Union Official Denied Entry to China

January 20, 2011 Updated: January 27, 2011

TORONTO—The Canadian Auto Workers Union is wondering why Beijing has denied a visitor’s visa to one of its top officials, Peggy Nash, former NDP MP and Assistant to the union’s National President.

Nash had planned to leave Jan. 14 and had been told her visa would be ready several days before. Later she was told her visa was denied but consular officials did not give an explanation.

Nash was to be part of a delegation of labour, management, and government personnel organized through the federal Ministry of Labour.

She had been asked to make a presentation to Chinese officials in Beijing about collective bargaining and the role of labour unions.

Nash speculated that the Chinese regime may have blocked her visa in retaliation for her speaking out about its abuse of religious minorities. While in Parliament, the former MP was a member of the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet and helped bring in the motion recognizing the Dalai Lama as an honorary Canadian citizen.

She also tabled a motion just prior to the Beijing Olympics calling for talks between Beijing and Tibet about real autonomy for the mountainous region.

“I was not off on some radical extreme,” she said. She had simply called on the regime for better protection of its citizens.

That effort got her a gentle rebuttal from consular officials in Canada who claimed Tibet had all the autonomy it needed already. Nash wasn't so sure.

“If there were not problems for Tibetans in China there would not be so many accepted to Canada as refugees,” she said.

She said she was confused and frustrated when her visa was denied and left wondering if being outspoken on human rights issues in China had played a role in that decision. She has also spoken out for China's Uyghur Muslim minority.

“I was also left feeling grateful that I live in a country that has freedom of association,” she said.

Nash, an advocate for labour unions in China, questioned whether last summer’s spontaneous strikes in southern China and the regime’s fears of democratically elected unions may have contributed to her visa denial.