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Canada Canadians support visa-free travel between some countries: poll

According to the poll, 75 per cent of Canadians believe that residents of the four Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain) should have an arrangement similar to the European Union, which allows citizens to travel freely to live and work in member countries

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A majority of Canadians support the right – along with Australians, New Zealanders and Britons – of residents to have unrestricted travel between the countries without the need for visas, a new poll has found.

According to the poll commissioned by the Britain-based Royal Commonwealth Society, 75 per cent of Canadians believe that residents of the four Commonwealth countries should have an arrangement similar to the European Union, which allows citizens to travel freely to live and work in member countries. The poll, conducted by Nanos Research, is part of the group's ongoing efforts to promote greater mobility between the countries.

The results showed 82 per cent of New Zealanders, 70 per cent of Australians and 58 per cent of Britons also support the idea. The survey of 1,000 Canadians was conducted in late January.

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Tim Hewish, the society's policy director, said the group plans to lobby politicians in Ottawa in the coming months. "It's the responsibility of elected governments to respond to these types of responses from their citizens," he said.

Currently, Canadians require a visa for all travel to New Zealand and Australia. Canadians visiting Britain for work or study, or on trips longer than six months, also require a visa.

The four countries were selected out of the 53 Commonwealth nations because they share similar socioeconomic characteristics, Mr. Hewish said. "It is intended that this could apply to other Commonwealth countries with comparable economic characteristics over time," his statement said.

But Emily Gilbert, a University of Toronto geography professor who studies citizenship and migration, voiced concern about which countries were included – and excluded – from the proposal, and pointed to anti-immigration sentiments being played out around the world.

"Given the context of us really being really antagonistic against people coming from places who we think are not like us, I find it highly problematic that this proposal – 'These are people like us, they're okay' – that this proposal is getting this kind of groundswell of enthusiasm," she said.

She added that arriving at such an arrangement between the four countries would be far from simple. Even if their leaders agreed to it, the implementation would require the involvement of countless departments and ministries at multiples levels of government. "I'm skeptical that it could actually be put into place," she said.

Mr. Hewish said specific details, such as whether residents would have the right to vote, could be worked out between the individual countries. Mr. Hewish attributed the slightly lower level of support in Britain, at 58 per cent, to recent debate over a possible British exit from the EU. In fact, the survey found that only 46 per cent of respondents in Britain expressed support for continued free movement within the EU.

The poll, released Sunday, is just the latest in an ongoing effort by groups lobbying for such an arrangement. Last year, the Commonwealth Exchange – the policy arm of the RCS – released a report floating the idea. That received support from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has spoken publicly about creating a "bilateral free labour mobility zone" between Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

Around the same time, an online petition created by a Vancouver-based group called the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organization received more than 100,000 signatures.

"The U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand share the same head of state, the same common-law legal system, the same Western culture, the same respect for democracy and even the same language," the petition states. "It is therefore unreasonable for each to not share the same economic, political and cultural benefits that a free-movement policy would bring."

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