Kitchener-Waterloo

Iraq's National Theatre Company denied visas to play Kitchener's Impact 15 festival

Iraq's National Theatre Company cancels its show at the Impact 15 festival in Kitchener, Ont., because troupe members were denied Canadian visas over fears they'd attempt to seek refugee status, the festival director says.

Canadian officials say in letter they weren't convinced troupe would return to Iraq

Iraq's National Theatre Company was scheduled to perform its play "Camp", about life as a refugee living in a resettlement camp, at Impact 15 this month. But actors weren't granted Canadian visas. (Submitted by Impact 15)

Iraq's National Theatre Company has cancelled its show at the Impact 15 festival in Kitchener, Ont., because troupe members were denied Canadian visas over fears they'd attempt to seek refugee status, the festival director says.

"After midnight I received an email from the company. The director of the company has received a notice from the embassy denying them entry into Canada," said festival director Majdi Bou-Matar in an interview on CBC Radio's The Morning Edition with Craig Norris.

The letter from the Canadian Embassy in Paris said, in French, that officials weren't convinced the theatre performers would return to Iraq and would instead seek refugee status in Canada. The letter cited concerns over the group's financial situation, property ownership and employment as reasons for denying the visas.

Seven of the nine troupe members live in Iraq and applied to the visa office there. Their applications were forwarded to the Canadian Embassy in Amman, Jordan. The troupe's director, Muhaned Hadi Hendi Al Shafeay, lives in France and so applied through the embassy in Paris, and that embassy responded to all of the applications. The other member of the troupe is a British citizen, and didn't apply for a visa.

The company was scheduled to perform the play Camp, about life as a refugee, on Sept. 26 and Sept. 27. But after weeks of waiting, the company still hadn't received visas permitting the performers to visit the Waterloo Region.

"Shouldn't we ask ourselves why a group of artists who are all well established would not be allowed to come participate in a theatre festival?" said Bou-Matar.

"And they're not even given the courtesy to reply to them in a timely manner." 

Bou-Matar said he wanted to include the play in the festival's lineup because its content was timely, looking at the challenges refugees face building a home away from home.  

"This show was chosen because it is about connecting [the theatre company] to the large Iraqi population who is living here in our community and who are feeling displaced," said Bou-Matar.

1st time cancelling a performance

Bou-Matar said this is the first time the festival has had to consider cancelling a show, with past companies coming from China, Palestine and Colombia. 

Two other international theatre companies will be participating in the festival:

  • Nous Jouons Pour Les Arts from Morocco
  • Victoria Hunt of Australia.

Bou-Matar said he will refund tickets for the Iraqi booking, but is also considering holding a Skype conversation with the theatre company from Iraq during the time it was scheduled to perform.  

The festival launches Sept. 22 and runs until Sept. 27. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Bou-Matar's first name as Mahji. In fact, his name is Majdi.
    Sep 18, 2015 7:24 AM ET

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