Paralyzed Refugee Claimant Marks A Year Of Sanctuary

Paralyzed refugee claimant marks a year of sanctuary

Catherine Rolfsen
Canwest News Service
The Times Colonist
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2008

VANCOUVER – A year after paralyzed refugee claimant Laibar Singh first sought refuge in a B.C. temple, he remains in limbo, depending on the care of supporters and the tradition of sanctuary.

Despite three failed deportation orders and tough talk from government, Singh has lived the past few months relatively unmolested at the Kalgidhar Darbar Gurdwara in Abbotsford.

On Sunday, a group of well-wishers gathered at the temple to pray for Singh's health and show their continued support for his controversial bid to stay in the country, said supporter Harsha Walia of No One is Illegal.

“It's been a hard year,” she said. “The hope's that we can continue on with the courage that it requires to maintain sanctuary.”

A 48-year-old labourer, Singh used a fake passport to enter Canada five years ago.

He sought refugee status in Montreal, claiming he would be persecuted should he be forced back to his native Punjab, in India.

But his claim was disputed and after his refugee application and subsequent appeals were rejected, Singh received a deportation order.

However, Singh ignored the order and quietly moved to B.C.'s Lower Mainland. There, he fell ill and was bedridden.

He has since become a cause celebre. In December, thousands of Sikhs converged on Vancouver International Airport and blocked attempts by Canada Border Services Agency officials to escort him to his flight back to India.

Walia said Singh is awaiting the results of a request to Citizen and Immigration Canada for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

She said CBSA representatives had dropped by the temple a few times over the last few months, although they didn't threaten to remove Singh.

Representatives with the agency did not return inquiries Sunday regarding the current status of the case.

Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland said Singh's case has been groundbreaking because it's the first high-profile time sanctuary has been used successfully by a non-Judeo Christian institution.

“It's Canadianizing the sanctuary concept,” he said.

Kurland described the tradition of sanctuary as “a societal safety valve that, as long as it's not abused, is a good thing.”

But he said he personally doesn't agree with Singh's continued presence in Canada.

“It's unfair to everyone else waiting patiently their turn to come to Canada,” he said. “It will also breed illegality. Rewarding illegality breeds more illegality.”