permitted to advertise in the People's Republic. “I think it's a political message, and tourism is being used as a pawn in a greater game,” he said.

Mr. Lu said that while the two countries have an agreement in principal to reach an agreement on ADS, this doesn't set a timeline for granting ADS. Last week, Minister of International Trade David Emerson expressed his frustration with the issue after a meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming in Beijing. “I was here three years ago when we had agreement in principle to do the ADS deal,” he told the press. “We still have not gotten to the point where we're moving forward with a serious negotiation.” Mr. Emerson also threatened to bring the issue as an action before the WTO. “And so, when I look out there and I see 138 countries, including the United States, who were given ADS, then I have to say, under trade law, this is looking more and more like discrimination.

Sergio Marchi, president of the Canada China Business Council, said WTO action is “a tool worth considering.” He said that when cases are to be brought before WTO dispute settlement bodies, the majority of them are resolved informally before the formal process begins. “This can act as an instrument to push the two sides to discuss and hopefully amicably resolve the long running tourism issue,” he said.