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UPDATE: Harper government offends Vaclav Havel, undermines CETA talks

STRASBOURG, 11:30 pm (5:30 pm ET) – The attached photo shows a poster that one can see in the halls of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It asks, ‘why can Vaclav Havel not enter Canada freely?’. Havel, of course, is a world-renowned playwright, human rights activist, former president of Czechoslovakia, and, oh, also a member of the Order of Canada. So what’s this all about?

In 2009 Canada imposed new visa requirements for Czech citizens entering Canada. The National Post reported that, “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.”

In September 2010, further controversy emerged because, as reported by Postmedia News, Kenney agreed to attend a France-hosted meeting that was linked with, “President Nicholas Sarkozy’s controversial initiative to expel (almost 1,000) Roma migrants.”

In December 2010, the Canadian Press reported that, “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. 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.”

More on the Roma and CETA talks at

Update: On January 21, Peter O’Neil of Postmedia News reported that, “The Canadian government is sending experts to Prague later this month to assess whether Canada can safely lift its visa restrictions on the Czech Republic without opening the door to a new wave of Roma refugee claimants. …Alykhan Velshi, spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, confirmed that the experts will participate in a five-day ‘information gathering visit’ starting Jan. 31. …The large number of migrants caused a strain on social services in the Hamilton, Ont., area, where many tried to settle, according to one media report. The Czech government was infuriated by the 2009 decision and the foreign relations committee of the Czech parliament’s lower house has retaliated by blocking a Canada-European Union agreement on air transportation, according to the Czech media report.” This report is at