Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 13, 2006
Religious leaders seek justice for immigrants in church sanctuaries
Mary Jo Leddy
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Representatives of the individuals and families who have sought sanctuary in churches across Canada came to Ottawa Nov. 2 to plead for the institution of an appeal process for failed refugee claimants.
Looking for justice
"We're not looking for compassion, we are looking for justice," said refugee activist Mary Jo Leddy, who represented the Ontario Sanctuary Coalition at an appearance before the House of Commons immigration committee and a news conference afterwards.
Leddy joined several other representatives from a range of denominations to urge the government to implement a transparent appeal process called for in 2002 legislation.
Without that process, "a single immigration official is given immense power of life and death," Leddy said.
"They can and do make mistakes."
She noted there is a "fragmentation of forms of appeal," but they are often "ineffectual, inefficient and not just."
"The sanctuary movement begins in a moment of conscience," Leddy said.
A person seeking sanctuary speaks to a minister, priest or church secretary who is "forced to face the summons" of someone in obvious distress.
Making the commitment puts the "community at risk," and demands "daily fidelity," she said.
Leddy recounted how former Liberal immigration minister Judy Sgro became alarmed by the growing number of failed refugee claimants seeking sanctuary and offered churches a "back channel" for 20 or so cases a year.
The Church leaders said they could not be part of a private process, nor could they make people stop what they saw as a "movement of conscience." Instead, they stepped up insistence on an appeal process.
Leddy sees little difference in how the Liberals or the Conservatives have handled the refugee problem. She attributes much of the problem to "big bureaucracies reluctant to make decisions."
United Church representative Heather MacDonald, speaking on behalf of the Raza family in sanctuary in a Winnipeg church, told the news conference that providing sanctuary is an "act of civil disobedience" that carries heavy penalties of $50,000 in fines and two years in jail.
Sanctuary no solution
"Sanctuary is not a solution," she said, noting her role has been to persuade churches of the difficulties of providing this kind of help and urging them to be cautious.
The six Raza children are being home-schooled inside the sanctuary of Crescent Fort Rouge United Church in Winnipeg.
Originally from Pakistan, they sought sanctuary in August 2006.
Though against the law, Canadian authorities have respected the tradition of church sanctuaries.
In 2004, however, police raided a Quebec City United Church and seized Mohamed Cherfi, who had been living there in sanctuary for three weeks.