Transcript of an interview on September 24, 2023:
Deanna Sumanac-Johnson: As we mentioned, India announced it was stopping all visa services for Canadians. The move has led to concern and frustration among many Indians in Canada. For more on this angle, we're joined by immigration lawyer Raj Sharma.
Thank you so much for making the time for us, Raj. Tell me, first of all, what do you make of India's decision to suspend visa services for Canadians?
Raj Sharma: First of all, the announcement was out of the blue. No one expected it. Obviously, the Indians didn't telegraph this. They sort of ratcheted it up fairly quickly. So, firstly, they responded very strongly to the allegations of a potential link for the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar to Indian agents or Indian diplomats. This [announcement] came out of the blue, and so as you can imagine, it's resulted in a great deal of unease and uncertainty for Indo-Canadians.
Now we have hundreds of thousands of Indo-Canadians. Of course, we have the 700,000 plus Sikhs from the Punjab, mainly from Punjab. We also have Indians from all over India. Indo-Canadians have maintained massive ties to [India], and [as one example] this has thrown a monkey wrench to the wedding season. Obviously, a lot of Indians go back to attend the weddings of family back home. They also go back to get married themselves.
Deanna Sumanac-Johnson: Tell me, Raj, you mentioned that concern you're hearing. Can you tell me some of the specific things that your clients are worried about? Some of the specific things that you're hearing about from the members of the Indian diaspora.
Raj Sharma: Deanna, something like this has primary, secondary and tertiary consequences. It is very, very difficult to encapsulate all of the ways that this announcement will impact individuals, but I'll give you an example.
I met a very lovely lady who is retiring. She's originally from Goa. She booked her tickets to Mumbai, she's selling her ancestral home. The plan was to take her two sons with her to back home, and in her words, she just wanted them to sleep one night on the floor of the home that she grew up in so that they would have a connection to their past. She has an overseas citizen of India card. She can travel. The older son, she applied for a visa for him on Monday. She got it by Tuesday. The second son, I think she applied on Tuesday and didn't get it, just a receipt or an acknowledgement of receipt. Her flight is this Friday. So that's just one small snapshot of one particular life that's being impacted by this.
There's a great, African proverb that when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled and we have this sort of tit-for-tat or we have this sort of downward spiral between India and Canada, two formerly friendly democratic nations, but it's going to be ordinary individuals that pay the price that have nothing to do really with nothing.
Deanna Sumanac-Johnson: Tell me, Raj, that situation of that family you mentioned really illustrates just the complications and, of course, every family has their own individual situation going on. Tell me about what this could mean for Indian national's pending deportation from Canada.
Raj Sharma: That's something that I obviously as an immigration lawyer have a great deal of interest in, this is a sort of a strange situation that we're in. Bear in mind that history repeats, but it doesn't exactly repeat, but it echoes. India requested the extradition of Talvinder Singh Parmar, one of the terrorists that was implicated in the downing of Air India 182 Kanishka in 1982 to Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin Trudeau's father. That extradition request was [summarily] dismissed and subsequently we have Talvinder Singh Parmar dying in India itself.
But what we have right now is that the Indians might actually achieve what they sought to avoid. That is they wanted more attention from Canada. They wanted Canada to take action on perceived threats that are taking place on Canadian soil. [But]I don't see extradition requests being approved in the near future.
In terms of deportation we rely on India to provide us with travel documents, so when we try to remove someone, let's say someone get a refugee claim, it's been refused, someone's inadmissible to Canada, we're trying to remove them, very often those Indian passports are expired, so we're requesting the Indians to provide us with travel documents for their nationals. I have a feeling that the Indians are not going to be providing those documents with the same alacrity that they have for the last few months.
Deanna Sumanac-Johnson: Tell me, Raj, as a reporter, I deal with a lot of international students. A lot of them are from India. I know that Canada potentially suspending visas for Indians is something that's deeply concerning to a lot of them. This, of course, hasn't happened yet, but how concerned are you that it could happen?
Raj Sharma: I am concerned that it's going to happen and it is going to happen, except that we're not going to call it the suspension of visas for Indians, so we would never do that. What we're going to do instead, and we've already sort of announced it, we've announced a drawdown of staff to the Canadian High Commission in India.
Now that is the largest visa office outside of Canada, and if you draw down staff ostensibly for security reasons, I have nothing to gain say that, and that sounds entirely plausible, but if you're going to draw down staff in that busy office, that inevitably is going to impact processing and so you have another cohort of international students coming in January. There is no question in my mind that visas for Indian nationals coming here to visit, study, work, or reunite with their family will be impacted by the drawdown announced by the Canadian.
Deanna Sumanac-Johnson: So it would be have a defacto impact even if it's not announced as such, in your opinion.
Raj Sharma: Absolutely.
Deanna Sumanac-Johnson: Thank you so much, Raj, for all your insights on the legal implications on this, as well as some of the emotions at the center of this conflict between, a diplomatic conflict between Canada and India. Raj Sharma is an immigration lawyer based in Calgary.