Editorial: A funny thing happened on the way to Canada

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Judging by the heading of this piece, you may have been expecting a good joke to follow but unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, the recent news out of Canada is closer to a nightmare than any levity. According to a statement from the Communications Branch for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Canada “After carefully monitoring the integrity of Antigua and Barbuda’s travel documents, the Government of Canada has determined that Antigua and Barbuda no longer meets Canada’s criteria for a visa exemption.”
There is so much to be said and at the same time, what is left to be said? Every argument against the implementation of the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) was enunciated and every piece of advice regarding the management of the programme was offered, yet, those voices have been largely ignored. The “we are smarter than you” way of governance has prevailed and today, there are many people who are saying “we told you so”.
We will not join that chorus because it will do our nation no good. It is now time to pick up the pieces and move on. It is time to learn from our mistakes and make the necessary changes to the way we do business and attempt to reverse the damage that has been done to our reputation. Wagging a finger of blame will do nothing to change the decision of the Canadian government.
The price of quick money was well known to everyone and the majority accepted the risks. Prime Minister Gaston Browne proudly claimed that CIP was his idea since 2009 and was sure to take credit for it when the United Progressive Party (UPP) decided to implement CIP back in 2013. In fact, PM Browne was happy to take over the reins of the programme when the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) swept to power in 2014.
The CIP was jointly considered (by the two main political parties) the financial saviour of our bit of paradise. Today, it has brought a curse. Undoubtedly, there will be an overload of spin-doctoring in the near future but the question that remains is: will we stay the course and continue down the CIP road with others, like our neighbours, St Kitts & Nevis? It is worth noting that it took that nation approximately 30 years to lose their visa free status with Canada.  It took Antigua & Barbuda about one tenth of that time – just about three years! (Yes!  We know … different times, terrorism, closing borders, blah, blah, blah!)
Some may be disappointed that we have not jumped on the “we told you so bandwagon” and that is because there is so much more at stake. The Canadian communication made that country’s position quite clear – It can no longer trust the “integrity of Antigua and Barbuda’s travel documents”. And just as the Government of Canada has determined that “Antigua and Barbuda no longer meets Canada’s criteria for a visa exemption” there is a risk that other countries will do the same.
We need only look at the attacks in Europe, and more specifically the United Kingdom, to see how those actions may affect their comfort level with countries that sell citizenship and by extension, passports. Canada is a close ally to the UK and there is no doubt that they share intelligence information, so if Canada thinks our travel documents (aka passports) are dodgy, then we are sure that will have an influence on their allies.
And judging by the immediate timing dictated in the announcement, this is not a case where Canada does not like how the integrity of our passport is slipping, it is a case where, after “careful monitoring”, the integrity of our passports has been deemed below the very liberal Canadian standard. This coming from a country that has welcomed tens of thousands of Syrian refuges — more than 25,000 between November 4, 2015 and February 29, 2016 alone – and continue to welcome more.
The “what’s next?” question remains outstanding. The PM has raised his hand and accepted that his administration continued the programme and was the party in the seat of power at the time of the visa-free status revocation but he has not offered much more. He claims that the risk of losing the visa-free travel to Canada was not shocking as it was an accepted risk from day one. Further, the widely touted benefit of Canadian visa-free travel was actually an “aberration” in the region and likely to go away as countries tightened their borders.
We are sure that he and the party are concerned about the political ramifications surrounding this but the focus needs to be on the future. There is quite a bit more at stake and there must be a plan to remedy the damage inflicted to our passport’s integrity.
The world is watching and our next set of moves will dictate the reactions.

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