Canada Curtsies To Papua New Guinea Dance Troupe

Canada curtsies to Papua New Guinea dance troupe

CBC News
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 | 9:33 AM ET

Canada's immigration department has overturned a decision to block the entry of a Papua New Guinea dance troupe following weeks of diplomatic wrangling that included threats of political retaliation from the Pacific country.

Eight young dancers were interrogated for several hours and then sent home after they arrived in Vancouver on July 4 for a cultural exchange with a First Nations community in the British Columbia Interior.

The case made headlines after a Papua New Guinea legislator, Malcolm Smith-Kela, threatened to retaliate by denying Canadian gas and mining companies access to their country's resources and vowing to raise the issue at the United Nations.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare also sent a written complaint to his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, said Smith-Kela.

“When this situation came to Citizenship and Immigration's attention, Citizenship and Immigration and Canadian Border Services Agency took action to resolve this case and make sure [the dancers] made it here,” said immigration department spokeswoman Danielle Norris.

The troupe is now scheduled to arrive in Vancouver on Friday.

According to Smith-Kela, Canada Border Services agents had the mistaken idea that the dancers were coming as cheap labour.

The dancers were planning to spend four weeks sharing traditional storytelling, dance and music at the invitation of the Little Shuswap Indian Band, located about 60 kilometres northeast of Kamloops.

Gary Demosky, who was chaperoning the dancers through the airport, said border security agents didn't appear interested in listening and had trouble understanding them since there was no translator.

“[The agents] seemed, in my mind, somewhat arrogant,” said Demosky, who lives in Chase, B.C., and was also interrogated that day.

Demosky said Papua New Guineans are traditionally a culturally deferent people, answering yes to everything including when the dancers were questioned about coming to Canada to work as cheap labour.

Liberal Public Safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said the government should explain what happened and what prompted the decision's reversal.

“The government should be absolutely transparent and open, [and] tell Canadians why they have now changed their mind,” said Dosanjh, MP for the Vancouver South riding.

He said the dance troupe is lucky that unlike other foreigners turned away, they have donors like Vancouver-based LNG Energy on its side.

The company has liquefied natural gas interests in Papua New Guinea and is footing the bill to bring the troupe back to Canada.