Canada's new visa restrictions are unfair and uncharacteristic for a traditionally tolerant nation, the Prime Minister of Grenada says.
Keith Mitchell plans to discuss his complaint with senior cabinet ministers in Ottawa on Monday, in his first official visit since becoming Prime Minister in the small Caribbean nation in 1995.
Travellers were shocked when Canadian customs officials began stopping anyone from Grenada who lacked a travel permit in December, Mr. Mitchell said.
"They really treated the people as dogs. It was not fair," he said in an interview yesterday.
In December, Canada imposed new visa requirements on citizens from eight countries, including Grenada, partly harmonizing its policies with the stricter protocols of the United States. Citizens from about 40 countries are now allowed into Canada without a temporary resident visa, while the United States. grants the same privilege to only 29 nations.
"The action that was taken was certainly very un-Canadian," Mr. Mitchell said. "The harshness, the lack of consultation, the lack of systems in place to deal with the fallout . . . "
Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Susan Scarlett said the government makes every effort to accommodate travellers, but must balance those considerations against national security concerns.
Grenada suspended its controversial program that sold citizenship for about $39,000 (U.S.) in October, but Ottawa fears it cannot trust the passports issued during the program's three years of operation.
"We have concerns about the [Grenadian]passports already in circulation," Ms. Scarlett said. "Our concerns have not been addressed."
Grenada and its Caribbean neighbour, Dominica, have been lobbying Canada to lift the restrictions.
"I'm not expecting the Canadian government to immediately reverse that decision," Mr. Mitchell said. "That's something I expect over the medium term and long term. What I expect is a proper system to give visas to legitimate people coming from Grenada to Canada."
Grenada plans more rigorous background checks on passport applicants, Mr. Mitchell said. In the meantime, he added, his delegation will ask Immigration Minister Denis Coderre for improvements to the visa system that would accommodate the high volume of traffic between Canada and the Caribbean.
But the world's reaction to Sept. 11 has done more than create inconvenience at the airport, Mr. Mitchell said. For Grenadians, it revives memories of 1983, when U.S. troops invaded their country after the head of a pro-Cuban government was executed.
The United States gave Grenada democracy and freedom, Mr. Mitchell said, but no long-term economic viability.
"Our American friends have not followed through," he added. "There's a lack of vision in their policy."
The lesson for Afghanistan's new leaders is that they should take advantage of the goodwill of the United States while it lasts, Mr. Mitchell said.