The revelation by a retired BSF official about his being denied a visa by Canada because it thought that the force was “notoriously violent” has opened a can of worms. Several serving and retired officers from the armed forces and intelligence agencies have now come forward to reveal that they too were denied entry into the North American country on similar grounds.
Visa rejections to these individuals in the past three years seem to reveal a consistent pattern. Many cases are now coming to light as those denied visas earlier thought they were the only ones given this treatment. The Canadian High Commission is yet to get back with its observations. As of Wednesday, at least half a dozen former officials, including a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal, three (then) serving brigadiers, a retired general and a former Intelligence Bureau official, approached the media, pointing out visa rejection on grounds that their organisations were engaging in violence or subversive activities.
Official sources said they had been given to “understand that there are more such cases.”
The retired BSF official was interviewed by the Canadian High Commission early last year and his application rejected 6-7 months thereafter with an “offensive note” explaining why it had been turned down. The media exposure of his case spurred many with individual letters from the High Commission now revealing that they have also been given similar treatment.
Canadian “aspersions on the Indian security forces” could also derail new areas of bilateral cooperation identified during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit here last November. These include a civil nuclear agreement being negotiated and talks on a free trade agreement.
On Wednesday, the Home Ministry's threat of a tit-for-tat led to Canada changing the visa category for an intelligence officer, being sent to Ottawa ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit next month for the G-20 summit. The Ministry had warned Canadians of its inability to accommodate similarly placed Canadians who used India as a transit point to go to Afghanistan where they were engaged in the U.S.-led “war on terror.”
The Foreign Office here claims that it learnt of the rejections “very recently” and took up the matter with the Canadians. Officials referred to Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's statement asserting that India “took this matter very seriously.” Ms. Rao also referred to a statement by the Canadian Foreign Minister claiming respect for the Indian armed forces and institutions. But this caveat came before more defence personnel and intelligence officials, serving and retired, came out on Wednesday with their experience.