Tuesday, August 4, 2009, CBC News
An Algerian man arrested while in church sanctuary in Quebec City in 2004 and deported to the U.S. is back in Canada, this time with permanent resident status. Mohamed Cherfi’s story made headlines when he was arrested. He was the first person in recent history in Canada to be pulled out of church sanctuary by police. Now, after spending more than five years in the U.S., Cherfi is back in Quebec with his wife Louise Boivin, who has been living in Montreal while visiting her husband regularly in the U.S.
He carries travel documents from the U.S. government and a Canadian immigration visa.
Cherfi is waiting for his permanent residency card in the mail so he can put the last 10 years behind him.
“It’s very important, this feeling of freedom,” he said in French.
Cherfi arrived in Montreal from Algeria in 1999 after an initial stay in the U.S.
He was denied refugee status in Canada, even though he said he feared for his life in Algeria because he had refused military service and was an outspoken critic of the government.
In February 2004, to avoid deportation, he took sanctuary at the Saint-Pierre United Church in Quebec City.
Less than a month later, Quebec City police forced their way into the church and arrested Cherfi.
He spent a year and a half in a U.S. immigration detention centre before he was granted political refugee status in the United States.
Boivin said Monday, after more than five years fighting to get Cherfi back to Canada, that she was ecstatic to see his papers come through.
“I was extremely happy. I cried in the van, and I sang,” said Boivin in French.
Boivin said she and Cherfi owe a lot to the many supporters who worked to bring him back.
The two said they will continue to try to change Canadian refugee law.
But for now, they said, they’re taking a vacation so they can enjoy the start of their new life together in Canada.