Visa rules tightened as paralysed Sikh deported
A questionnaire introduced by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to keep out undesirable visitors from India has stirred up controversy in that country’s Sikh communities.
The story broke as the news came that a paralysed man was being deported against the wishes of the Indo-Canadian community.
Visa seekers are now supposed to declare if they or any of their relatives has ever had links to militant groups and been involved in human rights violations.
Opponents of the questionnaire say it asks for declarations that may prove to be inaccurate because there is no definition of a family network. Those answering the questions may not know if a distant family member has a criminal record, they point out.
Some critics say it is so perplexing that it invites applicants to lie.
The questionnaire seeks information about any connection with a political, religious or social organisation and specifically: 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 of these are banned in Canada as terrorist organisations.
The CBSA want 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.
There is background context for the immigration authorities’ move, according to the Vancouver Sun newspaper.
In one incident, in 2006, a Sikh priest convicted in India for killing a rival religious leader tried unsuccessfully to gain entry at Vancouver airport. He had been invited to the country to visit a Sikh temple.
Spokesmen for different gurdwara differ over whether the new questionnaire is a sensible measure or not. Maintaining access for visiting preachers is one cause for concern.
- The paralysed Sikh, Laibar Singh, 48, has finally been deported from Canada to India after a two-year battle against exclusion.
In that time he made headlines by being given protection for 15 months by various gurdwara and, on one occasion, by more than 1,000 protesting Indo-Canadians who prevented the authorities from flying him out of the country.
Singh entered Canada on fake papers five years ago, claiming refugee status because of religious persecution in India.
In 2006 he was left paralysed in all his limbs after what is variously described as a stroke or spinal infection. But that summer he was taken by supporters to a temple – just before the authorities, who had refused him refugee status, moved against him.
He was arrested when he left the gurdwara for medical attention but supporters won him two 60-day reprieves by depositing a $50,000 bond.
Then he was saved again by the airport protest, last December.
Supporters petitioned the Canadian government to allow him to stay on humanitarian grounds but this was turned down. Singh’s backers lost their bond money when he failed to report to the authorities for deportation.
After that, he found sanctuary in the Abbotsford gurdwara near Vancouver, but the constant threat of deportation if he ever left the building finally wore him down. The wheelchair-bound widower said he was tired and would return to a village near Jalandhar where he has four grown-up children, rather than risk imprisonment in Canada.
He has denied a Punjab police allegation that he had links with separatist militants.
Canadian authorities had refused his plea to be allowed to stay on compassionate grounds because of his life-threatening medical condition.
The Indo-Canadian community has raised $32,000 for medical care in India. Gurdwara president Swaran Gill said it would send him further funds and medical equipment.
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