Indian visitors face intrusive and unprecedented questionnaire

Posted by admin on Nov 4th, 2008

Kim Bolan. Canwest News Service. Tuesday, November 04, 2008

VANCOUVER – Every Indian national who wants to visit Canada must now answer a sweeping questionnaire that asks if they or any of their relatives around the world have ever had links to militant groups such as the Babbar Khalsa or the International Sikh Youth Federation. The form demands details of any arrests or criminal charges laid against the applicant or any family members, and whether they have ever served in the police or any paramilitary force.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the questionnaire through the Access to Information act, said he has never seen anything as wide-reaching as the document, which appears to have been implemented recently and only for India.

“Not even the Americans, who are post-9/11 paranoid, engage this intrusive a questionnaire,” Kurland said.

He said the tens of thousands of Indian visa applicants may not even know how to answer some of the questions.

“This thing loops globally and includes your entire family, which is not defined. It exposes you to misrepresentation in the event that any family member in the world, unbeknownst to you, has had a criminal incident because you didn’t declare it,” Kurland said.

The three-page document requests information about any association with a political, religious or social organization and whether or not the applicant has done any fundraising. It demands details of all trips abroad.

Eight groups are specifically referenced: the Babbar Khalsa, ISYF, Khalistan Commando Force, Khalistan Zindabad Force, Khalistan Liberation Front, All India Sikh Student Federation, Lashkar e Tayyiba/Jamaat al-Dawat and Markaze-Dawat-War-Irshad. Some but not all of the listed groups are banned in Canada as terrorist organizations.

Kurland said he has seen special documents prepared for other parts of the world where some applicants might have been involved in a conflict. But the questionnaires in those cases are given only to people whose cases have raised other red flags.

He said the Indian document is so sweeping it is almost useless and encourages people to lie.

Kurland also obtained e-mails from Canadian visa officers in which they expressed concerns about a draft of the questionnaire.

“Frankly, I find the questionnaire very intrusive and not something one would expect to see used often in the largest democracy on the planet,” Trudy Kernighan wrote in one e-mail, dated Oct. 9, 2007, from the Canadian High Commission in Delhi. “Who in their right mind in the Punjab could be expected to answer truthfully? Lying to us has its own implications, but why beg for more dishonesty that we already get?”

The questionnaire was implemented by the Canada Border Services Agency, the documents say.

Kurland thinks the CBSA may be concerned about bad press about two controversial militants who managed to get visas to come to Canada.

In October 2006, the mother of a convicted assassin was granted a visa to travel to Ontario to accept an honour for her son at the Rexdale temple. The visa was revoked after a report in the Vancouver Sun about the event.

Six weeks before that, Ranjit Singh, a controversial former Sikh high priest convicted in India for killing a rival religious leader, arrived at Vancouver International Airport with a visa before being sent back to India by the CBSA.

Singh came as a guest of Abbotsford’s Kalgidhar Darbar Sikh Temple.

Temple president Swarn Singh Gill said there has been a crackdown on visas coming out of Punjab for some time.

“We have trouble getting visas for all the jathas (preachers) coming here,” he said. “They have been refusing visas to a lot of people. It is not good.”

He said some of those being refused had previously visited several times without a problem. He has raised the issue with his local MP.

“We need people coming here for preaching,” Gill said.

But Kashmir Singh Dhaliwal, president of Vancouver’s Ross Street Temple, says he agrees with the tougher regulations.

He said Canada has seen violence related to extremists and should make sure anyone with those associations does not come to visit.

“I think it is a good thing,” Dhaliwal said. “We don’t want those problems to come here again.”

Dhaliwal said the temple invites five or six jathas a year and has not had problems getting visas.

“At least 90 per cent of them get visas,” Dhaliwal said.

Canadian Immigration officials refused to comment, referring calls to the border agency.

CBSA official Tracie LeBlanc did not comment specifically on the questionnaire, but said in an e-mail: “Please note that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act clearly outlines that people who have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, or who are members of a terrorist organization are inadmissible to Canada.”

“Immigration applications of concern are vetted on a case-by-case basis by the CBSA to prevent inadmissible people from reaching Canada,” LeBlanc said.

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