Posted on November 13, 2018

Trickle of Sikhs Fleeing India for Canada Becomes a Torrent

John Ivison, National Post, November 12, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s visit to the sub-continent earlier this year has become a political punch-line, even among Liberals.

“India? We didn’t go to India,” is the response when the subject is raised internally.

But Trudeau did — and there were substantive reasons why the visit went so badly.

Trudeau was snubbed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, because it was felt he was soft on the Khalistan movement that wants to establish an independent Sikh homeland in the Punjab region.

What is more likely is that Trudeau is soft on whatever policy might appeal to a key voting block — Canada’s politically-active Sikh community. Punjab, where Sikhs make up a majority, is the largest source of Indian migrants to Canada and Trudeau has boasted about having more Sikhs in his cabinet than Modi.

The report showed that there was a 39 per cent increase in refugee claims by mid-2018, compared to the same period a year earlier

A refugee claims analysis report for the first six months of this year compiled by the Intelligence and Analysis Section of the Canada Border Services Agency, and obtained by the National Post, offers some clues as to why Modi’s government is at odds with Trudeau.

The report showed that there was a 39 per cent increase in refugee claims by mid-2018, compared to the same period a year earlier. Much of the increase is the result of the well-documented claims by Nigerian nationals crossing from the U.S. at Roxham Road in Quebec — a rise of 300 per cent year over year.

But there has also been a 246 per cent increase in claims by Indian nationals — a surge projected to continue in the second half of the year. By mid-2018, 1,805 claims had been made, 60 per cent at inland immigration offices, rather than at airports or land border crossings. The vast majority of claimants gained access to Canada using temporary resident visas issued by the Canadian government. Most were born in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana.

“A frequent basis of claim cited by Indian nationals is the fear of arbitrary arrest or abuse by the police based on accusations of supporting militant organizations. It should be noted the vast majority of these claims are filed by Indian Sikhs,” it said.

The report cited rising tensions between the Indian government and the country’s Sikh population over renewed support for separatism in Punjab for the increase in claims.

“Contemporary support has re-emerged around proposals for an unofficial referendum of the global Sikh diaspora in 2020 on the question of independence.… As government pushback against the Sikh community continues, fear of arbitrary arrest and abuse by authorities will likely prompt more Indian Sikhs to leave the country,” it concluded, estimating claims in 2018 will reach 4,200.

The report cited rising tensions between the Indian government and the country’s Sikh population over renewed support for separatism in Punjab for the increase in claims

There is, of course, nothing untoward about those being genuinely persecuted seeking refuge in Canada. That is what the program is for.

But there are suggestions the Liberals are manipulating the process for political purposes.

Sources suggest that in 2016, Canadian visa officers in India were told to facilitate people seeking temporary resident visas, at the same time as senior officials sympathetic to increased Sikh immigration were brought in to oversee the program.

This fall, visa officers in India were reportedly given verbal instructions to issue multi-entry visas valid for 10 years to all parents with children in Canada and to others with relatives in Canada.

The Conservatives tried to play a similar game when they were in power, introducing “super-visas” to allow parents to secure a 10-year visa. But it required the children in Canada to meet a low-income cut-off stipulation and arrange medical insurance. Those requirements now appear to have been waived.

The number of visa applications from Indian citizens soared 70 per cent to 490,552 in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2017, and the number of visas approved increased 61 per cent to 295,867 year on year, according to Immigration department statistics.

Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the independence of visa officers is enshrined in law and no political direction was given.

“Canada is a preferred destination for Indian visitors, business travellers and students and we value their contributions to Canadian society,” he said. “While the overall number of Indian TRV (temporary resident visa) holders claiming asylum has risen, these claims represent less than one per cent of all Indian travellers to Canada. The vast majority of Indian nationals visiting or migrating to Canada do so through regular means.”

Genest said visa applications are considered case-by-case based on information presented by the applicant. “The onus is on the applicant to show that they meet the requirements for a temporary resident visa. All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria. Canada does not limit the number of temporary resident visa applications that are accepted from any country.”

But Andrew Griffith, a former director general of citizenship with the federal government, said that immigration policy has often been the subject of political whims.

The increase in visas issued should be viewed against a background of changes being made to immigration and refugee policy by the Liberals.

In 2015, the Harper government’s last year in power, 63 per cent of 272,000 new permanent residents were economic class migrants; 24 per cent arrived under the family reunification program and 13 per cent were refugees.

By 2021, the high end of the government’s projections suggest only 56 per cent of the 350,000 new arrivals will be economic migrants; 27 per cent will land under family reunification and 17 per cent under refugee and humanitarian programs.

“There is a legitimate policy debate to be had,” said Griffith. “That shift from low 60s from the economic class to high 50s is not a major change but it is a significant number over time.”

He pointed out that over a 20-year period, the mix hardly matters, in terms of immigrants’ income levels. “But the Conservatives were right to bump up the economic class because that’s where public support is greatest,” he said.

Except, it should be noted, in immigrant communities, where, as the 2015 election proved, Liberal plans to “reunite families” are extremely popular and gratitude is repaid in votes.