By RON FANFAIR
Caribbean diplomats posted to Ottawa discussed their roles and responsibilities and engaged nationals on important concerns, including migration and investment opportunities, during a lively forum last Friday night at the University of Toronto.
High Commissioners from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) participated in the dialogue on current issues affecting the Caribbean and nationals in the Diaspora.
Representatives from Haiti and Belize did not attend the event that attracted nearly 300 people.
OECS High Commissioner, Brendon Browne, said the mass deportation of criminals from Canada and the rest of the Diaspora constitute a serious threat to security in the region.
“Every Caribbean country is a victim and these criminals are changing the face of crime in the region,” said Browne, whose office represents nationals of Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. “Some of them came here at a young age and they did most of their socialization here.
“Their criminality was not acquired in the Caribbean and it’s not fair to unleash them on us. But they are our nationals and we have to take them. All that we are saying is that there needs to be some process of assistance from Canada where they can help us to re-integrate this unique and trained bunch of criminals who learned their trade here. We have discussed this matter before with officials here and we have told them it’s not fair to us.”
Browne also called on nationals to desist from falsely filing refugee claims.
Canadian immigration officials have expressed concern about Caribbean nationals, particularly those from OECS islands, applying for refugee status. Since 2000, St. Vincent & the Grenadines has recorded the highest number of claims followed by Grenada and St. Lucia.
Canada accepts thousands of refugees annually and is concerned that the increasing number of claims from the Caribbean could disrupt the processing and flow of genuine claims.
“The Refugee Board has told me that Canada has got one of the best human rights records in the world,” said Browne, a Vincentian national who spent five years in Canada up until 1981, studying at the University of Windsor where he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and a Masters in Political Science. “We are not saying that we don’t have some genuine cases, but I want to discourage nationals from this practice which, in some instances, have led to our people being exploited by lawyers.”
A career public servant and former secretary to the Cabinet in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Browne had some good news for nationals from Grenada and Dominica who require visas to travel to Canada.
Imposed in December 2001, the restrictions stem from the islands’ now suspended Economic Citizenship Programs that allowed foreigners to purchase passports and pressure from the United States to tighten its borders following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
“We are looking into the matter and there is progress,” Browne said. “I personally feel that our region, with such a longstanding relationship with Canada and a good human rights record, should be treated specially. Caribbean people are generally law-abiding and good natured.”
Jamaica’s High Commissioner, Evadne Coye, addressed Canada/CARICOM relations. Canada supports CARICOM integration towards the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and the two regions are engaged in discussions towards a mutually beneficial trade agreement.
“But beyond the trade and development support, this re-engagement provides a real opportunity for building a mature relationship with a trusted neighbour who has a respected voice in several important bodies such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“We hope that when Caribbean leaders and Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper meet they will talk not only of political issues of concern to the region but they will also look at how the region will confront the great challenges we face in this economic downturn.”
Guyana’s High Commissioner, Rajnarine Singh, encouraged Caribbean nationals to become more politically active while his Barbadian counterpart, Evelyn Greaves, urged the Diasporic community to register with their various diplomatic missions so that the CARICOM corps in Canada could have a better idea of the numbers of nationals living in this country and the various skills they have acquired.
T & T High Commissioner, Camille Robinson-Regis, said the region is a hub for business opportunities and most of the countries have put in place incentives such as import duty concessions to attract investment.
Forum moderator, Michael Smith of the Bahamas, promised that he and his colleagues will assess the benefits and success of this historic meeting before deciding whether to stage another forum.