This past March, Malahat Fardadi's parents were denied a visitor's visa to Canada from their native Iran, despite being issued a visa just four years prior. Fardadi, as a resident of Toronto for over eight years and a Canadian citizen, became frustrated and angry. She then decided she had to do something about it.
The University of Toronto (U of T) student began talking to other Iranians, discovering that her case was not an isolated one.
"A lot of my friends said the same thing," Fardadi relates. "All across the country people are having problems getting family members from Iran here. I talked to people who had to cancel their studies or discontinue their jobs so they could go back home to see their wives, husbands or parents."
By April, Fardadi spoke to Liberal MPP Reza Moridi, the first Iranian-Canadian to hold public office in Ontario. It was Moridi who suggested she start a mass petition to gather support and apply some pressure on the Federal Government.
Then last month , Fardadi approached Mahmoud Schricker of Small World Music to get behind a mass petition to send to MPs throughout Ontario, demanding answers as to why so many Iranians are being denied visa's to Canada.
It did not take Mahmoud Schricker long to accept.
He knew the situation first-hand. Through his work with Small World, Mahmoud brings in artists from around the world to Toronto, and recently had to cancel a concert by the popular Mohsen Namjou because he was denied a visa by the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.
"This was the first time in eight years that Small World has been bringing Iranian artists and got denied," Schricker says.
In fact, Mohsen Namjou had a relatively easy time acquiring a visa for the neighbouring United States, where he is set to embark on a six-city U.S Tour. Considering the tense relations between the U.S and Iran, it is baffling that usually neutral Canada is giving Iranian nationals such a difficult time.
Namjou is on a long list of many artists, scholars and entertainers from Iran who have not been able to secure a visa into Canada over the past few months. As previously documented in Salam Toronto, most of the artists and scholars from the Tirgan Festival and Iranian Studies Conference were prevented from attending their scheduled events. In addition, a host of other people from Iran wishing to visit their families and loved ones in Canada have been denied.
"There's been Iranians living here in Canada for 20-30 years, and they want to bring their parents here to visit and see their grandchildren," says Dr. Moridi. "But they cannot because of politics."
Indeed, family reunification is meant to be one of the staples of Immigration Canada, but the staggering number of Iranians unable to visit grandchildren, spouses, children and parents says otherwise.
That, essentially, has precipitated the need of this petition.
"Our goal is to get recognition for family members and use these signatures to have our voices heard," says Mahmoud. "Otherwise nothing will get solved. We want to tell the government that these issues exist."
Fardadi adds, "Maybe this petition won't get a visa for our specific parents but at least in the long term it will help all Iranians and it shows that as a community we are all together."
"We can tell them what is bothering us and tell them that we chose to live in Canada because we thought it was a family-oriented country; we were not born here and we need to see our family and be together."
Mahmoud hopes that the issue of an entertainer being denied entry will help the cause for those non-famous people being denied.
He says; "My example is that by bringing in an artist to show that even a well-known musician, who you would think would get a visa easier, got denied. And that's the angle we're trying to use."
The goal is to attain 1,000 signatures by around the time the Canadian election is called, or October 14th. If that is not possible, Fardadi says they will wait until the new Parliament sits. As of now, there are 350 signatures compiled.
"Whoever I approached was willing to sign and willing to help, but our problem is how to get other Iranians in the community to support us," Fardadi explains. "I'm just a student at U of T so I don't know too many people outside other students."
Perhaps just as frustrating as the restrictions itself has been the Canadian government's vague explanations and lack of response.
According to Mahmoud Schricker, Mohsen Namjou went to the visa office in Iran twice, where he was given very obscure instructions. The embassy told Schricker that some banking information Namjou had to fill hadn't been done.
"They previously had told me that they had provided all of that information before," Schricker recounts. "The second time the embassy told him 'it was our mistake, and your right the stuff is here.' But still it got denied for another reason I'm not sure of."
Schricker then called Immigration Canada to inquire about the situation. They said there was nothing he could and that if there was even the slightest indication that Namjou was going to overstay in Canada, their professional judgment would deny the visa.
Schricker adds, "I then told them this is weird because I've never had this problem before, why are you being so tight this time? He got kind of upset, and said, 'are you questioning our judgment as professionals?" and that was the extent of our conversation."
Through her conversations with other students and Iranians across the country, Malahat Fardadi also has heard distressing accounts regarding explanations from Canadian officials.
"My parents were issued a visa in 2004 when I was a just a permanent resident and when I had little money," Fardadi says. "Now my husband has a good job and I'm a Canadian citizen. My sister also visited me in 2005 and she went back and there was nothing wrong. So I really don't understand this.
This time, the explanation Fardadi received was that her dad was no longer working, which apparently raised some red flags for the Canadian embassy.
"This explanation made no sense because its not true. He owns and operates two private schools in Iran and he showed them all the documents to prove this," she says.
The U of T student also recounts a story of one of her friends in Canada who became very sick and was diagnosed with Cancer. Her mom in Iran wanted to visit her in this time of need but she too was rejected a visa. After months of stress and frustration on an already difficult time, her mother was finally able to visit. By this time, her daughter's surgery had been completed and her Cancer was in remission.
"But during the time she really needed the support and love of her mother, she could not be there with her."
For Liberal MPP Reza Moridi, his hope is that the work of Fardadi and Schricker will pay dividends, and people with similar stories of despair will speak out against this injustice.
"Family re-unification is a staple of Canadian immigration," Moridi says. "However the actions we are witnessing puts that into question. We need to get our voices heard and let the federal Government know we are unhappy."
Mahmoud Schricker adds, "We should point out to the members of the Iranian community that this is not a political act; it has nothing to do with the Iranian government so you do not need to be worried about your names being used or sent to Iran."
Thanks to the work of these individuals, and with the help of the Iranian community, perhaps a difference can be made, and separated family members will once again reunite.
... Payvand News - 09/15/08 ... --