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Visa Flap In Canada

Gov't move to cut red tape angers guilds

TORONTO — A recommendation buried in a federal government report may cut red tape for foreigners working in the Canadian entertainment industry. The recommendation, found in an unrelated immigration report commissioned by the feds, would lift the authorization requirement for under-30-day work visas, meaning the visas would be issued automatically.

Anyone wishing to work in Canada currently has to receive employment authorization before they can get a work visa.

Although the report was released a month ago, nobody noticed the single paragraph until a week before the consultative deadline, which was Monday. “It’s a small little notice,” said Alex Gill, the director of communications for the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), “but it could have profound effects on the Canadian entertainment industry.”

But industry players weren’t quite as asleep at the switch as they seemed.

The report was meant to look at immigration issues and was not specifically intended to apply to the entertainment industry at all. “If we can let computer programmers in for 30 days, great,” said Gill. “What they didn’t think of was, there’s an entire industry in Canada that is just devoted to short-term work, and it’s called the entertainment industry.”

The Union of British Columbia Performers was said to be the first to see the implications of the recommendation, and then word spread. Guilds and unions scrambled to put together their official responses and get them in to the federal government before the deadline Monday.

They also mounted a letter-writing campaign. At the Canadian department of citizenship and immigration on Friday the fax machine was clogged with letters of protest from alarmed industry workers. “If we find that doesn’t do anything,” said Gill, “we might be calling for demonstrations in Ottawa.

While conceding that some American producers might be glad to see the requirement for employment authorization nixed, ACTRA policy adviser Garry Neil notes that even if the recommendation had slipped through, collective union agreements would still be in place. The worker would be violating the collective agreement, Neil notes, but the immigration department wouldn’t be aware of that.

Neil’s concern is that such a change could lead to a return to the bad old days of the late ’70s and early ’80s when major battles between the U.S. and Canada over foreign performers were common. “What I really fear is that we have what I consider to be a very good business operating quite fine for 10 or 15 years, and suddenly you throw a monkey wrench into all that.”

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