Two acts at this weekend’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival have been denied entry into Canada. They include Tinariwen, an internationally renowned Malian collective that performed in Vancouver at the 2010 Cultural Olympiad; and U.S. banjo artist Morgan O’Kane.
“I’m feeling pretty devastated about this,” said folk festival artistic director Linda Tanaka. “It’s a blow to the festival.”
Ms. Tanaka pointed out that Tinariwen has a long history of international touring, performing at prestigious festivals such as Glastonbury and Coachella, and has been on tour in the U.S.
“Why is the band getting into the U.S. and not getting into Canada?,” asked Ms. Tanaka. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s totally ridiculous.”
Tinariwen, who opened for K'naan in Vancouver last year, had initially applied for visas at the Canadian embassy in Paris and were denied, forcing them to cancel their scheduled appearance at the Winnipeg Folk Festival last weekend. The band re-applied for entry in Los Angeles, but that application was denied as well, forcing the Vancouver show’s cancellation.
In a statement released on Friday, the band said the two Canadian folk festival shows were the largest on their current North American tour. “The loss of these opportunities is catastrophic for us, both personally and professionally,” stated the band. “We have received visas to enter Canada almost every year since 2004.”
Mr. O’Kane - who is also scheduled to play the Calgary Folk Festival next weekend - tried to enter Canada at the Peace Arch border crossing on Friday, but was denied entry. Ms. Tanaka said the Virginia native has had trouble with immigration officials in Canada in the past, but has been back since. She said he has returned to Seattle to see if he could work something out with the consulate there. But she held out no hope for Tinariwen, at this point.
“How are we supposed to present a festival? This is what we’re about. We’re a diverse festival. This is what folk festivals are about and it seems like we’re going to be restricted with our programming.”
A Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson said she could not say why any visa applications are denied because of the privacy act, but said each applicant is assessed on its merits.
“Every time an individual does seek entry, admissibility is determined,” said Johanne Nedeau on Friday. “A number of factors are considered, including the profile of the event, the invitations from the Canadian hosts and whether letters of support were received.”
Ms. Tanaka said two Vancouver-area MPs - New Democrat Libby Davies and Liberal Hedy Fry - had written letters in support of Tinariwen’s re-application in Los Angeles.
“Those are big chunks of our programming, so I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Ms. Tanaka. “And nobody in Ottawa will talk to us. I’ve had two MPs after them and they don’t get any answers either.”
Another band originating from the African desert, Niger’s Etran Finatawa, had its performance at Sunfest in London, Ontario earlier this month cancelled due to immigration issues. The artistic director for the Canmore Folk Music Festival, where Etran Finatawa is scheduled to play later this month, said the visa wasn’t processed in time and the rest of the Canadian tour is going ahead as scheduled.