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NEWS: The Roma and CETA talks

A July 2009 campaign blog highlighted that the National Post reported that, “The Swedish presidency of the European Union threatened retaliatory action toward Canada yesterday over new visa requirements for Czech citizens. …(Immigration Minister Jason) Kenney said Canada reluctantly imposed the new visas because refugee claims from…the Czech Republic have skyrocketed in recent years. …Czech asylum seekers to Canada may be on the rise, because increasing numbers of ethnic Roma have been subjected to persecution and violence from neo-Nazi skinheads and other racists, say advocates. …Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said yesterday it favours a retaliatory visa on Canadian tourists visiting the 27-country bloc. While forcing Canadian tourists to get a visa for Europe would be a major change, the EU’s review process could take months. …Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said the Conservative government’s ‘mishandling’ of the visa issue would hurt Canada’s trade ambitions with the European Union…”

The Canadian Press reported this weekend that, “Ottawa sparked the fury of officials in Prague last year when it placed a visa requirement on Czech nationals entering Canada. Sources have said the Czech Republic responded by linking the visa issue to free-trade negotiations between Canada and Europe, a move that could slow progress towards a deal. Documents obtained by The Canadian Press through Access to Information legislation indicate Ottawa has been searching for ways to appease the Czech government. …The documents were heavily redacted and appeared to be dated from last winter or spring.”

“In an effort to get Ottawa to back down, the Czech government was pushing the European Commission to impose visa requirements on Canadian diplomats and officials. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in turn asked Citizenship and Immigration Canada ‘to examine the possible introduction of a visa exemption for diplomatic and official passport holders from the Czech Republic in an effort to address ongoing concerns.’ …But granting the exemption would mark a significant break from a government policy that has been in place since 2002. ‘Canada does not grant visa exemptions for specific classes of visitors, such as diplomats, officials, or business travellers,’ said Kelli Fraser, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.”

“Canadian trade negotiators are anxious to secure an agreement by 2011, fearing that prolonged talks could endanger their bargaining position. If talks become onerous, there is concern Europe will focus on other markets. ‘The (danger) could be that we become a pure distraction for Europe,’ a Canadian negotiator said during a recent briefing, which was conducted on the condition of anonymity.”

In a related matter, in September 2010 Postmedia News reported that, “Canada is being drawn into the controversy over President Nicholas Sarkozy’s controversial initiative to expel (almost 1,000) Roma migrants, with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney coming under criticism for agreeing to attend a France-hosted meeting… that has been described by some as an ‘anti-Roma’ gathering.”

The Roma are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe who trace their origins to the Indian subcontinent. They are commonly discriminated against. Czechoslovakia implemented a policy of sterilization of Romani women starting in 1973. A 2005 report by the Czech government’s independent ombudsman identified dozens of cases of coercive sterilization between 1979 and 2001. Amnesty International reports anti-Roma discrimination in recent years, particularly in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Kosovo. Amnesty International writes, “The Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment. …An estimated 300,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic, making up less than 3 per cent of the population. Unemployment particularly affects Czech Roma communities, who are estimated by some sources to make up a third of all those registered as unemployed in the Czech Republic. The Roma are also among the most vulnerable to police ill-treatment and other racially motivated violence.”

The National Post report from July 2009 on the Harper government imposing visa requirements on the Czech Republic can be read at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=1068. This weekend’s Canadian Press report on the Harper government considering lifting those requirements only for Czech diplomats is at http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20101218/ottawa-czech-visa-exemption-101218/. More can be read about Canada’s immigration minister Jason Kenney attending the ‘anti-Roma’ conference in France at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=4506. More from Amnesty International on the discrimination against the Roma people can be read at http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/feature-stories/europes-roma-community-still-facing-massive-discrimination-20090408.