“The Government of Canada deeply regrets the recent incident in which letters drafted by public service officials during routine visa refusals to Indian nationals cast false aspersions on the legitimacy of work carried out by Indian defence and security institutions,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in May.
Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's planned trip to Canada, Kenney tried to soothe ruffled feathers by saying that it had “the highest regard for India, its Government institutions and processes”.
“At a time when global security continues to be a cause for concern, Canada values the increasing ties and cooperation with India in the fields of defence, security and counter-terrorism. Each year, Canada welcomes about 131,000 Indian residents on both a temporary and permanent basis, including many individuals from the various Indian security forces,” Kenney said.
Indo-Canadian relations hit a storm following revelations that the Canadian mission in New Delhi had in recent years denied visas to an unspecified number of serving and retired Indians because of their association with the armed forces and spy agencies.
The refusal sparked public outrage in India, with some demanding a public apology from Canada. The row erupted less than a month before Manmohan Singh goes to Canada to attend the G20 summit. A retired BSF officer, Fateh Singh Pandher, who was the first to expose the scandal, was told that he belonged to a “notoriously violent” force. Since then, several retired and even serving members of India's defence forces and intelligence agencies have said they were denied visas.
Even an Intelligence Bureau officer set to travel with Manmohan Singh was given the same treatment before New Delhi protested and Canada climbed down.
Kenney said the language of the letters issued along with visa refusal or the “inaccurate impression” they gave in no way reflects the policy or position of the Government of Canada.
“While admissibility to Canada is determined by a number of criteria, candidate assessments should in no way question Indian institutions which operate under the rule of law and within a democratic framework”.
He added that “decisions on visa applications are made on a case-by-case basis by non-partisan public servants following an independent process based on Canada's immigration law as it currently stands”.
“However, this unfortunate incident 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. For this reason the admissibility policy within the legislation is under active review at this time.”