23 January 2008

Laibar Singh Ji - In The Khaleej Times

As a slight change of pace, here is a view of Uncle/Brother Laibar Ji from The
Khaleej Times in Dubai, United Arab Enirates.

An unwelcome guest


24 January 2008

A FEW months ago, Canadians were aghast to learn that their visa mission in India had been deliberately denying entry to certain people with the last name, Singh or Kaur. Now, they are furious that a certain Laibar Singh continues to be an unwelcome guest in Canada.

The 48-year-old refugee claimant arrived from Punjab in India in November, 2003. He claimed to be fearful of his life because the Indian police had accused him of being a Sikh extremist and would torture him if they found him alive. Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, which has the onerous responsibility of verifying the stories of each asylum seeker, did not believe him. They ruled his claims "not credible" and ordered his deportation.

Up until this point, there was nothing extraordinary about Singh's story. Like thousands of refugees before him, he had landed in Canada using forged papers, and the board's refusal was part of a worldwide trend which has seen Western governments becoming more sceptical about asylum seekers.

Singh's case would have therefore joined the hundreds of unsung others who are deported every year. But fate intervened in 2006 when he suffered an aneurysm that has left him quadriplegic. He cannot take care of himself, and without family in Canada, it fell to his ethnic Sikh community to fill the gap. Not only have they been volunteering their medical services and housed him in their places of worship, the community has physically blocked his deportation — twice — over the last one month.

The National Post seemed to sum up the mood of much of the nation when it said in its opinion columns last week that, "The whole affair is a complete moral disaster — one that grows worse with every minute the unfortunate gentleman stays on our soil."

With 30,000 refugee claimants waiting in queue in Canada, in addition to asylum seekers in various UN camps in strife-torn zones all over the world, Singh's case has become a lightning rod. Some have speculated that the government is treading gingerly because of an impending spring election where the so-called ethnic vote can be critical in several ridings (constituencies), particularly in the urban centres of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.

At issue is whether or not Singh will receive good medical care in his native land of India. A member of the CBSA's advisory committee, Don DeVoretz, who is also an economics professor at Simon Fraser University in BC, weighed into the debate by suggesting a typically "Canadian way" to resolve the stand-off. He said it would be un-Canadian for government officers to forcibly enter a temple and force Singh into a plane. Instead, the government should guarantee that it will ensure that he has access to good medical care in India, the professor said.

However, other commentators saw the health issue as a bogey intended to keep Singh in Canada indefinitely and thereby defy the removal order. They also point out that Singh has four children in India who need their father's love and care. Canadians are also wary of being perceived as gullible — taken in by every tale of woe — and want to be seen as a society that upholds the rule of law, even in situations such as Singh's where compassion may dictate otherwise.

Even as the debate rages in the media, battle lines are being drawn. A small but dedicated band of supporters has made it plain that they will do virtually anything to stop the government from sending Singh back to India. On the other side are people who want to stop Canada from being a magnet for the world's tired and hungry masses.

A Nieman scholar from Harvard University, George Abraham writes from Ottawa. Reach him at diplomat01@rogers.com

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