Hon. Patricia Bovey: This question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
Senator Gold, you know that Winnipeg is hosting the 2023 World Police and Fire Games this July and August. Planning is coming along well, the venues are ready and the hotel rooms are booked, as the city is poised to welcome the second largest international sporting event — second only to the Olympic Summer Games. The athletes are professional police, firefighters and paramedics. In other words, Winnipeg is welcoming first responders and their families to these games — it is an important tourist event, and doubly so coming off COVID.
But they have hit a problem.
Many of the athletes from India are being denied visas out of the apparent fear that they will stay in Canada. Senator Gold, these are professionals with professional careers in their home country. India is looking to host these games in several years, and we’ll be sending organizers as well as athletes. Of course, we will want our Canadian police and firefighter athletes to go there.
Can you assure the organizers that visas will be accorded to these athletes so that the games can carry on? When will the visas be given? Time is of the essence, as the games open in less than 90 days.
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator.
The government does understand the disappointment and concerns over the delays of the applications and, indeed, the visa refusals to which you referred. The government is working closely with the organizers of this event, as well as all large events and conferences, in order to provide guidance on the processes surrounding the application for visas. The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has put into place measures to facilitate the entry of delegates and participants of large events such as this one.
Colleagues, it’s undeniable that the current public service job action has affected the processing capacity of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, over the last few weeks, but — through me — the government is reaffirming its commitment to minimize that impact and to return to service standards.
Concerning the event, and to answer your question more specifically, the government has assured me that they are aware of the issue, and they are looking at ways to be facilitative for the participants of the event — to the fullest extent possible.
Senator Bovey: Thank you for that. I am encouraged, and they will be too. As you know, the federal government is an important funder of this event.
I would like to clarify that all of the participants have received a letter from the games with the registered event number on it. It was sent through the special event program from the IRCC, and was supported by the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA.
I understand that India is the only country at this point — out of the more than 50 expected countries — that is experiencing visa denials. Of course, we don’t want an international embarrassment, so I hope that you can assure us that work will be done very quickly to bring these athletes to the same stage of the process that the others are in terms of their ability to come to Canada.
Senator Gold: Thank you for your comment.
Colleagues, it’s important to understand and recognize that Canada is committed — and adheres — to a non-discriminatory and fair application of its immigration law. All applications from around the world are assessed against the very same criteria.
In that regard, I assure you again, senator and the chamber, that the government is aware of this issue, is looking into it and will do its best to address this in a timely fashion.