Know the Facts in Laibar’s Case

Posted by admin on Dec 10th, 2007

Refugee issue riddled with misinformation by Harsha Walia, Special to the Vancouver Sun. Published: Thursday, July 12, 2007

For several days now people have been inundated with inaccuracies concerning Laibar Singh’s case, which have resulted in the unfortunate perception of Singh as a “law-breaker.” First, Singh was only handed a deportation order for July 8 of this year and took sanctuary on July 7. He has, therefore, never been “illegal” in Canada before taking sanctuary. Everyone in sanctuary has overstayed a deportation order, not just Singh. Second, Singh arrived on a fake document, which he declared to Canadian immigration authorities. This is not illegal as international and Canadian refugee law recognizes the reality that many asylum seekers will be forced to travel on fake documents.

The International Convention on the Status of Refugees prohibits governments from penalizing refugees who enter “illegally” in their territory. Similarly, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act exempts refugees from prosecution for using false documents. It is crucial to understand this reality, as Singh is certainly not the only refugee claimant who has entered on a fake document.

Singh’s refusal as a refugee claimant must be understood in the context of a climate where an increasing number of sanctuary cases — currently at least 10 sanctuary cases across Canada — represents a growing movement of faith communities that are witnessing and responding to the structural flaws in the immigration and refugee system.

For example, Immigration and Refugee Board members are political appointees who are not required to have any experience in the law; there is no Refugee Appeal Division despite its guarantee provided in the June 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; certain avenues such as the pre-removal risk assessment have acceptance rates of three to five per cent while others such as the humanitarian and compassionate claim do not even have to be processed before deportation.

The refugee system has been termed a lottery because acceptance rates can vary from zero to 80 per cent depending on the judge.

Finally, Singh can be granted an exemption to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. This legal avenue has not in fact been exhausted and is still open to him.

Certainly his physical state of paralysis and medical condition, the widespread community support he has received that is not limited to the Sikh community, and the persecution he fears, are all crucial factors and realities for Singh.

We must ask ourselves what difficulties must he have gone through that forced him to leave behind four young children.

Singh, like anyone else, should be entitled to live a healthy and dignified life.

Harsha Walia is with No One is Illegal, a human and refugee rights organization.

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