Was scheduled to do lecture tour across Newfoundland
A Filipino woman scheduled to do a speaking tour across this province and others parts of Atlantic Canada has been denied a visitor’s visa — something that has boggled the woman and the group bringing her over.
Danny Gillis is a regional co-ordinator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Every year the group brings a speaker overseas from some place it does work. This year, the guest was to be Glenda Alawiran-Plaza from the Philipines.
Alawiran-Plaza was described in a number of church bulletins advertising her visit as “area manager of a coalition of grassroots peoples' organizations that works towards achieving sustainable rural development. (It) is based on the belief that the poor can make positive economic and social change for themselves."
She was supposed to arrive in Deer Lake last week to start a cross provincial tour before heading to other parts of Canada, but her two-week visitor’s visa was denied.
The occurrence is an extreme rarity for the group, but from what Gillis has been learning, that may be changing.
“It seems from what I’ve heard from our fellow staff people that this is becoming more common that these applications are denied,” he said.
It’s Gillis’ understanding that the Canadian government has hired private companies around the world called visa application centres (VAC) to assess whether somebody’s visa application is accepted or denied.
“The work that used to be done by embassy staff is now being done by these VACs,” he said.
One issue with that is that these VACs seem to follow formulaic protocol to accept or reject an application that involves such things as income.
Somebody like Alawiran-Plaza, who works first-hand with the poor, is not so much above the poverty line herself. Gillis argues that hardly means she is looking to come to Canada for asylum and it is not a reason to deny somebody a visitor’s permit.
“Our complaint is that development visas have been bringing people into the country to speak (for us) for more than 40 years now, and we’ve never had one person who overstayed the scheduled time or stayed to apply for refugee status or anything like that. They’ve always gone back to their country at the time that they were supposed to,” Gillis said.
The people the group brings over have strong ties to their countries and their countries’ social movements. That’s why Gillis’ group brings them over - so they can educate people over here about their country. The idea they are just seeking temporary visa’s so they can stay longer is preposterous to him.
“We felt that it was really an injustice that she was denied her visa.”
That could be injustice that’s more and more frequent, though. Gillis said one staff member from Montreal contacted them when they heard what happened and said they had planned a conference in Quebec and half the people coming to speak were denied their visas.
Gillis said nobody with his group has had any communication with the VAC in Milan that handled Glenda’s case. They have contacted the embassy who said the decision is out of their hands. Meanwhile, Gillis says on the embassy’s website it claims they have the last decision on visas.
As for Alawiran-Plaza, it seems her view of this country is now tainted.
“She’s very disappointed,” says Gillis. “She felt quite discriminated against, too, by Canada.”
The Telegram found out about this story through a letter to the editor which is also published in today’s edition.