Stuck in India: Academics allege racism on Canada’s Covid testing policy
Two Indo-Canadian academics stuck in India due to the ongoing ban on direct flights to Canada are alleging Ottawa of pursuing racism with regard to this and allied measures.
Among them is Mitu Sengupta, a professor in the department of politics and public administration at Ryerson University in Toronto, who is particularly upset with the Canadian government rejecting Covid-19 RT-PCR tests conducted in India and instead mandating such molecular tests at the final point of departure for Canada for connecting flights.
“It’s absurd they don’t trust the Indian Covid test. That’s an instance of blatant discrimination. This particular policy - a blanket no to Indian Covid tests does smack of racism to me. What is racism, after all? When you think a group of people are inferior to you based on something like their nationality and this is what they’re suggesting. I find that really objectionable,” she said. Mitu Sengupta is presently in Delhi.
Her comments follow a letter to the editor published by the Canadian daily Toronto Star last week, in which Arun Paramekanti, professor of physics at the University of Toronto, alleged, “The prolonged Canadian government regulation to forbid direct flights from India to Canada, and to completely distrust pre-flight Covid-19 RT-PCR tests carried out in India while trusting test results from any other third country, is a racist policy which places significant burden on Canadian citizens of Indian origin.”
“To ban travel from India at this stage, when nearly 80% of the eligible Canadian population (76.35% of Canadians aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated) has been fully vaccinated, and we have far more knowledge of the disease, reeks of racism,” he claimed.
Arun Paramekanti, who is in Bangalore at this point, confirmed that viewpoint while speaking to the Hindustan Times, saying such policy seemed to be “picking on India” and was “overkill and really discriminatory”.
Canada opened its borders to fully-vaccinated travellers from the United States in August and earlier this month, to all fully-vaccinated visitors even if that was for discretionary reasons. Cases per thousand in America and in European nations like the United Kingdom are higher than in India.
Responding to emailed queries from the Hindustan Times, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said, “The requirement for pre-entry molecular testing in a third country is in place so that the Covid-19 molecular test is performed after leaving a high-risk country (India in this case). In this way, the risk of the traveller being exposed to the virus and its variants in India between the time of testing and boarding the plane, which can take up to 72 hours, is reduced.”
As for the high cases in the US and UK, also driven by the Delta variant, she replied that the flight ban and testing requirements were “implemented to address a consistently high number of imported cases into Canada from India. PHAC is continuing to monitor the situation.”
Finally, as to the charge of racism, she said, “Canada’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is guided by the latest science and research.”
Dr S D Dwivedi, national president of the Canada India Global Forum (CIGF) isn’t convinced by these explanations, as he said the flight ban extension “was purely a political decision to insulate the government from complaints that they were irresponsible in protecting Canadians against Covid”.
He added that the policy was a “sham” and the government “acted in this way with blatant disregard for actual facts, and showed no regard for the hardships faced by the Indo-Canadian community”.
The flight ban and the testing regimen were put in place in April as India faced its second wave with the Delta variant causing havoc. The ban has been extended several times since then, and is in place till September 21, a day after the federal elections in Canada end.