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An army officer recounts Canadian visa woes

May 28, 2010 22:32 IST

As more and more cases of Canadian visa rejection to Indian men in uniform pour in, certain ugly facets of double standards are getting illuminated. Brigadier S K Chatterji, a retired Indian Army officer, recounts his experience:

It was in late April/early May 2008, when my wife and I applied for visas to visit Canada. We were planning a trip to the United States and Canada, and planned to spend a couple of days in London on our way back.

If there is one common experience I have gathered in my interaction with foreign nationals, especially from the Western countries, be it during military courses in India or in the streets abroad, it has been the deep respect that they have for military professionals.

In fact, I have found the fact of my being an officer from the Indian army holding the rank of a brigadier, to be a global status that has stood me in good stead, anywhere. The experience has been no different in my interaction with Canadians. As such, grant of visas by any country was an issue of no concern at all to me.

To get a Canadian visa in Delhi, one has to apply through their deputed agency. There is no face-to-face interaction with the embassy staff. About a fortnight after depositing my visa applications, it came back to me through the agency.

The passports were there, but the accompanying note that lists the reasons 'why no visa had been given' was without any of the listed reasons being ticked. In between, my dates for interview for visa to the US had rolled over, with the passports not having been returned till then by the Canadian embassy.

In response to my mail to the Canadian embassy for a clarification on May 14, 2008, I received a mail on May 23, 2008, that advised me to collect some forms that I would have to fill on May 26, 2008 from their nominated agency.

My requests for an interview led nowhere. The queries included the units that I have served in, their location and certain other details. There was a questionnaire too, that listed such items as whether or not I had ever witnessed or participated in ill treatment of prisoners or civiliansÂ…

Most armies, and I have met officers from a large number of forces during my tenure in the army, would not provide a dossier of an officer with such details to another government. This was obviously an issue that I could possibly not undertake without concurrence of my organisation. I had no option but to ask for time.

It was at this stage that I realised my problem was not unique, and that other officers had also faced similar problems in procuring a Canadian visa. It was also getting close to my leave dates. The US embassy had no slots available for interviews immediately, either.

Finally, I proceeded to get our visa for the United Kingdom, rather than scrapping the holiday plans altogether. The UK visa came through without a hitch and instead of a UK-USA-Canada tour, we were forced to spend all our time in the UK.

On return, I processed the case with my organisation and forwarded a reply. In any case, I had never been either a witness or participated in any form of ill treatment of anyone.

Two issues are very clear. If an officer of the Indian armed forces, and also certain paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies has served in an insurgency area, the Canadian embassy does not issue visas. Personnel of these organisations, who have not served in such areas, are given their visas.

Today, Canadians are serving in Afghanistan as a part of the International Security Assistance Force. They are combating a violent insurgency movement. I am quite certain the Canadians are restoring, and definitely not violating human rights in the process. When our personnel serve in such areas, they serve similar objectives.

Hopefully, the Canadian boys fighting in Afghanistan will get their tickets back home and not be put through the scanners that a lot of Indians in uniform have faced.

Obviously, they have carried the issue a bit too far. It has also been unfortunately selective. No such cases of the US or UK armed forces personnel serving in insurgency areas being denied visa, has at least been reported.

It is most imperative that the Canadians correct the situation immediately. They surely respect their men and women in uniform. Their families of the Canadian soldiers definitely want them back. And a lot of our armed forces personnel have relatives in Canada, who would want our boys to visit them in Canada, now and then.

Our army's services have been sought by a number of countries to learn the basic tenets of counter-insurgency operations. The pillars on which our counter-insurgency doctrine rests, includes upholding human rights and focused civic affairs. For personnel from such an organisation, being put in the league of human rights violators is most humiliating.

In my case, fortunately, the visa finally materialised, though I was unable to use it at that belated stage.

It's also heartening to see the ministry of external affairs getting its act together; belatedly though. Hopefully, there will be no lull in the battle before the Canadians correct their system.

The author is a retired Indian Army officer

Brigadier S K Chatterji