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Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Say Sorry swiftly. Good “call” Canada!

It’s the biggest news Canada has made in India in years. Unfortunately, it was not good news. India’s media machine (dozens of newspapers and hundreds of television stations) roared with headlines and stories of Canada’s slap in India’s face.

It was a new story in the news, but not a fresh episode. For several years Canada has been refusing visitor visas to some Indian army officials, especially those who served in the sensitive and violent Kashmir region which is still bitterly and militarily disputed with Pakistan.

It was well played by India’s government which used the potential of upsetting the upcoming G-20 summit in Toronto as the stick in voicing its dissatisfaction (which must have been simmering) and calling Canada’s High Commissioner to India to the carpet in Delhi.

It then only took a couple of days for Canada to reverse the visa rejections and quickly apologize. “The Government of Canada deeply regrets visa refusals to Indian nationals [which] cast false aspersions on the legitimacy of work carried out by Indian defence and security institutions,” was the announcement from Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Canada got it right here in swiftly saying sorry, and doing it in a very expressive manner. “Canada has the highest regard for India,” and “Canada values the increasing ties and cooperation with India,” were the comments coming from Ottawa.

Indians are critical of their own country, but when it comes to disparaging remarks coming from abroad or discrimination, India is very sensitive. Some of the sensitivity comes from its still relatively recent rise out of colonization. But much of it comes from its modern status and growing self-identity as a major global force. Sure, most of India looks as it did a century ago, and is still an impoverished landscape. But there is plenty of gleaming prosperity and advancement, and India takes great pride in seeing itself as already emerged as a power, and not, emerging.

Canada’s slap echoed the recent troubles in Australia, where Indian students have faced discrimination, abuse and assault. Australia’s government’s failure to quickly own up to its responsibilities to addressing the challenges within its own society and systems, was met with great anger in India. The Indian media (always looking to sensationalize a story in a very competitive and rich advertising market) ran wild with anti-Australian articles for months and stoked the flames of an emotionally charged public. The damage has been to decimate much of Australia’s billion-dollar education revenues from India and Australia’s image in India will take years to recover.

Canada didn’t mince words and have got this story off the pages and the airwaves of the Indian media. That’s very good news for Canadian companies, universities and colleges – looking to do business in India.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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