MONTREAL — International AIDS organizations say people from Africa, South America and Asia who are planning to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal are still struggling to get visas from the Canadian government.
The groups say a growing number of activists — including some who were scheduled to speak at the conference which begins at the end of the month — are having their visa applications denied, often on the grounds that the Canadian government doesn’t believe they’ll return home after the event.
Tinashe Rufurwadzo, the director of programs, management and governance at Y+ Global, an international organization of HIV+ youth, said the chair of his organization’s board and another of its employees, who are based in Malawi and Kenya, are among the young activists who have been denied visas to attend the conference.
He said both have travelled extensively to speak at AIDS-related events.
“Personally, I’m sick and tired of seeing young people from Africa mostly portrayed on PowerPoint slides as pictures, as photos on banners, as footnotes on case studies. Why can we not have them at conferences to share their lived experiences of what exactly is happening?” he said in an interview Friday.
Rufurwadzo said representatives of populations most at risk of HIV — such as people who inject drugs, transgender women, sex workers and gay men — need to be able to participate, as do adolescent girls, who are increasingly affected by HIV.
If people from the most affected countries aren’t able to attend, he said he doesn’t know how realistic the learning at the conference will be.
While those whose applications are denied will be able to attend the conference virtually, Rufurwadzo said that won’t allow the same level of participation. He also said young people, especially those from rural areas, may not have consistent access to the internet.
Last week, almost 250 organizations from around the world sent a joint letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling on him to take action to ensure participants can attend the International AIDS conference.
Aidan Strickland, a spokesman for Fraser, said in response to earlier questions from The Canadian Press that the department has been working closely with event organizers and that applications “have been assessed in a timely manner.”
“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Strickland said in an email. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”
Javier Bellocq, an Argentine who runs a community journalism project called the Key Correspondent Team which focuses on people living with HIV and high-risk groups, said from the stories he’s heard, it seems like each Canadian consulate is applying different rules.
In some places, he said, applicants have been required to pay for medical examinations as part of the visa process.
“The conference, in theory, arranged with the Canadian government that there will not be medical examinations, but there are, there are many medical examinations.”
Of a group of 40 Argentines, including Bellocq, who are planning to participate in pre-conference activities, only two have received visas so far, he said.
Tumie Komanyane, who runs programs for international NGO Frontline AIDS in South Africa, said groups she works with were planning to help more than a dozen young people attend the conference, but decided not to even bother applying for 10 visas after the first four applications were rejected.
Komanyane said she’s aware of other young people from the region, including some who had scholarships to attend the conference funded by the Canadian government, who have had their visa applications denied.
“It’s incoherent,” she said in an interview Saturday. “With the strides that Africa is making in the HIV field, all the lessons and evidence that could be coming from the beneficiaries directly is going to be lost.”
While she works with young people, she said, she doesn’t want to speak for them.
“They have agency, they have voice, and they shouldn’t be represented by people like me. They should be able to go and share what this work means for them,” she said.
Bellocq said he’s not worried about himself, noting the Argentine passport is relatively powerful and he’s a professional who has been travelling internationally form more than 30 years. But he worries about people from countries with less passport privilege and members of marginalized groups who are at high risk of HIV.
With pre-conference events starting in just over three weeks, he said, “time is not on our side.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
Effect of pandemic border restrictions could be long-lasting: Critics
BANFF, Alta. — The last of Canada’s COVID-19 border restrictions are set to disappear at the end of this month, but some critics say they fear the measures have already caused a lasting decrease in cross-border travel.
At the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta. on Friday, prominent voices who have been arguing for months in favour of the lifting of restrictions such as mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine requirements for international visitors said they’re now worried the economic impacts of such measures could be permanent.
In a panel discussion at what is an annual conference for business leaders in Canada’s most-visited national park, Meredith Lilly – an associate professor at Carleton University and a former international trade advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper – said cross-border day trips by Canadians to the U.S. never fully recovered after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
She said her research has showed part of that is due to the heightened U.S. border controls put in place after that event.
“Fewer Canadians travelled to the United States to shop or fill up their tank of gas because of the unfriendly border,” Lilly said.
“Canada is now doing the same thing to Americans. So it’s going to take major effort to get Americans to come back.”
Earlier this week, federal government sources confirmed the cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on Sept. 30.
The change means international travellers will no longer have to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the current rule, Canadians returning to the country who aren’t vaccinated must show a negative COVID-19 test result before arriving, and undergo further testing after arrival. They also must quarantine for 14 days.
The expiry also spells the end of insisting travellers use the ArriveCan app to input their vaccine status and test results, though the app will live on as an optional tool for customs and immigration.
But Lilly said the two-and-a-half years that pandemic-related border rules were in place was likely long enough to change the habits of some Americans, who will now no longer consider visiting Canada in the future.
Statistics Canada reported Friday that the number of international arrivals to this country increased in July even as they remain well below pre-pandemic levels.
The agency said the number of trips by U.S. residents in July was 2.2 million, 11 times the number of trips taken in July 2021, but still about 60 per cent of the trips reported in July 2019.
“So the picture still isn’t great,” Lilly said. “And three years is a long time for people to permanently change their behaviour.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Perrin Beatty, who also spoke in Banff Friday, said this country’s tourism industry has now missed out on two summer seasons.
He said multiple medical experts have argued that testing asymptomatic travellers for COVID-19 at the border is far less effective than testing symptomatic Canadians within their communities.
“We’ve maintained these restrictions that simply make no sense. The cost to us, for small businesses in every part of this country, of the friction that we’ve put on at the border has been billions of dollars,” Beatty said.
“And we’re out of step with other countries around the world, we’re out of step with the science, and we’re out of step with the rest of Canadian society because of these self-inflicted wounds we’ve put on ourselves.”
A report released by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable on Friday aimed to assess the impact and effectiveness of border measures and other travel restrictions implemented by the federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The report, which was authored by four Canadian doctors specializing in infectious diseases, emergency medicine and pandemic management, concluded border measures have been largely ineffective at preventing new COVID-19 variants from entering the country.
It also said there is no convincing evidence that pre-departure and on-arrival testing and surveillance have had a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities.
The expiry of the cabinet order on Sept. 30 doesn’t deal with whether passengers must wear masks on domestic and international trains and planes because that rule is contained in a separate order issued by the minister of transport.
The tourism industry has argued masking on planes is also “inconsistent” from a policy perspective, given that the high air exchange rates on passenger aircraft make them one of the safest ways to travel from a COVID-19 perspective.
“But the government of Canada is saying the single most dangerous thing you can be doing is travelling by air,” Beatty said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press
Dow sinks to 2022 low as recession fears roil world markets
BEIJING — Stocks fell sharply worldwide Friday on worries an already slowing global economy could fall into recession as central banks raise the pressure with additional interest rate hikes.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.6%, closing at its lowest level since late 2020. The S&P 500 fell 1.7%, close to its 2022 low set in mid-June, while the Nasdaq slid 1.8%.
The selling capped another rough week on Wall Street, leaving the major indexes with their fifth weekly loss in six weeks.
Energy prices closed sharply lower as traders worried about a possible recession. Treasury yields, which affect rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans, held at multiyear highs.
European stocks fell just as sharply or more after preliminary data there suggested business activity had its worst monthly contraction since the start of 2021. Adding to the pressure was a new plan announced in London to cut taxes, which sent U.K. yields soaring because it could ultimately force its central bank to raise rates even more sharply.
The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world aggressively hiked interest rates this week in hopes of undercutting high inflation, with more big increases promised for the future. Such moves put the brakes on economies by design, in hopes that slower purchases by households and businesses will deflate inflationary pressures. But they also threaten a recession, if they rise too far or too quickly.
Besides Friday’s discouraging data on European business activity, a separate report suggested U.S. activity is also still shrinking, though not quite as badly as in earlier months.
“Financial markets are now fully absorbing the Fed’s harsh message that there will be no retreat from the inflation fight,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research report.
U.S. crude oil prices slid 5.7% to their lowest levels since early this year on worries that a weaker global economy will burn less fuel. Cryptocurrency prices also fell sharply because higher interest rates tend to hit hardest the investments that look the priciest or the most risky.
Even gold fell in the worldwide rout, as bonds paying higher yields make investments that pay no interest look less attractive. Meanwhile the U.S. dollar has been moving sharply higher against other currencies. That can hurt profits for U.S. companies with lots of overseas business, as well as put a financial squeeze on much of the developing world.
The S&P 500 fell 64.76 points to 3,693.23, its fourth straight drop. The Dow, which at one point was down more than 800 points, lost 486.27 points to close at 29,590.41. The Nasdaq fell 198.88 points to 10,867.93.
Smaller company stocks did even worse. The Russell 2000 fell 42.72 points, or 2.5%, to close at 1,679.59.
More than 85% of stocks in the S&P 500 closed in the red, with technology companies, retailers and banks among the biggest weights on the benchmark index.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted its benchmark rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3% to 3.25%. It was at virtually zero at the start of the year. The Fed also released a forecast suggesting its benchmark rate could be 4.4% by the year’s end, a full point higher than envisioned in June.
Treasury yields have climbed to multiyear highs as interest rates rise. The yield on the 2-year Treasury, which tends to follow expectations for Federal Reserve action, rose to 4.20% from 4.12% late Thursday. It is trading at its highest level since 2007. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.69% from 3.71%.
Goldman Sachs strategists say a majority of their clients now see a “hard landing” that pulls the economy sharply lower as inevitable. The question for them is just on the timing, magnitude and length of a potential recession.
Higher interest rates hurt all kinds of investments, but stocks could stay steady as long as corporate profits grow strongly. The problem is that many analysts are beginning to cut their forecasts for upcoming earnings because of higher rates and worries about a possible recession.
“Increasingly, market psychology has transitioned from concerns over inflation to worries that, at a minimum, corporate profits will decline as economic growth slows demand,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial.
In the U.S., the jobs market has remained remarkably solid, and many analysts think the economy grew in the summer quarter after shrinking in the first six months of the year. But the encouraging signs also suggest the Fed may have to jack rates even higher to get the cooling needed to bring down inflation.
Some key areas of the economy are already weakening. Mortgage rates have reached 14-year highs, causing sales of existing homes to drop 20% in the past year. But other areas that do best when rates are low are also hurting.
In Europe, meanwhile, the already fragile economy is dealing with the effects of war on its eastern front following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European Central Bank is hiking its key interest rate to combat inflation even as the region’s economy is already expected to plunge into a recession. And in Asia, China’s economy is contending with still-strict measures meant to limit COVID infections that also hurt businesses.
While Friday’s economic reports were discouraging, few on Wall Street saw them as enough to convince the Fed and other central banks to soften their stance on raising rates. So they just reinforced the fear that rates will keep rising in the face of already slowing economies.
Economics Writer Christopher Rugaber and Business Writers Joe McDonald and Matt Ott contributed to this report.
Damian J. Troise And Alex Veiga, The Associated Press
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