July 212, 2009: Singh Admits He Was Fleeing Poverty

Singh admits he was fleeing poverty
Similar false refugee claims behind new visa requirements, government says

VANCOUVER Special to The Globe and Mail
Last updated on Tuesday, Jul. 21, 2009 03:31AM EDT

When he arrived in Canada six years ago, Laibar Singh told immigration officials he needed Canada's protection.

But now – nine months after being deported back to India – Mr. Singh says he actually came to this country to escape poverty.

In his 2003 refugee claim, the 48-year-old from the Punjab said he had been linked to a separatist group and would face torture in India if he returned. His claim was denied, but then Mr. Singh gave Canadians another reason to let him stay: While working in Canada in 2006, a spinal infection left him paralyzed.

Supporters at widely attended rallies across the Lower Mainland said that whether through torture or inadequate medical care, Mr. Singh faced death if deported to India.

Nine months after he was, in fact, deported, Mr. Singh is alive and living in India with his family, and receiving medical care from a hospital about 60 kilometres from his village.

Contrary to his original claims, he told a film crew commissioned by CTV News that it wasn't fear, but the promise of a better life in Canada that brought him here. “I was poor,” he told the CTV crew. “That's why I came to Canada.”

It is cases like Mr. Singh's that are behind the Canadian government's decision last week to slap a visa requirement on Czech and Mexican visitors – and why the Ottawa is promising to get tough on other false claimants as well.

“If you come to Canada, you can play the system and profit from it,” Jason Kenney, the Minister of Immigration, told CTV News. “We need to change that message and fix the system.”

Some 28,523 individuals made a refugee claim somewhere in Canada in 2007. In the same year, 1,846 people were removed from Canada after failing an inadmissibility hearing.

Some whose claim was denied were able to obtain a humanitarian exemption after establishing ties to Canada that the government was reluctant to uproot. In Mr. Singh's case, being paralyzed was not enough to get a humanitarian exemption. Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said that the Minister of Immigration was right to deport Mr. Singh.

“The Minister and his officials did the right thing by not granting humanitarian relief, rewarding flagrant illegality in his case,” he said.

But Harsha Walia of No One Is Illegal, which advocates for refugees, said that Canada still has to live with the uncomfortable truth that Mr. Singh's medical care isn't to the standard that he was getting in Canada. “It's not whether he's getting medical care,” she said. “It's the standard of care.”

She said Mr. Singh is fortunate in that he is receiving money from supporters to pay for some of his medical treatment.