Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 30, 2004
Reform refugee system - - churches
Church leaders call for justice in refugee determination
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Eight Canadian Church leaders agree with Immigration Minister Judy Sgro that the practice of providing sanctuary in churches is not a solution to people threatened with deportation.
But the leaders - including Archbishop Brendan O' Brien, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops - say the solution is in having a refugee determination system that is "just, open, expeditious, and treats people equally."
Could be terrorists
They want to meet with Sgro in September to discuss the issue. The minister recently said the churches must stop providing sanctuary to people in Canada illegally because they could be harbouring criminals and terrorists.
In a letter to Sgro, organized by Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical justice coalition, the Church leaders noted that the United Church of Canada had received a call from Sgro's office offering a meeting with Church leaders next month.
"All of us, as members of Kairos, would be pleased to work with you to find a date in the coming weeks, and to clarify an agenda that reflects our shared commitment to refugee protection," stated the letter, sent Aug. 13.
Several Church and refugee rights leaders said at a news conference in Toronto Aug. 4 that they won't close their doors to refugees threatened with deportation until the appeal process is reformed.
They want appeals determined on the basis of merit, not only on the basis of whether the original hearing proceeded according to the rules.
But Sgro prefers to review cases brought to her attention by Church leaders on a case-by-case basis.
"I will look at the case to make sure that it was completely reviewed properly and effectively and if I think that there is a need for an intervention, I will intervene as the minister," she recently said.
In their letter, the Church leaders encouraged Sgro to implement the refugee appeal process that was included in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act passed by our Parliament in 2001.
They also urged her to reassure Canadians that the Canadian government does not consider refugees to be a security threat.
"In fact, Canada's efforts to embrace refugees are in the interests of both Canadian and global human security. Canada enhances human security by abiding by its international commitment to accept all asylum-seekers who have a well-founded fear of persecution."
The letter called on Sgro to bolster the overseas sponsorship system so that applications can be processed "in a more reasonable time."
Of about six churches across Canada currently providing sanctuary to refugees, only one involves a Catholic parish.
Three Palestinians have been holed up in Notre-Dame-de Grace Church in Montreal since Jan. 30, fearing for their safety if deported to a refugee camp in Lebanon.
In Ottawa, a rally set for Aug. 19 in support of refugee Samsu Mia was cancelled after Sgro agreed to review his file. Mia has been in sanctuary at the Unitarian Church in Ottawa since July 3, 2003.