On visa bans and civil liberties


The last week has seen a useful public discussion on domestic violence and whether singer Chris Brown has been rehabilitated, but I don’t think it is relevant to whether he should be let into New Zealand.

It’s dangerous to deny a visitor’s visa to anyone unless they present a criminal danger to New Zealand or are likely to overstay their visa. Chris Brown may or may not be rehabilitated, but I don’t think anyone expects him to break the law during his short visit.

It’s understandable that many New Zealanders don’t want Chris Brown to come here. It demonstrates a commendably strong public sentiment against domestic violence. However, I believe the only sanction against Chris Brown should be “in the court of public opinion” – not by denying him a visa.

I oppose a ban on Chris Brown on civil liberties grounds, in which we all have a stake. Three of our freedoms come into play: the freedom to travel, freedom of speech, and the freedom to hear.

As great travellers, New Zealanders should favour minimal restrictions on the rights of people to visit other countries. Many New Zealanders have been unjustly prevented from travelling to America because of a minor conviction, commonly for marijuana possession. It would be better if visas were denied only to those (like drug gang members) who are suspected of wanting to continue to their criminal activities while in New Zealand.

It’s also dangerous to allow some state official to deny a visa on the basis of a singer’s lyrics, or whether that singer (like Chris Brown) is going to say the right thing about domestic violence while in the country. Such a sanction contravenes a right to freely express our views. Freedom of expression (as guaranteed in our Bill of Rights) applies to visitors and New Zealand citizens alike.

Freedom of expression also includes New Zealanders’ right to hear – in this case the right of New Zealanders to hear Chris Brown at his concert. I don’t wish to go to Chris Brown’s concert but I would feel very uncomfortable denying that right to other New Zealanders.

A person should be denied a visa only after an analysis of the specifics of his or her case. It is wrong to automatically deny a visa either on the basis of criminality (as is happening to Kiwis in Australia right now) or, as in the Chris Brown case, because two other countries (Canada and Britain) have previously denied him entry.

In both the Aussie Kiwi and Chris Brown cases, the individual circumstances should be examined, rather than people being hit, initially at least, by the application of a blanket provision.

Morally, we will be better able to challenge Australia’s high-handed deportation of Kiwis if our own policy towards visitors is tolerant and just.