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Manitoba Premier Determined to Find Reason for Visa Refusals

Gary Doer Promises to Pursue Matter with Canadian Government

WINNIPEG, Canada, 23 July 2003 - The government leader of the Canadian province hosting the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Tenth Assembly has vowed to get to the bottom of a controversy surrounding the refusal of visas to dozens of international participants in the event.

"We’re going to follow this up with the federal government and the group here to make sure that whatever went wrong won’t go wrong again," said Manitoba Premier Gary Doer in an interview after bringing greetings to the LWF meeting this morning.

"This is something we’re going to have to manage as a country a lot more carefully in the future."

As of last night, 51 individuals, including delegates and visitors, had not received visas from the Canadian government to attend the 10-day LWF Assembly in Winnipeg, the capital city of the province of Manitoba. Of those people, 27 were from India alone. All affected delegations are from Africa and Asia, which have some of the poorest nations on earth.

The visa issue has cast a cloud over the LWF conference, which has as its theme "For the Healing of the World."

Doer said the Manitoba government will seek more facts from federal immigration officials about why so many LWF participants have so far failed to receive visas.

"We’re not in possession of all the information. We’re going back to the federal government to find out who made the decisions, why they made them and what this means for Canada."

Doer said his government tried to intervene on participants’ behalf when it learned about the visa problem. It managed to get some denials reversed but not all, he said.

Manitoba has played host to a number of international events, including the 1999 Pan-American Games, and has never experienced a situation such as this before, according to the Premier.

"Is this a post-September 11 reality? I’m not sure. We didn’t seem to have this problem with the last international body I spoke to."

Doer expressed concern that the current visa problem could set a bad precedent for future international events, such as the 2010 Winter Olympic Games which were recently awarded to Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Canada hosts a lot of events. We can’t have international bodies coming to our country and having some of their people left behind without a perceived reason for doing so."

The Assembly last night agreed to hold a public demonstration on Tuesday, July 29, to protest the Canadian government’s failure to approve the outstanding visas.

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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