Visa denials reveal drop in hospitality

Published September 1, 2003

I visited Turku, Finland, in 2000 for a meeting of the council of the Lutheran World Federation. A great moment of that meeting occurred when Canadian Anglicans joined with the Canadian Lutherans in an invitation to hold their 2003 assembly in Winnipeg, an invitation which the LWF accepted. I was proud, both as an Anglican and a Canadian, to offer the invitation in the knowledge that my church and my country would welcome such a gathering representing more than 60 million people.In July this year, when the assembly began, I found myself covered in shame because our government had denied visas to more than 50 delegates, all from Asia and Africa. A month before the meeting the number of visas denied was much higher and our church participated in interventions with the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to reduce the number. But the net result remains. When the government was pressed for reasons for the denial of visas, a staff person of the department (anonymously) mentioned accusations of murder and embezzlement of church funds. Fifty murderers or embezzlers? Give me a break. The department was also said to be anxious that some delegates might “jump ship” in Winnipeg. Assurances from the LWF that such a thing had never happened in half a century remained unheard. Because the meeting was a significant event in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Free Press made this a front-page story (and earned a letter from the Minister threatening legal action). The rest of Canadian media were almost totally silent. Is it because the media considers the church uninteresting unless we are talking about sex? The incident is a shocking revelation of how Canada has changed in the last two years. The government has instituted processes, largely without announcement to, or reaction from, the public, which will make the holding of international gatherings here almost impossible. On the opening night of the assembly I was proud to be included among those who introduced the “host church,” the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. But as a Canadian I was obliged to say that I could never recommend Canada as a site for an international Anglican gathering. But this is not simply a church issue. The same problems will occur with any conference unless all the participants are wealthy people from North America and Western Europe. But – conferences are one thing. If delegates to conferences are being dealt with this way, what are the prospects in the time ahead for refugees? Our governments of 1979 to 1984 (Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau) had created such positive policies towards refugees that the United Nations presented Canada with the prestigious Nansen award for refugee service, the only time it had been awarded to a country rather than an individual. But later in the 1980s, when the time came to make the award, government policy had taken a turn against refugees. The UN could not make the award to such a government. They solved the problem by making the award not to the Prime Minister but to the Governor General! The representative of the Queen became the representative of the people! The words of Jesus applicable in this matter are self-evident – Matthew 25:43 – “I was a stranger and you did not take me in.” My prayer is that this judgment will only be applied to the government and not to the country. Archbishop Michael Peers is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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