Challenge to Canadian Visa Procedures at Canadian High Commisoion (CHC), Colombo
Posted on August 30th, 2009

 T. Viresh Fernando, CA

I have launched a judicial review (appeal) of a visa officer’s  decision made at the Canadian High Commission in Colombo to refuse  visit visas for two students aged 18 and 17. The kids are from a very  rich, attend private school, and have previously travelled widely  including to Canada and the US. They were coming here to be at their  grandmother’s 80^th birthday party. They were returning to SL in time  to sit for the London A-Levels in June 2009. The kids’ mom and younger  sister were remaining in SL. Their father who was a U of T graduate  and a permanent resident returned to SL many years ago, passed away  about four years ago.

 I happened to be in SL in March 2009 when the applications were made.  As I had heard many horror stories about the way people are treated at  the High Commission I decided to accompany the two young girls. I was  shocked when I was initially refused entry. After insisting that I had  a right as a Canadian lawyer to enter the premises the security  officers reluctantly allowed me to do so. When the number for the two  girls was called all three of us walked up to the counter/window where  I once again identified myself and showed my passport. The Tamil lady  at the counter shouted and said I had no right to be there and called  security and screamed at them. I explained that I had a right under  Canadian law to accompany my “clients”. I specifically asked the lady  to check the application and tell us whether any additional documents  or information was needed and she said no. The application packages  contained a letter on my letterhead explaining who I am and what the  purpose of the applicants visit to Canada was. It also contained my SL  cell phone number and a request to call me if any further  clarification was needed. WE were told to return at 3.00 pm.

 Although I don’t do the volume of immigration work I used to CHC knows  me very well as I still do investor class applicants from SL. By  entering my name in their computer system CHC would have known the  names of ever file I handled through that office and whether anyone  who had come to Canada through me had claimed refugee status.

 As applicants’ names and application outcomes are announced over the  PA system everyone know who is/not granted a visa. There was a clear  pattern that a disproportionate number of Tamil applicants were  approved compared to Sinhala, Muslim and Burgher applicants. I have  received this type of complaint for many years but no one was willing  to provide affidavits and challenge the systematic discrimination in  Colombo. Since 1996 the entire local staff has been changed three  times. Some Canadian staff who shared in bribes have been moved out  and or terminated. “Go betweens” openly approach applicants outside  the heavily fortified gates and offer to obtain visas on a fee for  success basis!

 By using the access to privacy act and accessing the official CAIPS  computer notes I discovered that the Canadian visa officer’s concerns  listed in CAIPS was not what was in the visa refusal letters and the  concerns were also not said to the applicants so that the applicants  had a chance to respond to the concerns as is required by law. I also  discovered that the Canadian officer had merely rubber stamped the  Tamil clerk’s recommendation which is of course completely against the  law.

 One of the grounds on which the challenge is based is systemic  bias/discrimination. Many of you would have seen on TV and read in the  paper in the last two weeks about the Somali-Canadian lady Suaad  Mohammed who was effectively denied her right to return Canada for no  other reason than the colour of her skin.

 I have made a second access request with regard to a breakdown of visa applications by ethnicity, last name, first language, etc which will  help me statistically determine the existence of discrimination and  also the ethnic make-up of the CHC local staff.

 I am wondering whether anyone has information and or contacts who can  give me more information/personal stories of visa refusals or  discrimination they faced at CHC Colombo so I can place the  information before the court. Also any other suggestion you may have  in this area is welcome.

 Let me close with another crazy situation I am facing now. A Sinhala  friend of mine who is a Canadian citizen returned to SL about 20 years  ago and married a SL lady 18 years ago. They have four children who  are registered with CHC Colombo as Canadian citizens and have Canadian  passports as permitted by law. The family wishes to move back to  Canada and I am doing the husband’s sponsorship of the wife. Last week  I received a letter from CHC Colombo asking that the couple produce  wedding photographs “”…” though they have been married for years and CIC  knows that!!!

 Please feel free to forward this to others.

 Viresh

 T. Viresh Fernando, CA
 Barrister & Solicitor
 2902-95 Thorncliffe Park Drive
 Toronto, On, M4H 1L7
 416-977-9846
 416-977-1143

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