The regret expressed by the Canadian Immigration Minister for the slur cast by the country's visa authorities on Indian defence and security organisations is as close as it can get in diplomatic language to an acknowledgment of a serious mistake. The reasons for the refusal of visas at different times during the last two years to serving and retired officials of the Indian Army, the Border Security Force, and the Punjab Police and Intelligence Bureau — that the organisations they served were involved in human rights violations in Kashmir and Punjab or in subversive activities — virtually projected these as rogue institutions not accountable for their actions, flinging aspersions on India as a functioning democratic state. The entire controversy cast a shadow over the otherwise good relations between the two countries. It threatened to adversely affect Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Ottawa, though he is going there mainly for the G-20 summit, a multilateral event. The statement by Minister Jason Kenney came after a threat of retaliation by New Delhi. The unequivocal admission that Canadian visa officials cast “false aspersions” on Indian defence and security institutions has helped to resolve the matter satisfactorily. The statement also admitted that an assessment of individual visa applications should never have extended to organisations that function in a democratic framework. Canada is also to review its immigration legislation in the wake of this row.
The prompt response showed that Ottawa did some quick thinking to arrest damaging fallout from the incident. The Indian diaspora in Canada comprises a large Sikh population that includes substantial numbers of those who migrated during the Khalistan movement in Punjab. So the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper may not have feared an adverse political impact at home as much as consequences for the bilateral relationship. Ties have expanded greatly in recent years after both sides worked consciously to repair the rupture that came with India's nuclear tests in 1998. Trade and commercial relations have been on the upswing. An increasing number of Indian students are heading to Canadian universities for higher studies. Canada is actively wooing India as a potential market for its goods. During Mr. Harper's India visit last year, both sides concluded agreements to boost bilateral trade. An India-Canada pact on civilian nuclear energy has been nearly finalised. Much was at stake for both countries in not allowing this row to escalate. With the apology in hand, New Delhi did well to term the visa row a “closed chapter” without crowing overly about it.