20 December 2007

'America Has Al Qaeda. Canada Has Sikhs'

I read this on IHRO (International Human Rights Organisation) last night. I read it again today on the No On Is Illegal website. It should be posted. Please take a look. This is painful stuff for me. I'd rather not post it. I would rather that Canada was the country I always thought it was.

But for every racist bastard, I believe there are ten good, solid, humane Canadians. I hope I'm right.

Updates and Growing Support for Laibar Singh

Contrary to numerous media reports that attempt to smear or misrepresent this issue since the action at the Vancouver International Airport that prevented Mr. Singh's deportation, Mr. Laibar Singh continues to have support from diverse faith-based and non faith-based South Asian community groups. Mr. Laibar Singh was not moved three times in the past week, he was only moved once- from New Westminster to Surrey- in accordance with a decision made collectively by all those involved and taking into account factors including location, accessibility, and ease for his medical team. This move to Surrey in no way represents a diminishing support for Laibar Singh.

Media outlets (TV, print, radio) have been running various front page stories on the situation of Laibar Singh and the South Asian community. Pete McMartin, senior columnist of the Vancouver Sun, for example has written that he has made a $5 bet with his editor about the outcome of the case. Other commentators have attempted to distract from the issue at hand- ie Laibar Singh and his struggle for human rights, justice, and dignity- by running front-page stories on some of his supporters.

Racism in mainstream media outlets and online discussion forums have utilized commentaries and images of angry and frothing brown men to invoke a fear of violence and terror particularly in the post 911 climate (some comments on online forums include " America has Al Qaeda. Canada has Sikhs"; "They weren't Canadians, only White people are Canadians"; and "What bothers me is that the millitary was not brought in.") South Asian community members mostly closely working with Laibar have received personal hate-based emails and phone calls. Several South Asian youth have reported an escalation of racially-motivated comments in their schools, all of which has a devastating impact on the South Asian community and immigrant/racialized communities as awhole who are constantly reminded of their subordinate position especially during moments of resistance and defiance to the Canadian state.

Active support and solidarity for Laibar Singh is not simply a matter of his case; it is about taking a clear anti-racist stance in light of the current climate and supporting a struggle that South Asian community radio stations have declared is a 'second awakening of the Komagatamaru.'

And support for Laibar Singh's bid to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds has grown, including beyond the South Asian community (See Statements Below). Groups like the BC Chapter of Council of Canadians, the Canadian Postal Workers Union, and the Student Christian Movement of Canada join the already wide variety of human rights organizations, disability advocates and community groups such as the Canadian Labour Congress, BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, B.C Hospital Employees Union, the Multifaith Action Committee, Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society and many others who have expressed their support for Laibar Singh.

Much of the public perception around Mr. Singh has unfortunately been fuelled by inaccurate facts, including the notion that Mr. Singh entered Canada "illegally". An overwhelming majority of refugee claimants arrive with false documentation and Section 178 of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides refugee claimants the ability to make a statutory declaration that attests to their identity.

Lawyer Michael A. Leitold of Roach, Schwartz & Associates and a member of the Law Union of Ontario Steering Committee states "Laibar arrived legally in Canada, and declared his false documents, which is a normal part of the refugee process enshrined in Canadian and International law. Writing as a member of the Law Union of Ontario, I would like to state that I support Laibar's right to stay in Canada where he can receive the care he needs to live in dignity."

This is affirmed by Janet Cleveland, Canada Research Chair in International Migration Law, "The fact that Mr. Singh used false documents to enter Canada and to claim refugee status cannot be held against him, as is stated expressly in the Geneva Convention and other instruments of international and Canadian Law. I would like to reiterate that I support Laibar Singh's right to stay in Canada where he can receive the care he needs to live in dignity."

On October 9, 2007, a group of health care professionals- including 13 independent doctors- issued a letter to Immigration Minster Diane Finley stating, "As health professionals, we are outraged at the fact that the Canadian government would consider deporting a paraplegic man, whose health condition is extremely fragile… For the sake of his safety, health and well being, we fully support him and demand that [the Minister] grant him permanent residency status on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate grounds immediately."

As written by the B.C Hospital Employees Union "As health care workers on the frontline we fight to preserve a public healthcare system whereby people receive medical treatment based on their health needs. We do not judge people based on their income, social status or behaviour… Clearly Mr. Singh is in need of medical attention… Therefore we ask that as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration you allow Mr. Laibar Singh to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and ensure that his medical needs are met."

Mr. Singh's recent humanitarian and compassionate claim was refused primarily on the grounds that he 'does not have significant ties to Canada'. This is clearly a false assessment and one that appears to be motivated by the politics of the Conservative party rather than any real consideration of the facts, which includes over 40,000 petition signatures.

It is also important to note that Mr. Singh's case is not unprecedented. In October 2006, a Polish family on tourist visas in Winnipeg suffered from a car accident that left the father paralyzed. Initially they were refused; however their deportation order was subsequently overturned. Ministerial discretion in humanitarian and compassionate claims can and has been exercised in the past to stop deportations; in fact it exists for that very purpose.

We believe it is unfortunate that some are declaring that he must leave because he does not "belong" any longer, despite the fact that his newly found family and community are here. Certainly his physical state of paralysis and the widespread community support he has received are all crucial factors and realities for Mr. Singh. He, like anyone else, should be entitled to live a healthy and dignified life.

We must challenge the idea that some are more worthy than others to decide their right to mobility and their assertion of self determination; instead we should accept these as universal values of humanity. The struggle against deportation and to support Laibar is not for him alone nor is it simply one case, rather it symbolizes the struggles for all immigrant and refugees who daily struggle to live with dignity. His situation reveals how hard and long racialized migrants must fight to assert their right to self-determination that the Canadian government consistently denies and instead perpetuates pain, anxiety, and violence through detentions and deportations against which we must continue to actively organize ourselves.

Sample of Statements Demonstrating Growing Support for Laibar Singh

"Solidarity Across Borders, a Montreal-based network engaged in the struggle for justice and dignity of immigrants and refugees, wishes to express our support for Laibar Singh and his struggle to remain in Canada on a permanent basis on humanitarian and compassionate grounds."
- Solidarity Across Borders, Montreal

"I am writing on behalf of the Council of Canadians, BC/Yukon organizing office to express my support for Laibar Singh and his struggle to remain in Canada on a permanent basis on humanitarian and compassionate grounds."
- Carleen Pickard on behalf of the Council of Canadians BC/Yukon Chapter.

"This is clearly a time where it is important to go by the spirit of the law, not the letter. The people who went to the airport were expressing their commitment to a moral value that sometimes can be overlooked in the Canadian immigration system – the value and dignity of all human life."
- Denise Nadeau on behalf of the Interfaith Community Consultative Committee of the SFU Interfaith Summer Institute.

"We ask you to re-evaluate the situation of Mr. Laibar Singh, to lift the deportation order being carried out against him and to accord him permanent residency for humanitarian reasons, as your discretionary powers permit you to."
- League of rights and liberties of Quebec (Ligue des droits et libertés du Québec)

"We do not take seriously those media reports that depict Mr. Singh's supporters as disruptive and "anti-Canadian." On the contrary, the community has simply responded to the fact that forty thousand petition signatures and months of campaigning have fallen on deaf ears. Far from being 'disobedient', people were present at the airport rally to express their sense of justice and human compassion."
- Nathan Crompton, Students for a Democratic Society UBC.

"As a historian of Asia-Canada relations, I am acutely aware of the long history of racism that has marked Canadian government actions towards people of Asian descent. The backlash that has arisen in consequence of this issue demonstrates to all who care to look that there remains much to be done to eradicate racism in Canada."
- John Price, Professor of History at University of Victoria.

"We claim the right of citizens of Canada to demonstrate to the government that we welcome Laibar Singh as a fellow Canadian and do not wish to see his life endangered by being taken from the medical attention which is vital to him and returned to a country where his life and safety are directly threatened. What other means exist for Singh's supporters to stand up to such unjust decisions?"
- Vancouver Catholic Worker.

"I was deeply heartened by the demonstration that occurred on December 10 in support of Mr. Singh at the Vancouver International Airport. I believe people have a responsibility to stand up collectively in the face of injustice, and I take inspiration from the broad cross-section of Vancouver community members who acted on this responsibility. I fully support Mr. Singh's right to stay in Canada where he can
receive the care he needs to live in dignity."
- Dr. Gary Kinsman, Professor, Sociology Department, Laurentian University.

"It is with hope and admiration that I observed the efforts of intervention on behalf of Laibar Singh. The powerful action teaches us the lesson that we cannot count on the authorities to protect the rights of human beings. I welcome Mister Singh and hope that he remains here with us a long time."
- Dave Bleakney, National Union Representative, Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

"I am appalled the any Government Official who has the responsibility to make decisions on a persons life, would refuse to do what is in their power to do in making a just, humanitarian and compassionate decision. Each of us has the responsibility to do whatever we can do to make sure every person is given respect and get whatever care they need, especially in a crisis."
- Sister Elizabeth Kelliher, Fransican Sister of the Atonement.

"I am writing this letter as a Chinese Canadian citizen and as a labour activist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees - Local 1004, to express my support for Laibar Singh in his struggles to remain in Canada on a permanent basis on humanitarian and compassionate grounds."
- Frank Lee, Secretary-Treasurer of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1004.

"As a poor peoples' organization, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty believes in the power of people to organize themselves, and to take action to against regressive government policies that work to shatter the lives and dreams of people struggling with dignity to survive."

"The Student Christian Movement of Canada (SCM) would like to state its support of Laibar Singh in his efforts to remain in Canada. We stand in solidarity with and admiration of the courageous and non-violent actions of Mr. Singh's supporters in ensuring that Mr. Singh was not unjustly deported on December 10th."
- Student Christian Movement Canada

"Thank-you for fighting this difficult struggle, with dignity and respect, against Canada's racist and punitive refugee and immigration policy."
- Mary-Jo Nadeau, Assistant Professor Trent University

"I am writing to offer my unqualified support and appreciation for your resistance to racist and utterly hypocritical Canadian immigration policies. The racism being unleashed upon you, on Sikhs and on non-White people in general is not only typical, it is meant to keep non-Whites in our very much subordinated place within Canadian society."
- Nandita Sharma, Ph.D.

Some see things as they are and ask, Why?
I dream things that never were and ask, Why not?
Bobby Kennedy

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