Neat trick on Ebola ‘announcement,’ Chris Alexander! What are you afraid of?

Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander • Screen grab from CTV National News

Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander • Screen grab from CTV National News

Yesterday — Friday 31 October, Halloween — Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander “announced” that Canada was temporarily halting issuing visas to people coming here from Ebola-stricken West African nations.

Except the nature of his “announcement” was puzzling. It was contained in a blandly-headed news release (“Protecting the Health and Safety of Canadians”), issued late in the day (it arrived in my inbox at 5.50pm), by which time Alexander was not available for comment, even if his handlers in the PMO had allowed him to speak.

This is a typical tactic of the Conservative government, but what makes it particularly noteworthy is that the release was issued after Alexander had held a 15-minute news conference on immigration policy, during which he didn’t mention the policy change, according to a report by CTV National News.

Why is the Government of Canada afraid to take ownership of this policy decision?

Surely, it’s not because it fears the World Health Organization, or its director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, who reportedly slammed Australia earlier in the week for a similar policy? (Dr. Chan’s connection to Canada includes earning her medical degree at Western University in London. Ont.)

Why is the Government of Canada afraid to take ownership of this policy decision?

“I understand the fear in the community, but the fear factor is way too high and out of proportion to the risk,” Dr. Chan is reported to have said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “No evidence exists to support the effectiveness of travel bans as a protective measure.”

Her remarks came in response to the announcement by the Australian government that it had stopped processing visa applications from people travelling to Australia from Ebola-affected countries.

CDC: Cynthia Goldsmith

Credit: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith

“We have learned from past experience managing many, many outbreaks that travel bans will not stop cases coming to your borders,” Chan is reported to have said. “The best option is heightened surveillance, heightened vigilance, as well as heightened preparedness so that you’re ready should an imported case arrive at your doorstep.”

The Canadian announcement raised a number of questions. It said that “Canadian visa officers have temporarily paused the processing of visa applications from foreign nationals who have been physically present in a country designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having widespread and intense transmission of the Ebola virus.” But it fails to define “temporary.”

The release also noted that the new policy will not affect “Canadian citizens, permanent residents, foreign nationals currently in possession of a visa and foreign nationals who do not require visas” who will continue to be screened at ports of entry in Canada and will be subject to appropriate health screening and other measures under the Quarantine Act. Nor does it affect Canadians currently in West Africa.

“All Canadians, including health-care workers, currently in West Africa will be permitted to travel back to Canada,” the release said. “The Government of Canada continues to advise against travel to countries designated by the WHO as having widespread and intense transmission of the Ebola virus.”~TM

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