Update: Laibar Singh’s “Return” to India

Posted by admin on Oct 22nd, 2008

Dear friends and allies, As you all might have heard by now, Mr. Laibar Singh will be returning to India. In a statement released by his legal counsel Peter Edelmann to media via No One Is Illegal “Mr. Laibar Singh intends to present himself to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for removal to India. On a number of recent occasions agents from CBSA have attended at the Abbortsford Gurudwara- despite the clear indication that it was a sanctuary zone- to tell Mr. Singh that there was no chance for him to remain in Canada. Mr. Singh continues to hope that the Canadian government will allow him to remain on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but is no longer able to endure this state of limbo. He is thankful to all his supporters for their kindness.”

As supporters who have been close to this struggle for over a year and a half, we are deeply saddened by his choice to leave, but we are affirming how important that choice is in a context of such immense legal, social, cultural and political barriers including extreme fear, isolation, harassment, marginalization, smear tactics, intense scrutiny, psychological torture, constant threat of incarceration and deportation, self-doubt about ‘being a burden’ and ‘tarnishing the community’s/supporters image’, and overwhelming precarity.

Laibar has faced those barriers with unwavering courage and we are honoured to have been a part of his struggle. Even under circumstances of extreme physical duress and what seemed like a legal impossibility, Mr. Singh dared to demand that his dignity and that his right to exist as a human being be recognized. For this, we should commend him.

And for their refusal, we should condemn a government that insists on treating racialized migrants as expendable commodities.  We should condemn a government that is particularly insistent on deporting a paralyzed man who has immense community support in order to make ‘an example’ out of him for any other individual or community of supporters that dares to defy the deportation machine.

Most recently during his stay in sanctuary, Mr. Singh experienced repeated harassment by CBSA officers. Despite him giving a pending legal claim in process, CBSA officers would intimidate him and psychologically wear him down by telling him ‘there is no chance you will remain in Canada.” Significantly, these unprecedented visits (which have, to our knowledge, have never occurred in any other sanctuary case) were a clear violation of the very principle and reason of Sanctuary.

Despite numerous complaints to CBSA, these visits had the desired impact of creating severe anxiety and psychological harm, forcing Mr. Singh closer to the decision to surrender himself to CBSA and do their dirty work for them. As stated by Swarn Gill, president of the Abbotsford Gurudwara “When they come down to talk to him they always tell him, ‘If you go out, we will catch you and we will deport you right away.’ This is going through his mind all the time.”

Strategically at several levels, it has been critical for the government and CBSA to cruelly force such circumstances of painful limbo and psychological wear-down so Laibar would leave ‘voluntarily’ so as not to antagonize his community of supporters (who have prevented every one of his deportations and left the CBSA union with ‘low morale’) and also to avoid the anger and uprising that would result from a more overtly forced removal. Although a wholly different part of history, we can draw some lessons from the forced departure of the Komagatamaru. When passengers on the boat successfully fought off an attack by immigration and police officers, the government decided on a dual strategy of divide-and-conquer within the community of supporters on the shore as well as denying food and water and basic provisions (while offering an unfulfilled promise of ‘compensation’) until the boat departed.

We also carry forward in our hearts and minds – and will not allow the state and its apologists to erase – the beautiful and powerful and unprecedented mobilizing that took place in support of Mr. Singh. Mr. Singh’s situation served as a lightning rod for thousands in the South Asian community and beyond to reject the construction of the ‘model minority syndrome’, which allows for the celebration of multiculturalism in Canada as long as it does not disrupt too deeply any social or political issues. Thousands of elderly, young, and working class South Asians and their supporters organized continuously and took direct action several times to physically prevent Mr. Singh’s expulsion. This defiance has been incredibly threatening to the state since it has achieved actual victories in the face of one of the most violent forms of state-sanctioned brutality. In addition, despite intense backlash, racialized communities have fought the internalized restraint of being “foreigners who must never be ungrateful or unpatriotic” in order to stand up to the injustice of the state. Since December 2007, the government has been trying to counter this phenomenon through active spin-doctoring and campaigning – as is evident during the recent election period- particularly in South Asian communities in BC. Yet undeterred, from coast to coast people have been moved by the courageous mobilizing efforts and have been inspired to take action in over ten cities in support of Mr. Singh.

Mr. Singh’s plight in Canada represents a serious blow to the national rhetoric of human rights and compassion to which its leaders and citizens often appeal with pride. In spite of unprecedented and repeated community mobilization in support of Mr. Singh, the Canadian government has refused to grant him the right to remain, to recover and rebuild his life with dignity here. Mainstream media’s repeated inaccurate portrayals of his case has also played a significant role in orienting public opinion in ways that are hostile towards Mr. Singh’s presence amongst us. This occurs despite the filing of a high-profile CRTC complaint by a group of journalists, academics, and media-watch groups (See: www.rabble.ca/press_release.shtml?x=67056)

Without the ability to leave sanctuary, Mr. Singh has endured degrees of isolation and dependence unimaginable to most of us who take for granted our ability to move in and out of spaces. What Mr. Singh has been driven to suffer clearly reflects the systemic violence that underwrites Canadian society, where the lives of racialized migrants are only as valuable as their ability to labour for a colonial state and its capitalist counterpart. Indeed, what is the point of a Humanitarian and Compassionate claim if a person in Mr. Singh’s situation, in particular with his medical and physical condition, is denied the right to remain?

While feeling extremely angry and saddened, we cannot let ourselves feel defeated and demobilized, which would merely serve the interests of the government. If anything, this highlights to us the importance of continuing to organize – with greater dedication and commitment – alongside migrants in their struggle for self-determination which is consistently denied through the violence of the detention/deportation state apparatus and the accompanying regulation of their lives, labour, and security.

All Power to the People! No One Is Illegal!

*** Commentaries and Analysis:

1 ) All Power to the Brown People: Desis Rage Against the Deportation Machine by Leah Lakshmi

2) The Laibar Singh case by Harsha Walia

3) Disability Rights and Immigration by Ravi Malhotra
***  Backgrounder on Laibar Singh’s struggle:
*** Some mainstream media articles on current situation:

1) Vancouver Sun: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=e0049f7c-9c57-4959-8b3c-d6fe065a605e&k=23546

2) Canadian Press: http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5i8ITnurqoneu1KzeXW-XeJg8xvZQ
*** For a compilation of previous news articles:

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