The organizer of a recent conference in Vancouver organized in part by the Chinese government says around 200 would-be attendees, including dozens of high-ranking officials, had their visa applications rejected.
The ninth Conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation, which was organized by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of China’s Guangdong Province and Guangdong Community Association of Canada, took place in Vancouver at the end of May.
Organizers expected about 2,000 people from around the world who were originally from Guangdong province, but about 200 delegates, including officials from the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office that helped organize the summit, had their visas rejected.
William Ma, a businessman who was among the local organizers for the conference, said most of the denied visas involved people from mainland China, including a team of more than 20 government officials from Guangdong province, as well as some from Thailand and Central and South America.
He said only one official from the Guangdong delegation team was able to attend the event, but this person applied the visa separately.
“Only one person [from the co-host team] came. This is absurd,” Mr. Ma said. “Of course, I am unhappy. Besides that, I feel why Canada is so nervous now? They came to spend money. Why deny their visas?”
The spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Shannon Ker, said there would be a compelling reason why someone would be prevented from entering Canada, but she said privacy laws prevented her from discussing details of any specific case.
Ms. Ker said visa applications are also considered on a case-by-case basis based on the information presented by the applicant.
Mr. Ma said the organizers sent out invitations to guests in January this year. According to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, it takes about 11 days for a Chinese citizen to obtain a temporary-resident visa.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she was “taken aback” when she learned about the rejected visas.
“For some of the lead organizers from Guangdong, China, not be able to have the visas approved to come and participate is more than embarrassing,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Kwan said she raised the issue at a recent parliamentary committee on citizenship and immigration and also raised it with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in a private meeting.
Ms. Kwan said she understood that some of the delegates whose visas were rejected had been to Canada before without incident.
“What exactly is the problem is something that I would really like the government to get to the bottom of.”
The Chinese consulate in Vancouver declined to comment. The embassy in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.
China expert Charles Burton, a former diplomat at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, said the Chinese government has been increasingly denying Canadian visas applicants on political grounds.
“The full details of the scope and range of this is known only to the Chinese consular offices in Canada,” he said. “But it is extensive and negatively impacts on the development of Canada-China relations.”
He added the Canadian government is also growing more concerned about the activities of agents of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.
The event’s co-chair, Lam Siu Ngai, who is also the founding president of the Canada Chaoshan Business Association, noted the event is intended to provide an opportunity for Cantonese Chinese to get together and make connections with one another.
The conference’s schedule shows discussion of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative – a massive trade infrastructure initiative that aims to connect the country to many parts of Asia, Europe and Africa via ports, rail lines and roads – was to receive major emphasis during the event.
It’s the first time the conference has been held in North America. It previously took place in Singapore, Malaysia and Austria. In 2020, it will move to London.