Delegates denied entry to Canada for St. John's conference

Barb Sweet
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Eighty-seven people have been denied temporary resident visas to attend a conference in St. John’s next week and another 100 are in limbo, despite having applied months ago, according to an organizer.

“It’s surprising. We weren’t expecting this, that people who wanted to come to the conference wouldn’t be allowed to come,” said Heather Modlin, co-chairwoman of the Child and Youth Care (CYC) World Conference being held next week.

“The conference will still be successful, but it changes the flavour of it.”

Those in limbo haven’t heard back about their visa applications with the conference just days away — it starts Tuesday.

The conference is sponsored by the Child and Youth Care Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, which represents individuals, non-profit groups and companies in the field — work that includes helping the troubled and disadvantaged.

Modlin is the director of Key Assets NL, which provides group home care for children and youth with complex needs.

The world conference is the first of its kind, Modlin said, adding organizers reached out to Citizenship and Immigration Canada in February and were advised to write invitation letters to professionals wanting to attend from countries where the temporary visas are required to gain entrance to Canada. Nearly 200 letters were written, she said.

Most of the people who were denied or are in limbo are from African countries, Modlin said.

A few are from Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

With the conference just days away, some of those in limbo are bewildered as to why they haven’t heard, Modlin said.

“It’s also sad most of the people paid their fees, booked airfare and hotel,” she said, adding one man who had applied months ago for a visa sent seashells from Ghana after being denied because he’d built connections with other delegates on the conference’s Facebook page and had been keen to attend.

The organizers recently received a letter from federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office indicating they should have filled out a special event application, Modlin said. But she said the organizers weren’t told that in February.

Nearly 580 delegates are to attend the conference, Modlin said.

She said organizers wanted to reach out to as many people who work the field as possible to make it a world event, and so made an effort to spread the word to all countries, and that’s why there was so much interest.

“Until the last few weeks, we were excited there was such a  rich representation of people,” Modlin said.

But only three of the delegates among almost 200 requiring the temporary visas got approved as of Thursday.

Modlin said when the organizers tried to contact consulate officials in Nigeria, for instance, they were told not to contact them again.

She acknowledged the department needs to do due diligence, but said the delegates work in the field, and some work for corporations that  support charitable organizations that are involved with child and youth care.

“It seems the whole system is not user friendly at all. It was a frustrating experience to try to help people get here,” Modlin said.

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Organizations: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Child and Youth Care Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Key Assets NL

Geographic location: Canada, Uzbekistan, Ghana Nigeria India

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