‘Family’ definition needs to permanently change, NDP says, amid Palestinian visa expansion

With no indication Israel’s offensive in Gaza will end anytime soon, attacks outside the war zone are raising the risk of a regional conflict. Caryn Ceolin with the new diplomatic push to stop a spillover.

By Cormac Mac Sweeney and The Canadian Press

As applications open for a limited number of visas to help loved ones of Canadians flee the violence in Gaza, the federal NDP is pushing for more permanent changes to what the government considers family.

In the initial evacuations from Gaza, the Canadian government followed a written, narrow definition of what family is, with the existing visa program available only to immediate family members of Canadians, including spouses and children.

That forced some to make heartbreaking decisions to leave relatives behind in order to get others to safety.

The federal government now has a temporary expansion, allowing a limited number of parents, grandparents, adult children, grandchildren, and siblings of Canadians and Canadian permanent residents, as well as their immediate family members, to apply for visas to Canada.

However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tells CityNews he wants to see the definition of family permanently expanded so the country doesn’t run into similar issues in the future.

“We need to look at a better definition of family that more accurately reflects how people feel about their family and it’s not so limiting that it doesn’t include very obvious things like your parents,” he explained.

Singh also believes the cap on visa applications — 1,000 — is too small and that Palestinians are being treated unfairly compared to how foreign nationals have been treated in other instances of conflict and war.

He’s calling for a more fair approach from the government “that recognizes the suffering of the people of Gaza and the people of Palestine.”

“The cap is something that was not applied in other circumstances of the same level of severity that we’re seeing in Gaza,” Singh said.

“Our role as a global citizen, we should be able to welcome people and ensure that we’re doing it in a matter that’s consistent and fair.”

Canada launched its new special extended family visa program for people in Gaza on Tuesday. Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced the program in December after months of pleading from Palestinian Canadians for the federal government to help rescue their loved ones.

The application process has multiple stages. First, families need to provide the federal government with basic information about people they want to bring to Canada and their relationship to each other, as well as the Canadian family member’s government documents.

If the government deems the information complete, they will get a unique code to apply for the visa. The federal Immigration Department warned families to get their paperwork in quickly when they get their unique code because it is accepting a limited number of applications.

“If all available spaces are filled before you submit your complete application, your application will not be processed under this temporary public policy,” the department said Tuesday in a message on its website.

The program would allow successful extended family members to take refuge in Canada for three years, if their families are willing to financially support them during that time.

Those who manage to get a visa and escape Gaza will be provided with funds for a two-night hotel stay while they undergo screening and fingerprinting.

Once in Canada, they will be eligible to apply for a free work or study permit and have access to settlement services and health coverage from the federal government for 90 days.

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