The retired Central Reserve Police Force officer was accused by Canada border officials of serving a government involved in terrorism, human rights violations, crime against humanity or genocide.
The federal government is admitting border officials made a mistake when a retired anti-insurgency officer from India was deemed inadmissible to Canada and denied entry.
Days later, after an outcry from Indian officials, the officer was suddenly reissued a visa and flown back to Toronto.
In a statement in May, Canada’s High Commissioner to India, Nadir Patel, expressed “regret” about the incident but would not reveal the rejected visitor’s identity citing privacy protection. Immigration officials subsequently confirmed the person as Tejinder Singh Dhillon.
Dhillon, a retired senior officer with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), India’s largest paramilitary force under the home affairs ministry, was refused admission in May at the Vancouver airport on the way to his niece’s wedding in Toronto.
Canada border officials explained the refusal by indicating on a form letter that the 67-year-old had served a government that engages or has engaged in terrorism, human rights violations, crime against humanity or genocide.
The incident immediately caused diplomatic ripples between New Delhi and Ottawa, prompting Canadian officials to issue not just a new multiple-entry visa to Dhillon but a plane ticket for his return.
“Such a characterization of a reputed force like the CRPF is completely unacceptable. We have taken up the matter with the Government of Canada,” a foreign ministry official told Indian media.
Patel said the refusal was a mistake on Ottawa’s part.
“Over the past year, over 300,000 Indian nationals have applied to visit Canada. From time to time, with such a large number of applications, oversights on visa applications can happen which is regrettable,” Patel wrote in a statement.
“Form letters in use by the Government of Canada include generic language taken from Canada’s legislation. In this case, the language does not reflect the Government of Canada’s policy toward India or any particular organization. . . The Central Reserve Police Force plays an important role in upholding law and order in India.”
Anirudh Bhattacharyya, who interviewed Dhillon and reported the story from Toronto for the Hindustan Times, said Dhillon complained Canadian officials treated him in an “unreasonable and indecent manner, accusing him of having either participated or having knowledge of CRPF’s human rights violations.
“It is very upsetting. I have seen many crises, but this is very difficult to bear,” Dhillon told Bhattacharyya in an interview.
Dhillon, who has returned to India, couldn’t be reached for comment by the Star.
While Dhillon was in Canada, a New York-based human rights group, Sikhs for Justice, brought a motion to an Ontario court seeking an arrest warrant on charges of commanding and counselling torture.
The case was based on a complaint by Inderjit Singh, who claimed he was tortured by police officers under Dhillon’s command, said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the group’s legal adviser. The court dismissed the request this week.
The High Commission of India in Ottawa would not comment on Ottawa’s treatment of Dhillon, but told the Star that the court petition brought by the Sikhs for Justice was “frivolous, malicious and baseless.”
For its part, Canada said it continues to welcome record numbers of Indian nationals for study, tourism, business, and visiting friends and family.
“Canada values our relationship with India, based on shared values of democracy, pluralism, human rights and rule of law,” said Patel, Canada’s highest command in India.