July 13, 2008 - 11:47 am
By: Jeremy Hainsworth, THE CANADIAN PRESS
ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - As paralyzed refugee claimant Laibar Singh marked one year in sanctuary Sunday, his supporters were concerned about visits by Canada Border Services agents to the Sikh temple where he has sought sanctuary.
Spokeswoman Harsha Walia said the unannounced visits are making the tradition of religious sanctuary meaningless.
"The fact that they're entering into sanctuary without notice and without consent is of concern," Walia said.
"Immigration authorities themselves have typically respected sanctuary because that's the intention of that tradition, but for them even to come for any purpose is a concern.
"It's just told to them that they really shouldn't be doing that," Walia said. "They haven't attempted a removal because they know he's in sanctuary but it is a little bit alarming."
Singh came to Canada on a false passport in 2003.
His appeals to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds have been complicated by the fact that he was left a quadriplegic after suffering an aneurysm three years ago.
His refugee claim was denied because the government believed he did not have sufficient ties to Canada, although supporters pledged money to pay the costs of his care.
Singh was initially to be deported in June 2007, but took sanctuary in the Sikh temple in Abbotsford, about 60 kilometres east of Vancouver.
He has been provided shelter in several Vancouver area Sikh temples but is currently at the Abbotsford gurdwara.
He has been granted two extensions to remain while his refugee claim was dealt with.
A deportation order was issued in December despite claims that his health would suffer if he was returned to India, where he has family.
He is being cared for by supporters and doctors who are donating their services.
Walia said in an interview that Singh's health remains precarious.
"His medical condition is always up and down," she said.
"He's really stressed out (and) has a high degree of anxiety particularly because he's in a place where he can't leave because of fear of being detained and or being deported."
Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who is responsible for the CBSA, suggested in January that the law would eventually be upheld in Singh's case.
And Border Services Agency spokesman Chris Williams said the same month that the fact a person is in a place of worship to avoid deportation will not stop the enforcement of a deportation order.
Day also rejected suggestions the agency might look weak due to its handling of the case. He noted when a crowd of Singh's supporters forced the cancellation of a January removal effort, agents had instead shown "sensitivity" to a situation possibly becoming inflammatory.
The minister noted the CBSA successfully removes 12,000 people a year.
Visits to Singh at the Abbotsford temple would not be the first time officials had allegedly violated the tradition of sanctuary in B.C.
An Iranian refugee claimant who spent almost three years in sanctuary in a Vancouver church was arrested in February 2007.
Amir Kazemian said he'd been tortured in Iran and had been living at St. Michael's Anglican Church in east Vancouver since June 2004 when he sought sanctuary from a deportation order.
The Canada Border Services Agency released Kazemian after Citizenship and Immigration officials granted permanent resident status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds not long after the arrest.
Kazemian had reportedly called police to the church himself to investigate complaints he had been receiving harassing telephone calls relating to a business deal.
The attending officer arrested Kazemian after a check of his name found an immigration arrest warrant from June 2004.
B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal said the police officer was simply doing his job when he arrested Kazemian on an outstanding warrant
WHY TRY TO FIT IN?
YOU WERE BORN TO STAND OUT!