Mainstream media coverage of Sunday July 13 “One year in Sanctuary is too Many- Status for Laibar Singh”

Posted by admin on Jul 14th, 2008

IMMIGRATION: PARALYZED INDIAN REFUGEE CLAIMANT MARKS ONE YEAR OF SANCTUARY. Border Service visits alarm Singh supporters, JEREMY HAINSWORTH. The Canadian Press. July 14, 2008

VANCOUVER — As paralyzed refugee claimant Laibar Singh marked one year in sanctuary yesterday, his supporters were concerned about visits by Canada Border Services agents to the Sikh temple where he has sought protection. 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,” Ms. 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,” Ms. Walia said. “They haven’t attempted a removal because they know he’s in sanctuary but it is a little bit alarming.”

Canada Border Services could not be reached for comment. Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

Ms. Walia said in an interview that Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. Day also rejected suggestions the agency might look weak due to its handling of the case. He noted when a crowd of Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Kazemian after Citizenship and Immigration officials granted permanent resident status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds not long after the arrest.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Kazemian on an outstanding warrant.


Refugee claimant marks one year of sanctuary. Laibar Singh remains in limbo at Abbotsford temple. Catherine Rolfsen, Vancouver Sun Published: Monday, July 14, 2008

A year after paralysed refugee claimant Laibar Singh first sought refuge in an Abbotsford temple, he remains in limbo, depending on the care of supporters and the tradition of sanctuary.

Despite three failed deportation orders and tough talk from government, Singh has lived the past few months relatively unmolested at the Kalgidhar Darbar Gurdwara in Abbotsford.

Supporter Harsha Walia of No One is Illegal said that in general, Singh’s position appears to be less precarious than it was from day to day in December and January. “Although in an overwhelming sense he’s still under the threat of deportation.”

On Sunday, a group of well-wishers gathered at the gurdwara to pray for Singh’s health and show their continued support for his controversial bid to stay in the country, Walia said.

“It’s been a hard year,” she said. “The hope’s that we can continue on with the courage that it requires to maintain sanctuary.”

She said representatives from the Canada Border Services Agency have dropped by the gurdwara a few times over the last few months, but didn’t threaten to remove Singh, who entered Canada in 2003 on a false passport.

CBSA representatives did not return inquiries Sunday about the current status of the case, although Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has in the past rejected the idea of using sanctuary to avoid deportation.

Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland said Singh’s case has been groundbreaking because it’s the first high-profile occasion that sanctuary has been used successfully by a non-Judeo-Christian institution.

“It’s Canadianizing the sanctuary concept,” he said.

Kurland described the tradition of sanctuary as “a societal safety valve that as long as it’s not abused, is a good thing.”

But he said he personally doesn’t agree with Singh’s continued presence in Canada.

“It’s unfair to everyone else waiting patiently their turn to come to Canada,” he said. “It will also breed illegality. Rewarding illegality breeds more illegality.”

Walia said Singh is awaiting the results of a request to Citizen and Immigration Canada for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

She claimed support has been offered from a wide range of community groups, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Hospital Employees’ Union.

But Hospital Employees’ Union spokesman Mike Old disputed that, saying his group has never pledged its support. Canadian Labour Congress spokesman Jean Wolff confirmed his group’s support.

In March, The Vancouver Sun learned that the Canadian government had spent more than $60,000 trying to send Singh back to India, in addition to the nearly half a million dollars B.C.’s health authorities had by then spent on his medical care.

crolfsen at


Singh marks one year in sanctuary. Supporters say disabled man would suffer if deported to India. Ian Austin, The Province Published: Monday, July 14, 2008

More than 300 supporters of Laibar Singh attended a Sikh temple in Abbotsford yesterday to mark his one year in sanctuary. Yesterday’s service capped three days of celebrations in support of Singh, who holed up in the Abbotsford Sahib Kalgidhar Darbar Gurudwara to prevent deportation to his native India.

While those faced with deportation from Canada have often sought sanctuary in Christian churches, Singh’s year-long stay at the temple is believed to be the first time a Sikh temple has been used as a place of sanctuary.

Officials tried to deport paralyzed refugee claimant Laibar Singh in December but more than 1,000 supporters surrounded his cab at Vancouver International Airport and blocked his departure.

Supporter Harsha Walia said the Canadian Border Services Agency hasn’t told Singh what is in store for him.

When the CBSA tried to deport Singh in December, more than 1,000 Sikh supporters blocked the ring road at Vancouver International Airport in order to prevent Singh from making his flight back to India.

The CBSA, caught up in the furor over the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski in October, refused to move into the hostile crowd, where Singh was seated in the back of a cab.

When the plane that was to have carried Singh back to India departed, the crowd broke up and Singh returned to his Abbotsford sanctuary.

“Sanctuary is always hard to predict,” said Walia. “Different sanctuary scenarios play out differently.

“We held three days of services to recognize the one year in sanctuary.

“It’s not an easy task.”

The CBSA has had difficulty, in part, because Singh is confined to a wheelchair, and his supporters claim he’ll have problems just surviving the plane ride and then won’t be able to find adequate medical care in

Some members of the public believe the wheelchair-bound Singh should be entitled to compassion, while others can’t understand why Canadian tax dollars are paying his huge medical bills.

Walia said CBSA officials have entered the Abbotsford temple to speak with Singh.

“In the past few weeks, Canada Border Services Agency officials have been visiting Laibar Singh in sanctuary without any prior notice or consent,” she said.

“While they are not overly threatening removal, the entering of sanctuary is of concern as a potential violation of the integrity of the sanctuary of the gurudwara.”

iaustin at


Prayers mark man’s year in sanctuary. ANDREW KING FOR METRO VANCOUVER. July 14, 2008 02:41

Supporters of Laibar Singh held prayer sessions this weekend to mark his year spent in sanctuary to avoid government deportation orders.

Spokesperson Harsha Walia said that hundreds visited the Abbotsford temple yesterday and dismissed reports that support for the paralyzed refugee claimant from India had declined.

“I think like anything else sometimes support dwindles and sometimes support strengthens but undoubtedly there is a base of support that still exists,” she said.

Walia said Singh is committed to winning his right to remain in the country, despite suffering emotional stress and being wheelchair- and bed-ridden.

“Sanctuary is a hard thing to maintain,” she said. “It requires a lot of commitment, a lot of daily commitment that isn’t often visible to many people.”

She attributes Singh’s perseverance to a strong network of emotional support and said that despite a difficult year of intense scrutiny he has still availed himself of sanctuary.

“If you actually think he could go back he would not be sitting in a room being unable to move and live in anything but fear and anxiety.”

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