We would like to see the letters, please?

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The reactions to the news that the Canadian government had decided to revoke Antigua & Barbuda’s visa-free travel status were immediate.  There was a range of emotions as the vast majority of people felt disappointed, frustrated and angry.  It was to be expected.  The news even came as a shock to many pro-CIP (Citizenship by Investment Programme) people.
One person that did not appear shocked was Prime Minister Gaston Browne.  In an interview shortly after the news officially broke, he said, “I don’t think that it should be a shock.  I believe that before we implemented the CIP programme that the risks of losing our visa-free access to Canada was discussed as one of the downside risks.”  He added, “I am still of the view that the government of the day took the right decision based on the precarious financial position of the country, on itself.  And certainly as a new government, I do not know that we can give up a hundred and fifty million a year in order to maintain that visa free access.”
The PM is certainly sticking to his guns and not shying away from the heaps of criticism being hurled his way.  In his mind, the decision was right then and it is still right today because it brought the country lots of money.   Whether it continues to do so is a wait-and-see game at this point.
Millions of dollars aside, it was what the PM said next that caught our ears and those of others who are now raising questions about when Antigua was told that our visa-free status was going to be revoked.
We are probably going to be accused of misunderstanding what the Prime Minister said so we are going to be extra careful and quote him exactly.  The PM said, “I have had to write, personally, to the previous prime minister, Prime Minister Harper, and my dear friend Justin Trudeau, on several occasions to ask them to defer the implementation of any visa requirements.”  At this point, we need to slam on the brakes and look at that throw-away statement in context.
As the PM said, Stephen Harper was the former prime minister of Canada.  He left office on November 4, 2015. Therefore, we can only assume, from what Prime Minister Browne said, that the issue of the revocation of our visa-free travel status has been on the table since the Conservative Party held power (in Canada).  Let us be clear, PM Browne said that he personally wrote to Prime Minister Harper to ask him “to defer the implementation of any visa requirements”.
So, let’s look at the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word “defer”.  According to Oxford, “defer” means “put off (an action or event) to a later time; postpone”.  All possible misunderstandings having been cleared, one can only come to the conclusion that Canada had planned to implement the visa requirements as far back as 2015 or earlier. Note, the PM did not say that he asked them to defer “the decision”; he asked them to defer “the implementation”.  To be sure, we will need to see all the correspondence between Prime Minister Browne and Prime Minister Harper. When did this correspondence begin, what requests were made and what information was exchanged?
This, of course, raises a litany of question.  For example, if the government knew as early as 2015 that visa requirements were coming, why didn’t they prepare the nation instead of hiding the fact and simply asking for a deferral?  Was this apparent “kick the can down the road” foreign policy decision simply a way of trying to stretch the “window of opportunity” for quick cash from the CIP?
When the news broke in November 2014 that the Canadian government had imposed a visa requirement on citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis due to their CIP, our government basked in the glory that we were now the only programme that had Canada in its list of visa-free travel destinations.  We had the premium CIP and could ask for premium dollar.  The propaganda at the time sought to alleviate all fear that such an outcome would befall our tiny paradise.  The due diligence process in our programme was the best, after all.  You could almost see the fist pumping and hear the back patting as we proclaimed that we were at the top of the heap.
In hindsight, we must ask the question: did the Canadian authorities already indicate to our administration that the visa-free travel status was in jeopardy?  Looking at the timing, it was only about 12 months before Harper left office and the PM has already indicated that he wrote to Harper and asked him to defer the implementation of visa-requirements.
There are serious questions that require open and honest answers from the administration, and more specifically, the Prime Minister.  We are openly requesting the communication between Canada and Antigua & Barbuda during the Harper Conservative  Party  administration, as well as, the Trudeau Liberal Party administration to be made public.   Note that we are only requesting, at this point, the letters to which the PM referred (i.e. relating to the deferral of the visa requirements).  These should be a matter of public record that hold no confidential information or possess any national security risks, so there should be no issue in revealing them.
With that request lodged, we look forward to their presentation.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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