Wednesday, July 25, 2007

And you went for THAT as a headline?

As I was checking out my sweet, sweet Google Reader this morning, I noticed this headline from CBC:

Sikh group slams immigration name change policy

The first bit of the article read:

A Sikh-Canadian group is slamming the long-standing immigration policy that forces people with the surname Singh or Kaur to change their last names.

Jasbeer Singh, of the World Sikh Organization, said the policy is incredibly out of synch in this day and age.

My god, I thought, seriously? Like, Ellis Island stylz? Freakin' ridiculous.

Then I read the rest of the article and my blood pressure dropped quite a bit. The actual issue is that, given how common the names Singh and Kaur are, people with those names are asked to give a second surname to distinguish their file.

Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the reason for the policy is that it helps officials with the paperwork and allows them to identify people's files quickly, efficiently and accurately.

"You can imagine you wouldn't want your file to be confused with someone else's," she said.


Shadd-Evelyn said that while the department recognizes the tradition of having the names Singh and Kaur, it's their understanding that it is already a common practice for people in the Sikh community to have a third name.

"Generally, when we ask for that, they are accustomed to that and are used to providing a third name," she said. "They have it. It's not something that they're just making up on the spot."

Okay, well, both sides are being a little stupid I think.

According to this wikipedia article, there isn't a huge panoply of traditional Sikh names. The CBC article seconds that:

Singh and Kaur are common names in the Sikh community. In a tradition that began more than 300 years ago, the name Singh is given to every baptized male and Kaur to every baptized female Sikh. There are millions of Singhs and Kaurs around the world.

As someone who works in a doctors' office, and has worked with refugee and immigration files, I can tell you that even in small scale, repetitive names are a disproportionate complication. Also, families where the children are all named after the mother and/or father, and so on. Although I couldn't find a reference for this, in my own experience the Roma tradition of wives taking on their husband's given names is a particular hassle (paperwork-wise--I'm not criticizing any of these practices per se, but I do know they create administrative difficulties). So I suppose I have some sympathy for the paper-pushers at CIC who have to deal with this. According to StatsCan, almost 300,000 Southern Asians came to Canada between 1991 and 2001, so that's about 30,000 per year (about the population of Orangeville), and I doubt it's gone down much. Wikipedia claims there are about 600,000 Sikhs in Canada. That's a lot fo Singhs and Kaurs to sort out.

That said? This is exactly the kind of problem agencies like CIC are supposed to be able to sort out. For one thing, immigrants and refugees are assigned file numbers. Also, the way they've presented the issue to immigrants and sponsors does not match what they told CBC. The article included a link to a sample of the type of letter Citizenship and Immigration Canada sends out. The letter requests:

ORIGINAL passport for yourself after getting your surname endorsed on it. ...Please note that your surname must be endorsed on your passport. The names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada. [emphasis added]

Worst. Phrasing. Ever. Come on now, people. That really does sound like "change your name or no Canada for you--P.S., we are racist."

Frankly, I can't believe this is only coming out now.

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