Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 9, 2003
Group takes stand for refugees
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The Canadian government has been selling out "the soul of Canada" in its treatment of refugee claimants seeking safety in Canada, says the Toronto-based Sanctuary Coalition, a Christian support group for refugees.
In a statement May 31, the group calls for a review of the Canadian response to U.S. concerns about security and proposes what it called "bold changes" in Canada's refugee selection process.
"It is absolutely crucial that the Canadian government accept, and be seen to accept, that security, first of all, concerns the protection of persons and their rights not the protection of borders and the ideal circumstances for trade."
The coalition is an ecumenical group of refugee workers, lawyers, priests and university professors with lengthy involvement in refugee issues.
It said its proposals are made in the conviction that "the struggle for a just and humane policy for refugees is at once a struggle for justice for asylum seekers as well as for the soul of Canada. Both, at this time, could be fairly judged to be slipping away from our care."
Canada has allowed itself to be infected by the "culture of fear" and the overwhelming hunger for security, which is being propagated in the U.S. as a required form of patriotism, the statement said.
The authors, which include Mary Jo Leddy of Romero House, also said that although international commitments require Canada to receive refugees who come to the border, "having access to the Canadian border and Canadian procedures has now become one of the most fragile of rights for a refugee claimant."
The statement challenges the Canadian government: "Have we simply co-operated with U.S. concerns or have we been appropriated by them?"
The statement also calls for "a new partnership" between faith-based groups and the government in the area of sponsoring refugees to Canada. The faith-based groups - and other approved sponsoring groups as well - would carry the cost of resettlement, it said. The government would pay for travel and would grant landed status to approved claimants.
The coalition statement insisted, too, that security motives not be used as a means to prevent Canadians from welcoming refugees to Canada.
"Refugees are the easiest and most vulnerable victims of any free-floating fear," it said. "They must not become the scapegoats of a self-protection mechanism that will accomplish nothing for asylum seekers, do little for our security, and lead to the diminishment of our national spirit."