Letters to the Editor

Letter: Ontario MPP denied visa to enter India

At a time when Canadians across our nation are taking pause in our busy day-­‐to-­‐day lives to celebrate and come together, I find the timing sadly ironic as in my mind this also marks a dark day in our national history and our much-­‐heralded relations with the nation of India.

Recently I, an elected Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in the province of Ontario, have been denied permission to travel to India, permission afforded to citizens around the world each day of the year by the Indian government. Sadly, that approval seems contingent on turning a blind eye to injustice and being complacent to the political misrepresentations of one of the world's most powerful economies.

Earlier this year I was extremely honoured when I was notified by SEWA [Self-Employed Women’s Association], a respected non--profit organization based in India which is committed to social justice initiatives like ending drug abuse, promoting the equality of women by opposing both the dowry system and female feticide that I had been selected as Sikh of the Year for 2013. This organization annually selects a single recipient to be recognized for his or her work in the area of human rights and humanitarian issues. As a proud Canadian of Indian decent, this honour is particularly poignant for me.

After over a month of waiting for my entry visa in order to travel to India to receive the honour at an awards ceremony, I was informed my visa application had been denied.  To my knowledge, this is the first time an elected official from Canada has been denied an entry visa to India. It is a significant affront to not only myself but also to our nation, an affront compounded by the fact that the denial is without explanation.

It is my belief that true democracy is not merely a political ideal but a complete social philosophy, and the right to freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic freedoms. As a Canadian, my right to give voice against injustice is part of what makes this country a great nation, but as an elected official I feel the same ability is an obligation.

In my life I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to over 20 countries.  I have greatly enjoyed the wonderful diversity of each country I have visited. From Turkey to Jamaica and the United Kingdom to Sweden I have always received a warm welcome as a Canadian.

 

Some of the countries I have visited have required travel visas and I am proud to say, though to be honest I am not particularly surprised as a law abiding Canadian citizen, I have always been approved for a visa to visit any of the countries to which I have applied. This includes visiting India on a number of occasions, most recently in January of 2013.

I am a proud Canadian.  I was born in Scarborough, Ontario and grew up in St. Johns and Gander, Newfoundland and Windsor, Ontario.  I enjoy typically Canadian activities like soccer, skiing and snowboarding, beaver tails and skating. I graduated university and practiced Canadian law in the great province of Ontario before moving onto politics. And like millions of Canadians it is the liberties of democracy and freedom of speech that give me to strength to speak out for those who cannot, here at home and often in countries where the have and have not classes are world's apart.

For any democratically elected official of a G8 nation to be denied an entrance visa by a country calling itself the world's largest democracy is an outrage. What kind of message does this denial send to Canadians? What does this say about the Government of India's view of Canadians and our Canadian democratic system?

And finally, what international implications does this action have? This is not a partisan issue—this is a Canadian and global issue. India purports to be a great friend of Canada. Today, through the act of exclusion, it is my belief that relationship is now in question and international community must defend Canada's place as a country whose law-­‐abiding citizens are welcomed by the world.

Jagmeet Singh,

Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament representing the electoral district of Bramalea-Gore-Malton for the Ontario New Democratic Party.

 

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