Sanctuary: Sergio deported after trip to store

Posted by admin on Oct 6th, 2006

Man deported after trip to store. Stewart Bell, National Post. Friday, October 06, 2006

On the day he was to be deported to Guatemala City, alleged war criminal Sergio Loreto Garcia went instead to San Lorenzo church in Toronto and refused to come out. Reluctant to violate the tradition of church sanctuary, immigration officers declined to enter the tiny Anglican parish to arrest Mr. Garcia and for two years he dwelled in the basement, untouchable. Then he made a fateful trip to Home Depot. On Sept. 24, the second anniversary of the day he had gone into hiding, Mr. Garcia drove a few blocks to the hardware store chain and was stopped for a minor traffic violation.

The police officer checked his identification, saw his outstanding immigration warrant and took him into custody. He was deported to Guatemala last Saturday, six days after he was stopped.

“He made a mistake,” said Father Hernan Astudillo of San Lorenzo church, who had befriended Mr. Garcia, a well-liked handyman at the north-end Hispanic church. “He was fixing the lock in his room…. He went to buy a lock for his room and when he went to buy a lock, the moment he was going in the Home Depot … the police came and asked him directly, ‘Give me your papers.'”

Anna Pape, a Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman, confirmed to the National Post yesterday that Mr. Garcia had been deported on Sept. 30. His wife and three children remain in Canada. The deportation of Mr. Garcia was the culmination of a fight with Canada’s immigration department that had dragged on for almost two decades, and may not be over yet.

Mr. Garcia arrived in Canada in 1987 and applied for refugee status two years later, but his claim was turned down on the grounds that he was an accomplice in crimes against humanity. In his refugee application, Mr. Garcia said he had served in the Guatemalan military during a time the country’s armed forces were complicit in the torture of captured rebels. Although Mr. Garcia’s refugee claim was rejected, his wife was accepted as a landed immigrant. She sponsored Mr. Garcia. He was accepted as an immigrant, but authorities now say he lied when he failed to disclose that he had been found complicit in war crimes.

The immigration department began deportation proceedings in 1998 and, after several failed appeals, Mr. Garcia was ordered to appear at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal for deportation on Sept. 24, 2004. He never showed up. Leaving his family in Montreal, Mr. Garcia made his way to Toronto and San Lorenzo church, where he lived under the name Mario and spent his time “praying and crying and waiting,” Fr.
Astudillo said.

In October, 2004, Vision TV aired an exclusive interview with Mr. Garcia, in which he recanted his story and claimed he had never actually served in the Guatemalan military. “The history I told them was not my history,” he said. “I had to find some way to stay here in Canada, and that’s the way I chose…. Now, I see the consequence.” The following January, he summoned reporters to San Lorenzo and admitted he had been living there. The Canadian Auto Workers and Bloc Quebecois rallied behind him.

While immigration officials would not enter the church to arrest Mr. Garcia, his sanctuary did not extend to his local hardware store. In the Home Depot parking lot, Mr. Garcia was approached by two police officers, Fr. Astudillo said. “Technically, yes you are right, they didn’t violate the sanctuary inside the church, but humanitarily they did because they were doing harassment, persecution, waiting, waiting. “And it was a big mistake.” He said Mr. Garcia thought that he would not be arrested because he was awaiting the results of his latest appeal, which argued he should be allowed to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

From the police station, he was taken to the immigration holding centre near Pearson airport. At a hearing last week, an immigration adjudicator said Mr. Garcia had only avoided deportation because of the principle of church sanctuary.

“It would have been somewhat unpalatable for Canada Border Services Agency or the police to go and physically remove Mr. Garcia from the church, so they did not,” the board ruled. “Mr. Garcia left the church on his own volition and came into contact with police through a traffic violation. Had this incident not occurred, I do not believe that it’s unreasonable to surmise that Mr. Garcia would not have come to Canada Border Services
Agency voluntarily.”

The board refused to release him and he was deported four days later. “It was a heartbreak for our community,” Fr. Astudillo said. He said he believes Mr. Garcia never served in the Guatemalan military, and said his lawyer will prove it. “He never, ever was a soldier.”

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