Canada’s reputation of welcoming strangers is in serious trouble following the federal government’s treatment of certain delegates to the Lutheran World Federation convention held last July in Winnipeg, Archbishop Michael Peers told a New Year’s Day congregation in Ottawa.
One result is that a major Anglican Communion committee has turned down an invitation to meet in Canada, as it did not think it was an appropriate place in the light of the Lutheran experience, he said.
The primate, who retires this month, focused on the problems with Canadian visa regulations in his final sermon at Christ Church Cathedral’s New Year’s Day service in a tradition that began with his predecessor to “reflect, even challenge, on issues which are alive in the whole Canadian church and beyond, and in the whole of the Canadian society and beyond.”
Last summer’s gathering took place at the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), with help from the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Peers said. He said that the invitation was extended in 2000 at the Lutheran World Federation convention in Finland. “Well, a lot has happened in the world since 2000 and when the Lutheran church wrote to its component parts to ask them for the names of the delegates to be chosen part of this assembly, then the trouble began,” he said. “And the trouble began in Canadian consulates around the world and in some very specific places and for some very specific people, visas were refused. When the assembly finally gathered, 10 per cent of its membership was absent. All those 10 per cent were either from Africa or the Indian subcontinent, and all were women and young people.”
Construction delays pushed the move date back from a previous estimate of January. Archbishop Peers said those applying for visas could not respond to such questions as “do you have a bank account?”
The issue came to light as the churches wrote to the headquarters of the Lutheran World Fellowship in Switzerland to tell them about the problems. The Lutheran World Federation then contacted the Lutheran and Anglican national offices in Canada to see what could be done. There was no single person in either church, said the primate, who had more success in getting to the government and causing significant numbers of those decisions to be reversed, than Bishop Peter Coffin of Ottawa.
So, what is the message? “Well I can tell you one message that comes from the Anglican Communion. Earlier this month, there was a meeting of one of the standing committees of the Anglican Communion, the inter-Anglican standing committee on mission and evangelism, which was looking for a place to hold a worldwide gathering. We in our church extended an invitation and were told that they didn’t think Canada was an appropriate place because of the Lutheran experience.”
(Ellie Johnson, director of partnerships at the national church, said she had extended the invitation to the commission during a recent meeting in Jamaica [see related story, p. 6]. She has written a letter to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, expressing her concern about the situation.)
The Lutheran experience is now well known in the worldwide church community, Archbishop Peers added. “It is true, and I know this because of what one of the Roman Catholic bishops told me, that on World Youth Day when the Pope came to Toronto, there were some individuals who didn’t take the plane home, and stayed, but that had never happened at a Lutheran worldwide gathering and it didn’t happen this time.”
In the Christian part of the world community, he said, Canada has “earned the name that most of us wouldn’t want. We, the country to whom the United Nations gave an award for the treatment of refugees, back in the 1980s.”
Brian Sarjeant is editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the diocese of Ottawa