Illness Does Not A Refugee Make

Illness Does Not A Refugee Make

The Edmonton Sun
January 11, 2008

Canada's unfortunate reputation as a patsy in immigration circles shone on this week when officials changed their minds about deporting a failed refugee claimant because of protesters.

Perhaps we should rename the Canada Border Services Agency the Ministry of Silly Walks. “We are committed to enforcing the (deportation) order,” a CBSA spokesman said Wednesday.

Perhaps his remarks should be taken with a grain of salt since the agency has twice moved to deport would-be refugee Laibar Singh back to India from B.C. and backed down both times because of opposition from the Indo-Canadian community.

Much has been made of the fact that Singh, 48, who entered Canada on a fake passport in 2003, is paralyzed since suffering an aneurysm in 2006. That's a tragedy, to be sure, but sickness doesn't entitle you to refugee status. If it did, we'd be inundated with even more migrants eyeing our free, but overburdened, health-care system.

As for Singh's plea to stay on humanitarian grounds — already rejected by the authorities — it's a pretty weak case, says Don DeVoretz, an economics professor and immigration expert at Simon Fraser University.

Singh has no family in Canada, but has grown children in India who could care for him, says DeVoretz. “India, although it's very poor, has very good medical facilities,” he points out. “It seems to me if the people here who are sponsoring him still believe in him sincerely, they can send the money to India.”


There are countless refugee claimants who simply vanish and never show up for their refugee hearings because, well, this is Canada and people can live here for years under the radar.

And, as DeVoretz notes, a lot of things can happen along the way. People get married, have kids — or get seriously ill — and that complicates the ability of officials to enforce an eventual deportation order.

It's a virtual green light for migrants to come here, make a weak or non-existent refugee claim and establish roots, knowing time is on their side.

“If I were in charge, I'd probably let (Singh) stay since I'm an old leftie,” says DeVoretz, who's on the CBSA's advisory board. “But if I were in government, no, I would not, because then I'd have to worry about the consequences of my actions.”

“Down the line, you'd create a whole class of people who come here as failed refugee claimants, wait until something untoward happens and use that as a basis to stay, not the original claim.”

And legally, the danger of making an exception for Singh is it would set a precedent. If we allow Singh to remain, how can we say no to other ill, bogus refugees?

What to do with seriously ill people who have no legal right to be in Canada is a public policy issue we need to address, says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR). “This is what as Canadians we have to decide. What level of crisis and difficulty are we prepared to live with on our consciences?”


The root cause of the problem, of course, is the massive backlog of refugee claims. According to the CCR, the Immigration and Refugee Board is short more than one-third of its members and there were 30,000 claims waiting to be processed at the end of August. And backlogs simply encourage scam artists.

“If Singh is allowed to stay, (such pleas to remain) will be more frequent because it's like a snowball effect,” says DeVoretz. Ottawa could nip the problem in the bud by ruling on claims within three or four months, he adds. Simple solution. Simpleton politicians.