Chantal Eustace, Vancouver Sun
Monday, July 09, 2007
Laibar Singh’s eyes flickered and watered on Sunday as a crowd of shouting supporters circled his wheelchair outside an Abbotsford Sikh temple where the paralysed refugee claimant sought sanctuary on the weekend. Singh, who entered the country with a fake passport four years ago, had been scheduled to be deported Sunday afternoon. Instead, with the help of friends, the 48-year-old father of four wheeled out of his care facility, the George Pearson Centre in Vancouver, and left by taxi Friday afternoon. The group visited numerous temples in the Lower Mainland before ending up at the Gurdwara Kalgidhar Darbar Sahib Society — the temple in Abbotsford that Singh calls his sanctuary.
As long as Singh is inside the temple, he won’t be removed by officials, said Faith St. John, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency.
Singh, who became paralysed last year after he suffered an aneurysm, requires regular medical attention — including dialysis — and he cannot feed himself.
Singh fled to Canada in 2003, saying he had been falsely accused of having links to a Sikh militant group, the Khalistan Commando Force.
Since then his applications for refugee status — including an exemption on humanitarian and compassionate grounds — failed.
The government never accepted his claims that he would be at risk of cruel and unusual punishment if he returned.
A pre-removal risk assessment found the purported risks were based on facts that were “not credible.”
On Sunday, Singh said that despite his health concerns, he feels safe and secure at the temple.
“I don’t want to go to India. Why should I go to India?” Singh told the media Sunday, with the help of a translator.
His head wrapped in a gold scarf, Singh appeared tired and spoke quietly.
What will happen if he goes back to India?
“I will die, certainly I will die. I want to stay in Canada. I want to stay in the Sikh temple,” Singh said. “They are day and night serving for me. They are helping [support] me and I am getting very good service from them and they will look after me.”
Singh said he feels optimistic the government will grant him refugee status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“The government can do everything,” Singh said. “I’d like to say to [Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day] to please look at my case, consider my case and cancel my deportation.”
A widower, Singh has two daughters, aged 20 and 13, and a son, 16, at the family home, and one married daughter, all in India.
Harsha Walia, a spokeswoman for the refugee rights group, No One is Illegal, said she is worried about Singh’s health now that he is out of hospital.
“He needs imminent medical care within the next 24 hours,” Walia said.
Walia said Singh, who is not expected to recover from his condition, faced difficult options — deportation or sanctuary in a temple — neither of which satisfied his urgent health needs.
“Really, the only way to get him the best care is if his deportation is stayed and he gets appropriate care,” Walia said.
Harpal Singh Nagra, a spokesman for the South Asian Human Rights Group, said members of the Sikh community are working with the temple to help with Singh’s medical care, including the expenses.
“This is a community responsibility now,” Nagra said, adding the temple is already consulting with medical experts. “We will look after him. We will try.”
It takes four people to lift Singh in and out of bed, said gurdwara president Swarn Singh Gill.
“He’s a handicapped guy. He can’t eat. He can’t do anything,” said Gill, shaking his head. “It’s a very sad story for him. We don’t want him sent back to India or anywhere.”
He said the temple committee decided to continue to help Singh as long as he follows the rules of the gurdwara.
“We like to help the handicapped people, the poor people and anyone who comes in the temple,” Gill said.
Darjit Chawla was among about 50 men and women who gathered around Singh outside the temple Sunday, waving posters and signs or simply applauding or cheering.
“He should stay here,” said Chawla, who lives in Surrey. “I believe he should.”
The temple should be considered a sanctuary, safe from authorities, Nagra repeated several times to the crowd.
“Police and immigration does not have any right to go to this temple,” Nagra said. “The community is not going to accept it.”
Border service agency spokeswoman St. John said that while the government doesn’t condone people seeking sanctuary in a place of worship to evade deportation, it will not intervene.
“Even though there’s no legal impediment to us removing someone from a place of worship, we will not go into a place of worship to remove them,” she said.
Jane Dyson, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities — a group that has been petitioning the government on Singh’s behalf — said she felt most worried about his well-being. “We are concerned about his health,” Dyson said. “Apparently he needs dialysis every three days.”
As for Singh, he said, he doesn’t plan to go out of the boundaries of the sanctuary.
“I want to stay here,” Singh said. “I want to stay my whole life and I want to die here.”
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