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Canada’s immigration minister to travel to Brussels over CETA visa issue

Immigration Minister John McCallum

The Canadian government’s requirement of a visa for all travellers from Romania and Bulgaria has put a strain on the ratification of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). As a result, Immigration Minister John McCallum will be in Brussels next week to try to smooth over the issue.

CBC reports, “The next move toward ratifying Canada’s trade deal with the European Union is set for early next week, when McCallum is expected in Brussels to resolve Canada’s long-standing visa dispute with Romania and Bulgaria. With an October signing date now set for [CETA], Canada must act — or risk a veto by countries who don’t appreciate their nationals being treated as second-class EU citizens.”

The article adds, “The European Commission is set to meet July 13 to consider whether to follow through and impose reciprocal visas on Canadians and Americans. McCallum’s office confirms he’ll be in Brussels July 10 to 12 for meetings to support the adoption of CETA and ‘reiterate Canada’s position in regard to the visa reciprocity mechanism’. However, ‘no events or announcements are planned during this trip’… [CETA proponent] Sorin Moisa, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing Romania, told CBC News Tuesday that if the solution isn’t announced next week, it should come ‘at the latest” in September. Otherwise we have a major problem.'”

The Canadian Press has previously reported, “Canada imposed the visa on [Bulgarian and Romania] as well as the Czech Republic to stop an influx of bogus refugee claimants among ethnic Roma applicants. The Czech visa requirement ended [in 2013], but [now former] Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said at the time the Romanian and Bulgarian ones would remain because of continued concerns over human smuggling and organized criminal gangs.”

More specifically, Maclean’s magazine has noted, “Canada imposed the visa on [Romania and other countries] to stop an influx of bogus refugee claimants among ethnic Roma applicants.” And why would Roma refugees be fleeing Romania? In its 2015/16 report on Romania, Amnesty International writes, “Roma continued to face systemic discrimination and were targeted with hate crimes, including excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Anti-Roma sentiment continued to be frequently expressed in public and political discourse.”

As such, it would appear that Canada in fact closed its borders to Roma seeking refuge from oppression in Romania by imposing visa requirements.

There have been reports that this issue can be “resolved” by Canada lifting the visa requirement in exchange for the Romanian government sharing more information about travellers before they leave Romania. In September 2014, Maclean’s reported, “John Manley, head of the influential Canadian Council of Chief Executives, [says] more needs to be done at European airports to block bogus refugee claimants from actually boarding flights for Canada. This could including closer tracking of travel documents used to board airliners, Manley said in an interview.”

It could also include Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) ‘liaison officers’ in Romanian and Bulgarian airports checking the travel documents of Roma travellers en route to Canada. This has been implemented in Hungary and as CBC reported last year, “Canada-bound Hungarians with valid travel documents have been interrogated at Budapest’s international airport and denied permission to travel by unidentified officials dozens of times in recent months.”

In terms of key upcoming dates in the CETA campaign:
July 13 – European Commission meets to discuss visa issue
October 27 – Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau expected in Brussels to sign CETA at Canada-EU summit
November 29 – European Parliament International Trade Committee expected to vote on CETA
December – CETA could go to European Parliament for plenary ratification vote

For more on our campaign to stop CETA, please click here.