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World Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont reapplies for travel authorization to visit Quebec, plans for trip in June

Carles Puigdemont fled Barcelona in October, 2017, narrowly escaping Spanish police who were rounding up Catalan leaders after they’d announced the region’s independence from Spain.

Valentin Bianchi/Hans Lucas/The Globe and Mail

The former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has reapplied for a travel authorization to visit Quebec and his Spanish lawyer is confident that this time the application will be approved.

“It seems the [Canadian] government will allow the visit,” said Gonzalo Boye, a Madrid lawyer who represents the exiled Catalan leader.

Mr. Puigdemont had been planning a four-day trip to Quebec in April at the invitation of the nationalist St. Jean Baptiste Society. The Society announced on Friday that the trip is now scheduled for June 10 to 14.

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The former president had applied for an electronic travel authorization (ETA) at the end of March and it was initially approved by Canadian immigration officials. However, the ETA was later revoked and Mr. Puigdemont had to cancel his plane ticket.

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Though Mr. Puigdemont was not given an official reason for the decision, it caused an uproar in Quebec where Mr. Puigdemont is considered a hero among separatists for trying to declare Catalonia’s independence from Spain in 2017. That move was considered illegal by Madrid and Mr. Puigdemont has been living in exile in Waterloo, Belgium, since October of that year. He’s still wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion and sedition but Madrid has dropped a European arrest warrant. Maxime Laporte, the president of the St. Jean Baptiste Society, called the decision to revoke the ETA “absolutely shameful” and accused the federal government of being complicit with “Spanish authoritarianism.” Quebec Premier François Legault also demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It now appears the issue may have been related to Mr. Puigdemont applying for the ETA through an online service called canadianeta-visa.com.

Canada requires ETAs for travellers from countries, such as Spain, that are visa exempt, which means visitors don’t need a visa to come to Canada. It’s usually a straightforward online process that takes a few minutes to complete. Applicants are asked a few questions about their health, criminal background and travel plans, and the government charges a fee of $7. Visa officers can reject an ETA application on a variety of grounds including criminal convictions, health concerns or if an applicant has lied on the application. Applicants are typically sent a letter outlining why the ETA was refused and travellers can supply additional information to clear up any issues.

While the visa can be obtained through government offices and websites, private companies such as canadianeta-visa.com offer to help people “with their administrative travel paperwork to enter Canada.” The company charges $62 for its ETA services and offers a “100-per-cent money-back-guarantee to those eligible citizens whose ETA applications are rejected by the government,” according to its website.

On March 31, Mr. Puigdemont received a notice from the company that the ETA had been revoked. The notice added that because of “Canadian privacy regulations” the government would not release any information about why the ETA had been rejected. Mr. Puigdemont’s lawyers spent weeks trying to find out what happened and they eventually hired Montreal lawyer Stéphane Handfield to appeal the rejection. It’s not clear if canadianeta-visa.com received any information and failed to pass it along. Company officials were not available for comment. Mr. Puigdemont has now reapplied for an ETA using a government website. Immigration officials have promised a reply within 72 hours.

Mr. Puigdemont has been a strong supporter of Quebec independence. In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail at his home in Waterloo, he praised Quebec separatists and said he hoped to visit the province one day as an independent country. “There has been for a long time a great sympathy and friendship between the sovereignty movement in Catalonia and the sovereignty movement in Quebec,” Mr. Puigdemont said. “And especially now we have received the support of the independence movement in Quebec. We would like to thank them enormously.” He also praised the Canadian government for allowing two referendums on Quebec sovereignty. Canada “shows us that there is a democratic way of recognizing each other and how to respect the result.”

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