Vol. 2 No. 1                            "India is the cradle of the human race... " - Mark Twain

August 2007  "Canada is one of the oldest federations the planet still has up and running." - Roy MacGregor

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`the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify 
for the purpose of immigration to Canada'

An Exclusive: Hon. Jim Karygiannis' Insight

Cultural Bias and Discrimination in 
Citizenship and Immigration Canada

In an article titled: Immigration, the Law and Reality for Immigrants & Citizens in November 2006 issue of South Asian Outook e-Monthly, we had mentioned that Canada, "historically a nation of immigrants and has welcomed immigrants for more than a century" but consistently maintained an anti-non-European bias.  "It was left to Pierre Trudeau, as Prime Minister, during this first term April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979, that doors were left wide open for immigrants from countries other than those in Europe, an act that has been hailed worldwide," we added.

Despite its policy of Multiculturalism and laws, namely Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada and Privacy Act (which took effect on July 1, 1983), there is inherent discrimination against Canadian citizens or permanent residents of South Asian countries (previously known as  “Asiatic” countries). 

If they wish to sponsor a relative or friend for visitor visa (known as Temporary Resident Visa), the person is required to provide personal information including proof of status in Canada. They are required to submit Financial documentation, including Notice of Assessment, Proof of employment and Proof of invitor’s existing funds.  

If a relative or friend being sponsored is living in non-“Asiatic” country, the invitor does not have to submit financial documentation: Notice of Assessment and Proof of Funds.  

This not only infringes on privacy of an individual but also is in violation of the Equality Rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and against the policy of Multiculturalism.

`the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada'

It is a surprise that until last week in July 2007, nobody in Media deemed it necessary to mention that Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, India has been following a 10-year policy that `the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada'.

Singh and Kaur is usually a middle name given to men and women respectively all over the world. However "for those Sikhs who choose to be baptized, or initiated into the orthodox order of the faith, their previous surname is dropped for Singh or Kaur to symbolize unity and to remove names used to identify social standing within India's caste system", writes San Grewal in Toronto Star.

"Twenty-four hours after the World Sikh Organization raised the issue, Citizenship and Immigration Canada yesterday announced it was dropping the policy, calling the whole thing a misunderstanding based on a "poorly worded" letter", he added.

Canadian High Commission in New Delhi had told immigration applicants that that their names, Singh and Kaur, are too common and would have to be changed.

MP Hon. Jim Karygiannis (Liberal- Scarborough-Agincourt) was asked by Globalom Media to specifically comment on the fact that this policy has been in effect for many years when the Liberals were in power.

In an exclusive message, Jim responded, "This started with the last Conservative Government of Brian Mulroney and continues to date." (Please click here to read more.)

Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC), issued a statement  regarding CIC's longstanding policy and said, "The practice of asking applicants with the surname "Singh" and "Kaur" to provide an additional surname was designed to help identify and differentiate applicants who shared the same first and last names. Providing an additional surname is entirely voluntary.  The policy of Canada's New Government is that applicants with the surnames "Singh" or "Kaur" may, but are not required to, provide an additional surname.  No application for permanent residence will be rejected if the applicant chooses not to provide an additional surname."

CBC's website has posted what appears to be a letter from the High Commission in New Delhi, dated May 17 and addressed to Jaspal Singh, stating that, "The names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada."

The department's statement said that "Permanent resident applicants with the surnames Singh or Kaur are not required to change their names in order to apply.

"CIC recognizes that previous communications with clients may not have been clear on this issue and regrets any inconvenience this may have caused."

MP Ruby Dhalla (Liberal-Brampton-Springdale) says in the past three years she's received about 500 complaints from constituents whose family members were told to change their names when applying to immigrate.

"If you have to change your name to come here, we have to ask ourselves, `Are we really celebrating all the great things that are hallmarks of this multicultural country?" said Dhalla, whose riding has one of the largest Indo-Canadian populations in the country.

Ruby said she has brought it up to immigration officials but it never, "at least not to my knowledge" made it to the floor of the House of Commons.

MP Honourable 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." 

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

"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." 

Omar told Toronto Star there is a widespread and lack "general lack of cultural awareness in the 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. 

Omar 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."

In a press release issued, Omar said, "often, under the Conservative government, we hear of decisions, practices or errors that neglect to consider various cultural or religious aspects that are critical to the matter at hand. The Conservative government needs to place additional emphasis on increasing the cultural competency capacity within its departments to ensure accurate and fair practices."

"This serves as a wake up call to the Harper government of the need to ensure that government departments are to be supported with a high level of cultural competency that the Conservatives appear to be lacking", he added.

Here are some comments as reported by San Grewal in Toronto Star: 

Murray Oppertshauser, a retired employee of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, who served as the program manager of the immigration section in New Delhi from 1992 to 1995, is familiar with the now-dropped immigration department policy.

"When I arrived in India we weren't computerized yet," says Murray, "We had a quarter of a million index files and half of those were for people named either Singh or Kaur."

He says it wasn't a policy to have them change their names at the time, it was "a practice, it was just a convenience. You wanted to make sure you had the right person."

Adding a name also helped speed up processing. "We had a complaint about it from Canada so I went to leaders of the Sikh community in India, who checked with people and they said it was okay."

He says he's not surprised the policy was still in place until this week. "It doesn't hurt anyone."

Brampton lawyer Harinder Gahir, who routinely takes on immigration cases, says he's had about 100 clients complain.

"But the problem is they are family members already here complaining on behalf of family members in India they are sponsoring.

"The applicants themselves don't want to complain and most comply because they don't want their chances for immigration to be jeopardized."

When asked if he believes the immigration department's claim that the policy was just a misunderstanding and that people with the surnames Singh or Kaur were actually allowed to apply, Gahir said, "They were told, unequivocally, `You can't apply with the surname Singh or Kaur.'"

"That's outrageous," said Sat Gosal, a lawyer at the firm RZCD in Mississauga who has helped challenge human rights violations against Sikhs for more than two decades.

Gosal, who was aware of the policy, is glad Sikh organizations finally complained publicly.

"This goes back to my father's days in England, during the post-colonial days of the '50s and '60s, when administrative convenience was the justification for changing names that were too common or hard to pronounce." Anglicizing or at least simplifying names was once also common in Canada.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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