The federal government has been granting secretive temporary visas to high profile foreign officials potentially involved in war crimes, human rights abuses, terrorism and other inadmissible activities, according to a Global News investigation.
Internal documents show that the government has cited “national interest” as the reason behind issuing the “public policy” visas. The visas last up to two years and allow multiple trips in and out of Canada.
Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was first elected in 2015, 2,214 of these visas have been granted. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the number of visas jumped in 2015 to 1,063, whereas in 2014 only 385 were issued.
Since 2010, 3,000 of these visas were granted to people who were considered inadmissible.
The federal government has refused to provide details about what country of origin these individuals came from and under which category they were deemed inadmissible. According to an internal operations bulletin, the visas look like ones regularly issued by IRCC and those who receive them are not made aware of their special status.
In 2015, the government granted a temporary visitor visa to retired high-ranking Egyptian Brigadier General Saber Abdelhamed Zahw despite concerns over his time in the army during the country’s 2013 military coup.
Despite being found inadmissible by border officials, Zahw and his wife were allowed into the country. A senior official from the Department of National Defence (DND) wrote a “national interest” letter to IRCC sponsoring the two and asking that security concerns be waived.
In the letter, the official argued that Zahw should be granted special permission because Canada did not want to ruin its relations with the Egyptian military.
“It is in our interest to maintain constructive relations with members of the Egyptian military as these relationships enable execution of Canadian Armed Forces operations in the region, most notably Operation CALUMET,” wrote DND Assistant Deputy Minister for Policy Gordon Venner.
Six months later, Zahw applied for refugee status in Toronto in order to permanently remain in Canada, claiming that he was mistreated by Egyptian officials after allegedly opposing the coup.
When the government refused to give Zahw refugee status, he argued in court that because he had been granted entry before and that he had no involvement in the coup, his refugee application should be accepted. However, the Immigration and Refugee Board and a federal court ruled against him and denied him refugee status.