Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis intervened to speed up the passage of five Greek musicians through customs and immigration control this month, allegedly telling officials the quintet was in Toronto to perform at his father’s wake, according to a report into the incident.
In fact, singer Katerina Stanisi and her four band members were in town for a sold-out performance at the Ellas Banquet Hall on Feb. 15 when they were stopped at Toronto Pearson International Airport because they didn’t have the necessary work permits.
In a Canada Border Services Agency internal report obtained by The Globe and Mail, officials claim the MP advised an organizer of the concert to have the musicians misstate the reason for their visit to Canada.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Karygiannis confirmed he got involved in the matter. He acknowledged the musicians were in town to perform at the concert, adding that the event fell within a 40-day mourning period after his father’s death in late January.
“There was a song dedicated to my dad [during the concert],” the MP for Scarborough-Agincourt said.
However, he denied telling officials the musicians were coming to perform at his father’s wake or funeral, as two CBSA officials claim in the report.
The five musicians encountered problems at customs on Feb. 13. Initially, they said they were not acquainted with one another and were in town to visit different people, according to the report. In fact, Ms. Stanisi was travelling with her brother Michail, as well as three other musicians: Ioannis Dimou, Vasilios Saganas and Dimitrios Bampalis. The report does not say why officials stopped them.
After searching the Internet, federal officials found the quintet was booked to perform at an event organized by Hellas News, a Toronto-area Greek-language media outlet.
“When confronted with this, the band ... continued to deny that they were coming to perform,” said the report, written by the CBSA’s Kristopher Chartrand. “The singer finally admitted that she was coming to sing but was instructed to lie about her intentions by the person who invited her to perform.”
Customs officials then contacted Thanasis Kourtesis, the owner of Hellas News and one of the organizers of the concert.
“He stated that Mr. Karygiannis explained to him that it would be easier simply to state that they are coming to visit so they do not have to worry about permits,” Mr. Chartrand stated.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Kourtesis acknowledged there were “small” delays at customs involving the musicians, but denied that he received any help from Mr. Karygiannis in planning the event or on the day of the musicians’ arrival.
“I never called him,” he said.
Mr. Kourtesis denied the allegations in the CBSA report. “All that is not true,” he said.
According to the report, Mr. Chartrand subsequently put in a call to Mr. Karygiannis.
“He stated that the singer was coming up here solely to perform at his father’s wake,” Mr. Chartrand said in his report. “He stated initially that he was unaware that they were going to be performing at any other events.”
Mr. Chartrand’s superior, John Maric, also spoke twice to Mr. Karygiannis, who asked whether anything could be done “to expedite the process.” Mr. Maric informed him that “it would be inappropriate for me, as chief, to get directly involved in the decision-making process of an officer in an immigration matter,” according to the report.
In the interview, Mr. Karygiannis refused to comment at length on the matter, invoking privacy rights.
“I help a lot of people come into Canada,” he said.
He added that he was surprised when the CBSA wanted the concert organizers to provide a “labour market opinion” showing that they needed to bring in outside workers before it would issue permits for the musicians.
“Did I intervene? Yes,” he said. “Did I personally profit? No.”
Mr. Karygiannis wondered why the incident and his discussions with federal officials had been made public.
“I guess some immigration official has his nose out of joint,” he said.
Federal officials eventually decided that the five musicians had come to Canada in good faith and were apologetic about the situation. The quintet was issued work permits by invoking an exemption that allowed them to perform at the $95-a-ticket concert.
“The officers chose to extend the benefit of the doubt to the clients and issued the permits,” the report said.