Dozens of activists denied visas to attend youth congress in Quebec: organizers
The Canadian Press
July 25, 2008
MONTREAL Dozens of activists from developing countries are being denied temporary visas into Canada after being invited to attend a major youth convention in Quebec, the event's organizers say.
The activists were hoping take part in the World Youth Congress in Quebec City next month, but failed to convince immigration officials they will leave the country after the event ends.
Congress organizers are puzzled by the rationale, claiming the event is aimed at giving participants the tools to boost the standard of living in their home countries.
“It's very disappointing to see that Canada, which wants to play a role on the international scene, can't even let youngsters participate in an event like this,” said Christian Robitaille, the event's director general.
Robitaille said the refusals have been sweeping.
Two out of three invitees from the world's poorest countries have seen their applications denied, including the entire delegation from Pakistan.
Though he couldn't provide a precise figure, Robitaille estimated more than 150 people between 15-and 30-years-old have had their travel plans dashed.
News that all 17 Pakistani delegates were snubbed made headlines in Karachi newspapers.
“We're not trying to bring terrorists to Quebec City,” Robitaille said
He pointed out that the 600 congress participants were selected from an initial list of 15,000 applicants.
“These are youngsters who are very involved with their communities and many of them have travelled abroad before.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada refused to confirm the figures provided by the World Youth Congress.
They said every application is assessed on the applicant's ability to meet a list of criteria that includes proving sufficient financial resources and sufficient ties to their home country.
“Immigration Canada understands the importance of these meetings,” said spokeswoman Jaqueline Roby.
“We're very concerned about the World Youth Congress and we issued many visas for the convention.”
But organizers of the Congress fear developing countries will now be under-represented at the event, undermining their goal of encouraging sustainable development around the world.
Immigration Canada suggested that many applicants from Africa and parts of Asia and South America were victims of circumstances beyond their control.
“Immigration agents also examine the economic and political stability of the entire country of origin,” Roby said.
“That's certainly part of the decision process. It's not the fault of congress-goers, but it's not Canada's fault either.”
Robitaille scratches his head at such reasoning. He noted the High Commission in Islamabad granted visas to applicants from Afghanistan, but not Pakistan.
He worries that labelling the participants “activists” – as opposed to a more politically neutral term such as “community leaders” – may have biased immigration officials.
“We invited them because they're engaged, we hope they're not being turned away because they're engaged,” Robitaille said.
“We're starting to ask ourselves questions,” he said, wondering if calling the invitees “young activists” made their entry into Canada more difficult.
“For the moment, I can't say yes. But I'd like to be able to be confident in saying no.”
The World Youth Congress runs from Aug. 10-21.