Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2000
Pastor defends right to offer sanctuary
Nanny to return to Philippines after spending months in local church
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Filipina nanny Leticia Cables is going back to the Philippines after using St. Anthony's Church as her place of sanctuary since July 1999 when her deportation order was issued.
Although support for her efforts to stay in Canada was overwhelming, Father Emmett Crough, pastor of St. Anthony's, said some have questioned the Church allowing Cables to stay there.
"Some people put civil law above God," Crough said. "That's the problem. People are asking, 'What's the Catholic Church doing breaking the law?'"
Allowing her to stay at St. Anthony's "doesn't mean she's guilty," Crough said. "By being here, she's following the law, which allows sanctuary."
Cables had been ordered to appear in Edmonton's federal immigration office Feb. 14 to begin a deportation process, but had decided against going. She could have faced arrest for not appearing.
On Feb. 16, Cables said she had agreed with the immigration department to leave the country Feb. 29. She will then reapply for entry into Canada.
Cables said she is leaving the country for "the interest and well-being of my family" whom she had not seen for two and a half years.
"I'm not giving up," she said. "I am not a law-breaker and I don't intend to be a law-breaker."
Cables said she will remain at St. Anthony's until her departure. The church had been her home off and on for the past seven months since it was the one place government officials would not enter to carry out an arrest.
"They'd already told us they would not enter the sanctuary," Crough said. "They would respect that."
The government doesn't have a written law on sanctuary, but refusing to arrest suspects who are in a church is a respected practice.
Seeking sanctuary is not an escape from the law, Crough said. For Cables, it was an attempt to buy her time until her case could be resolved.
It isn't an overwhelming issue in Canada, but "there is a steady trickle" of cases of people seeking sanctuary in churches, said David Matas, a Winnipeg immigration and refugee lawyer.
Matas wrote the 1989 book The Sanctuary Trial, which highlighted the prosecution of Americans who had offered sanctuary to refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala. Offering sanctuary became so widespread in the U.S., the government tried to control it by prosecuting those involved.
Matas said in Canada, there are about one or two cases of immigrants seeking sanctuary a year.
"In Canada we don't have a problem. It isn't so widespread that it's a threat to the system," Matas said. "But it's a very unappealing situation - to spend all that time inside. It can be stressful."
Sanctuary is a matter of waiting out and seeing who will flinch first. In most cases the immigration department wins in the end, Matas said. "(These immigrants) don't get to stay."
The immigrants are usually sent home or to another country and from there can reapply to return to Canada.
"(Governments) have always respected the law of sanctuary," he said.
This is the first time Crough has dealt with such a case. Providing sanctuary seems like it would open doors for abuse, where hardened criminals could run from the law by seeking refuge in a church. But neither Crough nor Matas see it as a system which people would take advantage of.
"If it is abused, it's not a big abuse," Matas said. "It's a small abuse. It's not something that's going to threaten the system."
Cables came to Canada in 1995 to work as a live-in caregiver. She later applied for permanent residency, but was denied because she was working for more than one employer, a violation of the Live-In Caregivers Program. An order for Cables' deportation went into effect. She chose to seek refuge at St. Anthony's rather than comply.
In November 1999 the federal government agreed to stay the deportation order until a federal court ruled whether Cables could appeal. She returned to work as a nanny, until Feb. 6 when the Federal Court of Canada rejected her appeal.
Cables had pleaded with Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan to intervene in the case, but to no avail.
Cables' airfare back to the Philippines will be paid by her supporters, but she faces another dilemma; the $4,900 it will take to reapply to work in Canada.
"All I wanted was to come here and work hard, so that my children could have an education," Cables said.