Whistler's Member of Parliament is standing behind the federal government's recent announcement that all Mexicans coming to Canada will now need a visa.
On Wednesday afternoon, John Weston told Pique Newsmagazine that while he recognizes the new rules will affect tourism in the Sea to Sky corridor, the Conservative government's decision is a "typical case where the government has had to weigh priorities."
"One issue is the fact that Mexico and the Czech Republic have been their biggest source of unsubstantiated refugee claims," said Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, over the phone during a bike trip in Taiwan this week.
"This has been an attempt to deal with the issue, which is not only a matter of abusing our refugee system, but it can also be a security liability as well for Canada."
Mexicans make up under one per cent of Whistler's summer visitors and between one and two per cent of annual visitors, according to statistics from Tourism Whistler. Visitors from Mexico typically travel to Whistler during December for their Christmas holidays and in April for their Semana Santa two-week Easter holiday.
Weston added that, having visited Whistler with Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, he is confident that the minister is aware of the need to ensure the flow of tourism for the Olympics, Paralympics and generally.
Weston's comments came on the heels of Kenney's announcement on Monday that any Mexican visitor entering Canada as of Thursday, July 16, will need a Temporary Resident Visa.
Kenney said in a press release he decided to introduce the visas because refugee claims from Mexico have almost tripled since 2005, and the sheer volume of these claims is undermining Canada's ability to help people fleeing real persecution.
The news caused an uproar in Canada's tourism industry as tour operators grappled with the abrupt changes. Mexican visitors make up Canada's sixth largest tourist group, and in 2007, over 260,000 Mexicans travelled to Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
Reports from the L.A. Times said that thousands of Mexicans descended on the Canadian Embassy in Mexico to get the necessary paperwork in time for their already booked flights. The lineup extended around the block and some Mexicans even camped outside the embassy.
To handle the sudden load, the embassy has 55 extra staff members working on visa requests, said Danielle Norris, department spokesperson for Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
"We are taking the change very seriously," she told Pique, adding that the fee for the paperwork is the same for all countries at $75 per visa.
Meanwhile, in response to Kenney's decision, Mexico's government announced yesterday that it will also require visas for all Canadian diplomats and officials.
Mexican foreign secretary Patricia Espinosa made the announcement during a meeting with Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC. The new restrictions, however, will not affect Canadian tourists travelling to Mexico.