Recently, Canada’s immigration Minister Jason Kenney was forced to apologize for his New Delhi Canadian visa office’s apparently systematic banning of Indian nationals from Canada who performed service in India’s army, or police service (on the basis of alleged human rights abuses or war crimes).

At the risk of alienating those who are often victims of India’s Army (such as those in Kashmir),  or  victims of  India’s  corrupt police force Canada’s immigration Minister admitted that Canadian immigration officials should never have cast aspersions on India’s institutions.  “Never” casting aspersions on such a massive army or police force is clearly over compensating the government of India.

There was a frank admission by Kenney that visa officers, the gatekeepers for visiting Canada, “have too much latitude”.   The blanket refusal treatment by Canada’s visa officers in New Delhi was attributed in part to the extraordinary workload at Canada’s visa office in New Delhi.  However, it is entirely the fault of the Canadian government to understaff Canadian visa services to Indians (keeping only two visa posts for country of over one billion people).

There is often a culture of refusal by Canadian visa officers who dispose of applications for visitor visas (which is in contrast to countries whose citizens do not require a visitor visa to Canada – visitor visa-exempt countries).

The contrast to visitor visa exempt countries is quite striking.  A policeman from the Hungary (whose citizens do not need a visitor visa to Canada as of March 1, 2008), could pass through Canada customs on the strength of his Hungarian passport, with almost no chance of refusal on the basis of violating human rights despite the allegation that the Hungarian police have used excessive force.

The Globe and Mail also reported the Minister’s pledge that Canada will review its policy on declaring foreigners inadmissible. The incident, he added, “has demonstrated that the deliberately broad legislation may create instances when the net is cast too widely by officials, creating irritants with our trusted and valued international allies.”

I don’t think the problem is one of overly broad legislation; it could be that international trade is more important than human rights (given the obvious backtracking and profuse apologies by Canada’s Immigration Minister to the Indian government).  The problem may also be one of indifference and Western guilt over the Holocaust.

For example, one of Toronto’s local monthlies (the kind that cater to people who have too much money or time on their hands) heralded the opening of a new boutique gym in Toronto.  The gym’s staff includes one Erez Cohen who served in the Israeli army in an elite anti-terror unit for four years. The reporter for the paper mentioned, “Cohen is so soft spoken and gentle I often have to ask him to repeat himself. It’s hard to believe that he can kill you.”

The gym also appears to cater to underprivileged children from the Jane and Finch area of Toronto.  The gym’s owner, Rachelle Bronfman, also has other endeavors: including “fitness adventure getaways in Israel (Israel Defense Style!) with shooting excursions, briefings with IDF special intelligence and Shabbat dinners with a hundred IDF soldiers.”

Given the recent activities of the Israeli Military (i.e. killing human rights activists in  international waters), it is not at all a stretch to have reasonable grounds that Mr. Erez Cohen participated or was complicit in systemic human rights violations during his four year stint in the Israeli army.  This would make him inadmissible to Canada.  However, his activities serving Toronto’s wealthy (as well as underprivileged youth) would appear to allow temporary him entry to Canada.  Future putative war criminals seeking entry to Canada would be wise to get citizenship in a visa-exempt country, and acquire fitness training skills.

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