Social Issues: What Happened At The Canadian Border

When news spread via social media that New York hip hop rapper M1 of the duo Dead Prez had been denied entry into Canada, things heated up pretty quickly.  The rapper took to social media as did the Fondation FRO who had advertised M1 as their festival headliner.

IMAGE 2It wasn’t long before mainstream media picked the story up as well and began circulating it on their social media feeds.

IMAGE 1Understandably upset with the decision made by Canada Customs agents, M1 alleged that the denial was due to miscellaneous policies, and he attributed the decision to racial profiling.  He stated in a YouTube video that he was livid about the policies at the Canadian border and stated that this denial only made “our resistance even higher.”   He repeated several times that this was “all power to the people” and stated that the situation would “not stop our people from coming together” and that “they can’t stop us.”

You can view M1’s video HERE.

It was language that went to the heart of defying racism, and it resonated with those who not only intended to attend the festival, but also with those who hadn’t planned on attending the festival but who took a stand against racist actions.

But was the refusal to allow M1 entry into Canada one of social injustice?

Fondation FRO co-founder and communication president Berekyah Yergeau stated to mainstream media that M1 “may have had an infraction on his criminal record dating back to 2006” which implied this could be the reason he was denied entry.  However, she also stated that M1 had entered Canada before without incident.  Is it possible that the possible criminal record was the cause?

But then Fondation FRO co-founder and communication president Berekyah Yergeau admitted that the foundation hadn’t arranged for a work visa for M1.  The reasoning she gave was that a work visa wasn’t secured because M1 was donating his time to the FRO Foundation’s festival.

The most likely reason for denying a festival headliner (with his name plastered all over posters and social media updates and tweets as well as talked about in the media and on blogs) entry into Canada would be the lack of a work visa.  Without a work visa, Canada Customs agents were well within their rights to refuse New York recording artist Mutulu Olugbala aka M1 entry into Canada to perform at the event in Montreal on January 31.

For those who don’t know, there’s a Cultural Exchange Program between the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) that makes it easier for musicians from the U.S. to travel to Canada to perform. But even with the Cultural Exchange Program in place, a work visa is still needed.

Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t take a ridiculously long time to go through the process of submitting the proper completed forms and signed contract or contracts to the musicians’ union to secure a work visa.  In fact, it’s a matter of days for American artists wishing to cross into Canada to perform whether it’s a paid performance or one that’s free.

Ah!” you might think, “the cost is probably prohibitively high!”  It’s actually less than $200, an amount that isn’t so exorbitant that the festival organizers couldn’t have included it in their festival budget.

In the end, it would seem that the problem is one that could have easily been avoided had someone at Fondation FRO or Mutulu Olugbala aka M1 could have easily taken care of long before the artist presented himself at the Canadian border.  That doesn’t mean the Canadian Customs policies are miscellaneous, and it doesn’t mean that anyone was engaging in racial profiling.  It means that someone who should have made sure a work visa was in place dropped the ball and that is the most likely reason the hip hop rapper didn’t make it across the border to perform in person at the festival on January 31.

The situation has been a learning experience for all involved, and going forward, it’s hoped that those involved will secure work visas for future international artists performing in Canada at any of the Fondation FRO events.

But let’s not immediately default to allegations of racial profiling when there are other more likely reasons for what happened.  Yes, racial profiling happens, but it’s not the only reason situations like these arise.  Sometimes they arise because things like work visas aren’t in place.

Elyse Bruce


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