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January 28, 2000
Religious leaders team up against 'head-tax'
A P Kamath
Churches, mosques and temples are joining hands with immigration groups in Canada to intensify pressure on the government to abolish the 'right of landing fee', dubbed by its opponents as head tax.
At the Inter-Church Committee for Refugees meeting recently in Toronto, religious leaders and community representatives demanded the abolition of the fee for refugees. Similar meetings are being held in a number of Canadian cities. The recent meeting was addressed by one of the most visible of Canadian church leaders, Archbishop Barry Curtis of Calgary, president of the Canadian Council of Churches.
"The tax is not a burden on the well-to-do," the Toronto Star quoted him as saying.
"It is very heavy on the weakest section of the society. With this tax, we discourage the very people we are called to take care of."
Introduced in 1995, the fee is mandatory on every adult immigrant to Canada and to refugees who apply for permanent residence. The asylum seekers are also expected to pay another fee of $ 500 per adult and $ 100 per child. It was introduced when the Canadian national budget faced a deficit. The government used the money to provide services to the new refugees.
Now that the Canadian budgetary deficit has ended, pro-immigrant and refugee groups are demanding its abolition.
A country that prides itself in its multicultural and multiethnic composition cannot have a tax that sets the immigrants on the wrong footing right from Day One, many participants said.
"No country has relied more heavily on immigrants,'' said Gehna Singh. "Yet, we have elected to put a hurdle in their path.''
Earlier, influential politicians, including Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal, himself an immigrant and now one of Canada's richest politicians, voiced his opposition to the tax.
Participants at the meeting handed over petitions, statements and letters against the tax to immigrant Gurbax Malhi, who is an MP and was sent by the government to listen to the protests.
"You are coming new to Canada to settle down and you have to pay nearly $ 1,000, and this is not fair," says a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka. "This is not fair at all, especially if you are a refugee."
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