Friday, September 11, 2009

Duplicitous Canadians

An article by Stephen Long, Los Angeles

I have refrained from writing much about Sri Lanka since the end of the war on terrorism – although there have been a number of topics on which I could have commented. I am convinced that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has things pretty much under control, and that he is moving the country and its diverse populations forward toward the unity and harmony he has promised.

One incident, however, just came to my attention that I feel I must address – because it personally involves someone I am very close to, and reflects an old, bad attitude that must be fixed. Here’s the story:

A Nayake Thero, Ven. Haupe Somananda Nayake Thera, Chief Incumbent of Sri Mahavihariya, Pamankada, Dehiwala, who is 72 years old, is one of the kindest, most innocent people I have ever met. I have learned a great deal from this revered Buddhist monk over the years, and I have benefitted greatly from my association with him.

One of his students, now the Abbot of a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Ohio, invited Ven. Somananda to come to the US to attend the dedication of a new international Buddhist center that has just been built on his premises. He prepared the appropriate sponsorship documents for his visa to the US, and this was obtained with no difficulty. Nayake Thera had been to America before, and had just returned from a lengthy pilgrimage in India. This senior monk is no stranger to travel, and during his long life he has experienced a great deal of the world.

Subsequently, a Buddhist temple invited Ven. Somananda to visit their vihara in Canada while he was in North America. Nayake Thera, armed with proper documentation and sponsorship letters, then went to the Canadian Embassy in Colombo to get his visa so he could enter this liberal, democratic country. It seems, however, that this Embassy is still staffed with Tamils from the old school British system, and it also seems that they are prejudiced against Buddhists – particularly Buddhist monks. I’m referring to the “local” Embassy staff – not the Canadian nationals.

The first time Nayake Thera went to apply at the Embassy he was told that he had to produce bank statements from the temple in Canada he wished to visit. He promptly had these faxed to him.

The next day he approached the counter in the Embassy and produced the bank statements – only to be told that he had to provide a copy of the monk’s passport in Canada that he intended to visit. He promptly had this faxed to him.

The following day he handed over the photocopy of the monk’s passport – and was told that his own passport had to be changed before a Canadian visa could be issued. The counter agent said he had to have the words “Reverend” and “Thero” removed. Can you believe this nonsense?

At this point Nayake Thero informed the counter staff that his passport had been accepted by the US Embassy for a visa – and that there had been no problem with his name and title. The staff person rudely exclaimed, “This is not the US – this is Canada! Your visa application is rejected!”

Ven. Somananda suddenly lost interest in visiting Canada, and gave up his quest for a visa to enter that proud land, a mosaic of free people from all over the world.

Nayake Thero told me that he had the feeling that he was up against the LTTE when he stood before the counter staff at the Canadian Embassy. I’m sorry, folks, but this just doesn’t work for me…

First of all, the Canadian Embassy in Colombo has every right to reject visas to Sri Lankan nationals with good reason, but it has no right to dictate to the Sri Lankan Passport Office how to issue its passports to members of the Buddhist clergy. Secondly, the Canadian Embassy in Colombo should teach its local staff members how to show some respect – and withhold their personal views about Buddhist monks – as well as their political leanings.

I doubt that Ven. Somananda will ever want to visit Canada after this humiliating ordeal. I don’t blame him – I wouldn’t either. I suggest that something be done to prevent this kind of ill treatment in the future. Wise up Canadian Foreign Office! The war is over in Sri Lanka – even if you’re still struggling with it back home.

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