India’s missions in Canada reach out to students after spate of incidents

According to data from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 156,171 study permits were given to students from India in 2021, almost double the number for 2020, which was at 76,149
A Canadian flag flies in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (REUTERS)
A Canadian flag flies in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (REUTERS)
Updated on May 19, 2022 12:18 AM IST
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India’s missions in Canada are enhancing their outreach to students from India as their numbers balloon along with a spate of incidents, including accidents, suicides, even murders. Among the initiatives are creating a database to track the students and registering them.

The latest such tragedy was reported on Sunday, when Peel Regional Police found the body of 20-year-old Navkiran Singh from Moga district in Punjab drowned in the Credit Valley River in Brampton in the Greater Toronto Area. No cause has yet been attributed for the death. “It’s a huge tragedy to see a young life being snuffed out,” Ajay Bisaria, India’s high commissioner to Ottawa said of the death of Navkiran Singh.

This is just the most recent example in a series of such casualties that have been reported in Canada this year involving students from India, including five students who were killed in a road mishap in Ontario in March and 21-year-old Kartik Vasudev being gunned down in Toronto in April.

According to data from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), 156,171 study permits were given to students from India in 2021, almost double the number for 2020, which was at 76,149, which was a substantial drop due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel. However, the surge since last year could lead to a new record high in Indian students reaching Canadian universities and colleges in 2022, and it could eclipse the previous mark of 174,687 in 2019.

Concerned over the trend in fatalities within this cohort, India’s missions in Canada have reached out to universities across Canada to create a database of students from India and to map their whereabouts. In addition, missions are also coordinating with community organisations and in particular, with students’ associations at universities, as they are the first that become aware if a student is tackling depression or behaving abnormally.

In February this year, the high commission issued an advisory targeting students, discussing among other matters, work permits, how expensive accommodation can be, even the extreme weather. It noted, “Though Canada is a multi-cultural society, there is a vast cultural gap between India and Canada. This results in students feeling lonely and hence sick during the first months after their arrival.”

In April, Indian missions also launched a new registration portal for Indian nationals, including students in Canada, which was “triggered, and informed by problems being faced by the community including students, including the large number of casualties,” a senior Indian official said.

In November last year, the outlet, the Pointer reported that a single funeral home in the Greater Toronto Area recorded five dead bodies of Indian students each month. At that time, Kamal Bhardwaj, proprietor of the Lotus Funeral and Cremation Centre in Toronto, said they were handling corpses of five to six students each month. While not privy to the cause of death, some bodies turn up with ligature marks, indicating possible suicide and others bore signs of overdose. “There’s been an increase in number of young people dying,” he told the Hindustan Times.


    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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