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Ugandan speakers one step closer to WorldPride conference

Government doing ‘everything it can’ but rising plane-ticket prices may be problem

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After some confusion, things are on track to get 10 Ugandans to the University of Toronto in June to tell their stories.

It was recently reported that a number of scheduled speakers for the WorldPride Human Rights Conference would be unable to make it into Canada because government officials had denied their visas.

But after some communication with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, it seems that things will be fixed in time for the conference.

Brenda Cossman is “cautiously optimistic.”

Cossman is a professor of law at the University of Toronto and co-chair of the conference. She says the letters from the Immigration Ministry started showing up in March. They’ve just refiled the applications and expect everything to be sorted in time for the conference.

The visas were not rejected, per se; the problem is that Ottawa wanted more details about the applications — and, in a few cases, they wanted financial backing for the Ugandans.

Immigration law stipulates that prospective visitors prove substantial ties to their home countries, have adequate finances for their stays and their return home, and show a legitimate purpose for entering Canada.

The government says that it recognizes the importance of these activists coming to Toronto to share their stories and that it is working with the conference organizers to get everything squared away in time. “CIC will continue to do everything it can, under our immigration laws, to make this conference a success,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in a statement.

But as Cossman points out, each day her group is stuck navigating the bureaucratic maze is another day the participants’ airfare goes up. And one big roadblock for getting those activists to Canada is the pricetag.

The conference is already sponsoring numerous speakers and can’t stretch its budget any further. If money can’t be found for some of the Ugandan speakers — not all of whom are coming from Uganda — their applications might ultimately be denied.

Conference organizers are exploring options to see whether private sponsors can be arranged.

Ottawa has made efforts to underline its commitment to the queer community in Uganda. Certainly, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has had it out with the leadership in Kampala and has committed money to advocating queer rights throughout central Africa.

Activist group #EndHateLaws has demanded that the federal government put its money where its mouth is and ensure that Ugandan delegates can get to the convention.

The WorldPride Human Rights Conference runs June 25 to 27 at the University of Toronto.