Dr. John Conway served as chair of the diocesan Refugee Unit for seven years and has only recently retired from that position

The recent case of Laiber Singh, a Sikh refugee claimant, who has taken sanctuary in an Abbotsford Sikh temple, has aroused concern about Canada's present policies for dealing with refugees, or those who claim to be such. Last year Mr. Singh became paralyzed and is now almost totally incapacitated. Many have expressed sympathy with his sufferings. The news that he was due to be deported back to his homeland, India, seemed to show a shocking lack of compassion. But in the eyes of Canada's immigration bureaucrats, compassion is not enough.

Sanctuary is an appealing concept. It suggests that the Church can and should give protection to the victims of oppression. But the idea derives from times before the rule of law, courts of justice or democratic legislatures. Today it is an outmoded concept and an inconvenient practice.

The Government of Canada has never recognized that sanctuary in a church has legal validity. Everyone in this country has to be subject to the rule of law; there can be no exceptions.

Mr. Singh, or in our own diocese Amir Kazemian, took sanctuary, not because they are against the rule of law, but because they believed it had been misapplied. Theirs was more of a visible protest against an administrative decision they believed incorrect. Was their presumption justified

More problematic is the criticism, advanced by some refugee advocates, that the system is faulty because there is no appeal against the decision of a single adjudicator. When the previous Liberal government overhauled the Immigration Act some years ago, the new Bill included a provision for an appeal system for failed refugee claimants. This was never put in place.

The reason is clear: it would be very expensive and an extra layer of bureaucracy, involving lengthy and costly proceedings. The danger exists that with such an appeal system every candidate turned down at his or her hearing would automatically opt to appeal, especially if legal aid were granted.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s former Primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, was a strong supporter of Amir Kazemian, who received long-term sanctuary at St. Michael’s, Vancouver, until granted refugee status late in February of this year

This is essentially a judgment call. Members of our church will be divided. But the following facts have to be remembered. Canada is one of the world's most generous countries in accepting refugees. Its scheme for the private sponsorship of refugees, in which our church actively participates, is unique.

No nation's immigration policy can be based on sentiment or compassion, however strongly felt. No government is interested in seeing any increase in the number of embarrassing sanctuary cases. This would not be in the public interest or in the interests of the individuals concerned. The impact of enforced isolation and uncertainty impose great psychological stress. So far the Canada Border Service Agency has shown restraint. That would change if sanctuary cases proliferated.

The present system is admittedly cumbersome and time-consuming. What is needed is some administrative machinery which would be visible and convincing and which would ensure that errors of judgment are corrected. But a mediaeval practice is surely not the remedy for today's conditions. Nor is it in accord with Canada's reputation for having a humane and just system for helping genuine refugee cases.

Dr. John Conway is former chair of the diocesan Refugee Unit.