Gurpreet Singh: Visa refusals to Indian security officials send conflicting signals
The Canadian government's refusal to issue visas to serving and retired Indian security officials has not only created an unnecessary conflict between the two countries, but has also raised too many questions about how Canada views outsiders.
The issue arose with the refusal of a visa to Fateh Singh Pandher, a former constable with India’s Border Security Force. It's a paramilitary force that protects Indian borders.
Pandher was told that the BSF is a notorious and violent organization responsible for human rights abuses.
As the story hit the Indian media, more retired and serving officers from different security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the army, and the police came out with similar complaints against the Canadian High Commission.
These men were declined visas at different times. Some of them were not given reasons while others were told that they or their organizations had violated human rights.
As a result, India reacted angrily, forcing Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to issue a statement expressing regrets.
Certainly, India’s human rights record is not great and there is no doubt that the Indian forces have killed suspects in fake encounters. This includes the alleged mastermind of the Air India bombing that killed 329 passengers and crew in 1985.
Talwinder Singh Parmar’s killing at the hands of the Punjab Police in India in 1992 destroyed an important link in the investigation of the biggest terrorist attack in Canadian history.
Apart from using extra-judicial ways to punish the rebels, the Indian forces are also accused of unfairly targeting minorities. But to paint an entire security force or an agency of any country with one brush by the Canadian visa officers is unacceptable.
In a warlike situation, no security agency can be immune to accusations of human rights abuse, be they agencies in the developing world or those belonging to western industrialized countries such as Canada and U.S.
Aren’t U.S. soldiers accused of violating human rights in Iraq? Isn’t the CIA accused of using extra-judicial methods of investigation and fostering coups and violence? Aren’t Canadian soldiers accused of using extra force in Afghanistan?
Similarly, Indian security forces have also used inhumane methods to accomplish their missions during wars against terrorists in Punjab and Kashmir.
Of course, the individuals who have been targeted by the Canadian visa officials should be held accountable if they have committed any crimes against humanity, but what about those terrorists who have come to Canada after committing mass murders and were given political asylum in the name of human rights?
Both Canada and the U.S. have given refuge to such rogue elements for years.
In a post-9/11 world when the two countries have eaged waged war against terrorists, such an attitude toward the soldiers of other countries sends a very conflicting signal.
In the meantime, the Indian government should also set its house in order. It cannot allow its forces to go on killing people at will in the garb of democracy and freedom much like the big Western powers, which are now seeking to improve their ties with the world’s largest democracy.
Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.