Calcott Says Ottawa Warned Prague Of Move

Calcott says Ottawa warned Prague of move
Ambassador: Restrictions are due to immigration policy, not Czech domestic affairs

By Tom Clifford
Staff Writer
Prague Post
Posted: July 22, 2009

Calcott says Canada “could not delay the decision any longer” based on the claims.

The Canadian ambassador to the Czech Republic dismissed accusations that officials in Prague had not been given adequate notice of Ottawa's decision to reintroduce visas for Czech citizens.

“Jason Kenney, the immigration minister, came to Prague June 28. Part of the reason for the trip was to attend the Holocaust Era Assets conference,” Ambassador Michael Calcott said. “But another reason for the trip was to meet senior Czech politicians and tell them in person about Canada's decision. He felt it was important, considering the issue, to tell them face to face.”

Czech officials expressed surprise at Canada's reintroduction of visas July 14, stating that they were working on immigration arrangements, such as stricter airport controls, that would satisfy Canada.

There has been a sharp increase in asylum seekers from the Czech Republic since Canada scrapped visa requirements two years ago.

In 2006, five Czech Roma sought asylum in Canada while the total crossed 3,000 since the abolition of visas in 2007.

In the first half of this year, there were 1,720 refugee claims from Czechs in Canada, double the number from last year.

“This is a huge issue in Canada,” Calcott said. “The sharp rise in asylum seekers puts a huge strain on local authorities especially in Toronto and Hamilton, but in other areas as well, regarding social welfare, housing and also the taxpayers.”

Many in the Czech Republic were cynical about the timing of the announcement, coming just weeks after the Czech presidency of the EU and before a general election in October with a caretaker government currently in office.

But Calcott was quick to rebuke claims that the announcement's timing had more to do with Czech domestic affairs than Canadian immigration concerns.

“We told them in June about our decision, and we simply could not wait until October. We are getting 200 families a week seeking asylum; we could not delay the decision any longer.”

A point of contention remains the fact that visa seekers cannot process their documents at the Prague embassy.

Instead, Czech citizens requiring visas to travel to Canada must go through the Vienna embassy.

“This is due to financial constraints and manpower. Besides, we operate a 'hub' system that means that one embassy will sort out visas for a number of countries. Czech citizens do not have to travel to Vienna. They can, and, if they do, their visas should be sorted out within a day. But, if they apply by post, it should only take about three working days to get the visa processed in Austria.”

Czech officials had suggested they may invoke the EU solidarity agreement and seek reciprocal visas for Canadians visiting any EU country. This has met with a cool response from the EU, which is adopting a wait-and-see approach.

“Obviously, it's a possibility, but that is a decision only the EU can consider,” Calcott said. “We would have to adapt” to any future decision made by the EU.

Tom Clifford can be reached at