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Ethnicity, please?

If you were applying for a visitor’s visa to Canada, how would you feelif you were faced with a requirement to state whether you are “black”or “white”? Or, how about, “Jewish” or “Christian”? Or, perhaps, “gay” or “straight”?

If you were applying for a visitor’s visa to Canada, how would you feel if you were faced with a requirement to state whether you are “black” or “white”?

Or, how about, “Jewish” or “Christian”? Or, perhaps, “gay” or “straight”?

You’d probably be offended by such questions and even be surprised that officials from Canada could ask them.

You would probably be quite suspicious of CIC’s motives and might even conclude that it’s none of their business.

According to a Canadian Press story published late last week, that’s exactly what happened when the Canadian immigration department refused a visa to the president of an association for survivors of genocide who was slated to speak at Concordia University in Montreal on April 3.

He took offence to a requirement that he state his ethnicity in a questionnaire reserved for Rwandan nationals born before 1980 in connection with his application for a Canadian visitor’s visa.

A Rwandan cabinet minister, Joseph Habineza, also refused to declare his ethnicity in such an application describing the question as “insulting.”

On Friday, a CIC spokesman confirmed that his department is indeed asking this question.

When asked about the constitutional appropriateness of such questions and perhaps other potential questions involving an applicant’s religion, skin colour etc. he replied that “the questions are serious” and that “the questionnaire is under review and … involves more than just our department.” An answer could be expected “by early next week.”

If Bill C-50 is passed, Finley will have carte blanche to issue “instructions” to her officers on how to select permanent residents and visitors to Canada. She will not need to consult with anyone nor be subject to any parliamentary oversight.

She has promised that the bill is good for Canada and that, if these powers are given to her, she will abide by the Charter.

Well, equality rights in the Charter are pretty clear. The Charter guarantees that every individual is “equal before and under the law” and should be treated “without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, etc.” Given that, how is it possible that even before she is entrusted with these unprecedented powers she is asking constitutionally offensive questions?

NDP Immigration critic Olivia Chow described the government’s request for ethnic classification as “completely bogus” and said that “classifications have no place in the 20th century.” She also questioned why we don’t ask such questions of other Africans.

Commenting on this story, Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua described our Charter as the “hallmark of Canadian democracy” which needs to be respected. “Any violation thereof cannot be in any way shape or form supported. The Minister needs to understand that very clearly and we can’t have situations like this arise in the present or in the future.”

Chow and Bevilacqua got it right away. Why didn’t Finley or her department?

We should find out before giving her the special powers she is seeking.

Guidy Mamann practises law in Toronto at Mamann & Associates and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at metro@migrationlaw.com.