Singh Case Tests Border Agency’s Strength

Singh case tests border agency's strength
Government risks appearing impotent if it keeps delaying deportation, adviser warns

From Thursday's Globe and Mail
January 10, 2008 at 4:52 AM EST

VANCOUVER The Canada Border Services Agency risks the appearance of impotence if it allows public protests to keep driving its agents away from deporting a paralyzed refugee claimant from India, a member of the agency's advisory committee says.

Don DeVoretz, also an economics professor at Simon Fraser University, made the comments yesterday after border agents, facing about 300 supporters of Laibar Singh at the Guru Nanak Temple in Surrey, called off a bid to take the 48-year-old man into custody. It was the second time in a month that protest has derailed their plans for Mr. Singh.

“They can't continue to go on doing this indefinitely,” Prof. DeVoretz, co-director of SFU's centre of excellence in immigration studies, said in an interview. “Just repeating this process with the same outcome is not tenable.”

Asked about the harm to the system, he said: “You can't try and enforce an order and have it rejected indefinitely. It makes them impotent.”

But Prof. DeVoretz suggested it would be un-Canadian for officials to swoop in and secretly remove Mr. Singh by force. “This is not our tradition,” he said. “That's not the kind of business we're in.”

Instead, he proposed that Canada make a deal to take care of Mr. Singh's health issues when he is returned to India. Mr. Singh has said he won't be able to get proper medical treatment in India.

“That's the way out of it. It's the honourable way, the correct way, the Canadian way.”

For several years, Prof. DeVoretz has been a member of the Canada Border Services advisory committee, which provides independent advice and acts as a sounding board on trends and developments that might affect the management of the border and priorities and operations of the agency. He noted that the 22-member committee does not deal with individual cases, but said he would be glad to offer his advice on the Singh case if asked.

He said he expects the issue could be a problem for the Conservatives if a federal election is called in the spring. “If we had an election this spring and this was an issue, it would be a cause cre.”

Mr. Singh, who was granted sanctuary at the temple yesterday, entered Canada on a false passport in 2003. An aneurysm in 2006 left him a quadriplegic. With help from supporters, he took shelter in an Abbotsford temple in June after being ordered deported. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has twice extended Mr. Singh's stay, but a deportation order was issued in December.

Last month, a crowd of about 2,000 people at Vancouver airport forced the CBSA to call off an attempt to send Mr. Singh back to India.

And at about 4:30 a.m. yesterday, supporters forced yet another cancellation of a deportation effort. Mr. Singh's lawyer, Zool Suleman, had been informed the CBSA was coming to collect his client. Mr. Suleman rejected suggestions that the smaller crowd reflected a decline in support for his client.

“I think it suggests that people don't like waking up at 3 a.m. in the morning and coming out on a cold, wet day. This entire removal was structured in such a manner that there was the shortest possible amount of notice to Mr. Singh,” he said.

“In light of that, it's amazing that two- to-three hundred people were there.”

He said his client is pleased. “He's tired, but, over all, relieved not to be leaving.”

Mr. Suleman said talks are under way with the CBSA to figure out what to do. He said agents told him they backed off because they wanted to respect the sanctity of the temple, saw the public support and were wary of creating tension by removing him, and wanted guidance from their superiors.

“There's a dialogue going on,” he said. “We're hoping to communicate with them to see what the next step is.”

Mr. Singh wants permanent residence status in Canada. “He has voluntary medical attention. He has a caregiver. He has a tremendous amount of support. He's obviously paralyzed and the medical opinion is that's not going to change so [the question] is how do we make him productive and integrated.”

Paula Shore, a spokeswoman for the border agency, refused to comment on the specifics of the Singh case yesterday, but noted that her organization does not condone people hiding from deportation in places of worship.

“The fact that someone is hiding in a place of worship to avoid removal does not influence the government's decision concerning the case,” she said. “Our goal is always to affect removal as expeditiously as possible once an order may be issued.”

Mr. Day also would not comment on the Singh case, but told reporters yesterday he expects people to act on orders issued to resolve such immigration disputes. “We expect people to live by their word and by their commitment,” he said.