By RON FANFAIR
Grasping the significant effect that immigration and diversity has had on Canada is easy for Grenada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter David, who is a Canadian citizen.
David singled out Governor General Michaëlle Jean who was born in Haiti, among others, as immigrants whose contributions to Canada have been remarkable. Jean is Canada’s first African-Canadian vice-regal.
David is concerned, however, that Canada is making it increasingly difficult for Grenadians and other Caribbean nationals, some of whom require visas, to enter the country.
Grenadians seeking a visa have to fork out a non-refundable Can$200 processing fee and a return airfare of nearly Can$350 to travel to the Canadian visa office in neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago. In most instances, they have to overnight in the twin-island republic, incurring additional costs in the process.
“That’s a substantial amount of money,” David told reporters while in Toronto last weekend. “Canada is a society of immigrants and while we recognize that every country has a right to ensure proper immigration procedures, we do not want to see Canada go the route of other countries by shutting down immigrant entry.”
In the past few years, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has expressed concern about the increasing number of Caribbean nationals, particularly from the Eastern Caribbean, applying for refugee status.
“There will always be a group of people who will overstay their time and those that will not be model citizens,” said David who graduated with a History degree from Carleton University in 1979. “But that is no reason to become xenophobic and clamp down on immigration.”
The former Grenada New National Party (NNP) government, led by then Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, is said to have sold nearly 850 passports from 1997 when the government initiated a controversial economic citizenship program until it was suspended shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Citing criminality, security and border integrity concerns posed by the program, the Canadian government imposed visa restrictions on Grenada and Dominica nine years ago for selling the passports.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, which replaced the NNP three years ago, believes the travel restrictions were imposed because the NNP sold the documents to individuals with questionable backgrounds.
David said his government is currently reviewing the list of economic citizenship passport holders.
“Once the list was drawn up, there were some legal issues emanating from the program,” he said. “We don’t know if the passports could be renewed or withdrawn. The Attorney General has been discussing these issues with Cabinet and we should know pretty soon where we are heading with this matter.”
David met with members of the Diaspora community in Toronto and Montreal during his brief visit to update them on the newly established Office of Diaspora Affairs.
It’s estimated there are approximately 50,000 Grenadian nationals in Canada. The majority – nearly 30,000 – reside in the Greater Toronto Area.
“The goal is to get nationals in the Diaspora to be part of our national development process,” said David who is a lawyer.
Grenada’s population is about 100,000.