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Outgames visas in limbo

Organizers downplaying hassles after meeting with ministers

TEWKSBURY FOR IMMIGRATION MINISTER. After a flurry of media about a backlog in visa approvals, games staff has met with Immigration officials and everybody's being palsy.

With the opening ceremonies fast approaching, Outgames organizers are downplaying hassles with Immigration Canada.

Despite Jul 12 news reports that 250 would-be attendees were still waiting for their travel visas and that 16 visa applications had been rejected, Outgames organizers have repeatedly put off publicly commenting on the matter.

Outgames spokesperson Pascal Dessureault says Immigration Canada is being “really helpful. We feel that the file is being unblocked at the moment. It’s getting better hour by hour.”

Some reports suggest the majority of visas in process are for people attending a human-rights conference being held in parallel with the Outgames. There has been speculation that individuals coming from nations where it is illegal to be gay may have been denied visas because they have criminal records related to their sexuality.

Marina Wilson, a spokesperson for Citizenship And Immigration Canada, says a criminal record for homosexuality could cause a delay in processing a visa application.

If the visa applicant’s criminal record “is not straightforward, that could add to the time,” says Wilson. “We look at passports on a case by case [basis]. Sometimes there are some follow-up phone calls, confirmations, faxes. And you know how it is — it takes a while for somebody to call you back.”

Canadian policy is to not deny a visa for somebody convicted of something that is legal in this country.

Last week Liberals called attention to the vetoed visas.

“I am sure you would agree that Canada appears to be sending a double message by not allowing these participants to enter Canada,” Liberal MP Raymonde Folco wrote to Citizenship And Immigration minister Monte Solberg on Jul 11. “We as a country believe in the equality and human rights of individuals, regardless of sexual orientation.

“At the same time, we are sending the message that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered is similar to moral turpitude and therefore exclusion is warranted. As you are aware, Canada’s Immigration Act historically forbade and even deported people who lived together and were unmarried.”

Folco says the Conservative government’s antigay views may explain why entry approvals are so slow.

She also notes in her letter that the federal government has donated at least $350,000 to the Outgames, along with $200,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency. Over the past three years, the government’s Canadian Heritage department granted approximately $150,000 in operational expenses. The games received another $1.4 million in economic development funding.

Former Liberal immigration minister Denis Coderre also spoke out on the visa jam in a Jul 11 media release.

“It is absolutely nonsensical that the organizers of the Outgames, who are sponsoring the travel and lodging expenses for these participants, can’t even get an explanation as to why this process has been so slow,” he stated.

But Solberg’s office is adamant that there is no discrimination based on sexual orientation. “What’s happening is that the game organizers have given the citizenship and immigration department a list of 250 participants who’ve been invited to attend,” says Lesley Harmer, Solberg’s director of communications. “We’ve confirmed through our visa offices that fewer than half of the participants on the list have really submitted a visa application.”

Some Outgames participants are reported to have applied for a visa more than a year ago.