"Dancing Santa" Loses Plea To Stay

'Dancing Santa' loses plea to stay

Jonathan Woodward,
Vancouver Sun

Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2007

NORTH VANCOUVER – A 70-year-old refugee claimant who played an Iranian “dancing Santa” during cultural festivals and protested against the country's regime has lost his final plea to stay in Canada.

Iraj Ghahremani, who has been living in North Vancouver, faces deportation to Iran after the Federal Court refused to review the handling of his case by immigration officials.

“Of course he is fearful of arrest, of torture,” said Ray Negini, who spoke for his friend, Ghahremani, who is recovering from an angioplasty procedure for a heart condition.

“His trauma has gotten worse. He cannot sleep, and he does not know what to do,” he said.

The court did not give reasons for its decision to deny leave to appeal, said Ghahremani's lawyer, Gabriel Chand, who was informed of the decision last week.

“He always believed he would be accepted because he felt his story was true,” said Chand.

Ghahremani claimed refugee status in Canada in 1999 because he had been imprisoned in Iran for being a member of an opposition party, according to his filings.

Since then, he has exhausted his options: his refugee claim was rejected for inconsistencies in his story, and an appeal on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was denied.

Ghahremani's wife, who lives in Canada, cannot sponsor him because she is on social assistance, said Chand.

North Vancouver's Iranian community supported Ghahremani because he played the popular red-clad figure, Haji Firouz, in Iranian New Year celebrations.

Chand said the media coverage of his ordeal throughout the summer means that police in Iran will know his feelings on the regime, and will persecute him accordingly.

Ghahremani is old, and not a flight risk, he said.

“I don't think he's the type of guy to go underground,” he said.

“He's 70 years old, he's known to the public, he can't work, and he has no money,” he said.

Chand said he wished he was wrong in his argument to Federal Court that Ghahremani is at risk.

Ghahremani's heart condition, for which he had angioplasty last week, may be the only thing keeping him in the country, but not because he won't get adequate care in Iran, said Chand.

The Canada Border Services Agency wouldn't comment on this specific case, said Paula Shore, a spokeswoman for the agency. But she said a person's heart condition may be cause for a delay in removal.