Court queries ‘awkward’ Jesus question

Posted by admin on Jun 8th, 2011

By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News, Jun. 8 2011

A Chinese migrant seeking refugee status in Canada on the grounds that he faced persecution at home for his Christian beliefs was repeatedly asked by the Immigration and Refugee Board last year to describe what Jesus was “like as a person.” The man’s inability to attribute human characteristics to Jesus formed part of the board’s decision to deny his refugee claim. The details are contained in a recent Federal Court ruling, which dismissed the man’s application for a judicial review of the board’s decision but did agree that the board’s line of questioning about Jesus was “somewhat awkward.”

Wu Xin Wang came to Canada in April 2007 on a temporary work permit and made his claim for refugee protection in January 2008.

In documents filed with the immigration board, he claimed that he had received a call from his wife in China, who told him that officials from China’s Public Security Bureau had visited their home and were investigating illegal church activities.

Before his move to Canada, Wang said, he had been a member of an underground Christian church and sometimes acted as a lookout during church services.

In assessing Wang’s refugee claim, board adjudicator Daniel McSweeney asked Wang: “So tell me about Jesus as a person. What was he like?

“Jesus is son of God,” Wang said.

“I am not asking who he was or what he did. I am asking what is he like as a person,” McSweeney said.

“Jesus was conceived through the holy ghost and was born in this world,” Wang replied.

The answer did not satisfy the board member. “Anybody could memorize a creed and recite the creed. I want to know what you believe and what you know of Jesus as a person.”

“In my heart he is my saviour,” Wang answered.

“That is not . again, tell me what Jesus is as a person and this is the last time I am going to ask you.”

“I am sorry, I really do not know how to answer.”

Last August, the board denied Wang’s refugee claim after finding that he was not credible and that his professed religious beliefs and practices in China and Canada were merely an attempt to bolster his refugee claim. The board said it came to that conclusion in part of because of Wang’s inability to answer the question about Jesus or to describe certain core beliefs of the Pentecostal Church. It also found that Wang had made several inconsistent statements.

Wang applied to the Federal Court to review the board’s decision.

In a written ruling May 26, Federal Court Judge David G. Near said he could see no reason to overturn the decision.

Assessing the genuineness of a claimant’s religious beliefs is difficult and such a task is best dealt with by the board, the judge wrote. “This court cannot, on judicial review, decide to, in effect, reweigh the results of what can begin to look like a round of Bible-trivia.”

The judge did, however, agree that the board’s questioning about Jesus was “somewhat awkward, in that it is hard to know what answer the board sought, and what answer would have been satisfactory.”

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said Tuesday that she was troubled by the questions.

“If it is unclear what the correct answer is, how can that be an appropriate test?” she asked.

Dench said a better way to gauge a refugee claimant’s credibility is to ask them about their experience: Where do you worship? What happens there? How often do you go?

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