Saturday, July 28, 2007

Federal system biased: Critics

Surname policy indicates lack of awareness at Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Jul 27, 2007 04:30 AM
San Grewal
Staff reporter - Toronto Star

While the immigration minister tried to distance the Conservative government from a policy asking Indian applicants named Singh or Kaur to change their surnames, MPs yesterday said the New Delhi office's practice is just one example of cultural bias in the department.

"We frequently hear of decisions being made by (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) where religious and cultural understandings are completely misguided," said Liberal critic MP Omar Alghabra (Mississauga-Erindale).

"I have seen cases of arranged marriages, for example, involving Canadians going to India to marry, but after arriving back being told by CIC officers in New Delhi that their spouse's immigration application has been denied."

A spokesperson for the department did not respond to the assertion.

A release from Immigration Minister Diane Finley yesterday said that the letter asking an applicant with the common name Singh to provide an additional surname to speed processing – and suggesting his application would not be processed otherwise – "does not reflect the policy of Canada's New Government, and I can assure you I have directed the department to ensure that this type of erroneous letter is not sent out again."

Alghabra said privacy issues forbid him from revealing the names or details of other culturally sensitive applications that were rejected. But he explained how the department often justifies that decision.

"In arranged marriage cases, for example, they say the people didn't know each other, the marriage happened too quickly, the photos were staged. It's an arranged marriage – of course they didn't know each other."

MP Ruby Dhalla (Liberal, Brampton-Springdale) said her office was flooded with complaints today after CIC's announcement that the policy would be dropped, but no one was willing to speak to the Star about the issue because they fear it might jeopardize future attempts by family members to immigrate or obtain visitor's visas.

"When you're dealing with CIC in New Delhi, if you challenge anything they'll put your file on the back burner. It's not easy dealing with them," said Brampton lawyer Harinder Gahir, who says he has taken on hundreds of immigration cases involving the office over the past seven years.

Alghabra says there is a widespread lack of cultural and religious awareness in the CIC department.

"Every application should be treated equally and with the same efficiency. This is not a party issue; I'm not trying to distance my party from this," he added, acknowledging the name policy began while the Liberals were in power. "It's a general lack of cultural awareness in the department."

When asked why, during her three years in office, she had never raised the issue in the House of Commons, Dhalla said it should have been raised. "I took the complaints directly to CIC."

That's the approach MP Navdeep Bains (Liberal-Mississauga-Brampton South) said he took when complaints were brought to him over the past two years.

"I dealt with the complaints ... on a case-by-case basis. A letter was sent to senior CIC officials on behalf of each constituent. Our letter stated that the name does have religious and historical significance."