Globe and Mail
By Petti Fong
VANCOUVER -- For nearly three years, Amir Kazemian listened to the rain from inside a Vancouver church where he sought sanctuary from a deportation order, and in his first walk in freedom yesterday, he paused after two steps, tilted his head upward and let the rain fall on his face.
Even the lashing wind and dripping rain felt good to the Iranian national, who fought for years to stay in Canada.
"The rain in Vancouver is always the same," a joyous Mr. Kazemian said after learning that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has granted his appeal to stay in the country based on humanitarian grounds. "It rains in Vancouver and I am happy to feel the rain."
Mr. Kazemian arrived in the small east Vancouver chapel of St. Michael's in June of 2004 after receiving his removal order when the refugee board rejected his claims.The 41-year-old had spent 16 months in a Tehran prison for political activism, following in the footsteps of his now ailing father, a opposition politician.
Despite a warrant out for his arrest and numerous conversations with police at the door of St. Michael's, Mr. Kazemian was not taken into custody after the church granted him sanctuary.
That changed suddenly on Saturday after Mr. Kazemian, who fixes computers and sells them online, called police for help because he was feeling threatened and afraid of a potential customer who, he said, became abusive.
When the police officer arrived, she learned about the warrant and Mr. Kazemian was arrested and taken to jail.
His lawyer, who had filed an appeal in January, was with him in the immigration office when a fax arrived from Ottawa saying he was allowed to stay.
That unexpected news was relayed outside the office by an Anglican church minister who shouted out "Amir can stay in Canada! " to supporters awaiting information.
The surprise announcement turned the crowd's defiance into elation as family and friends hugged each other.
Mr. Kazemian's mother, Maosumeh, collapsed when she heard that her son's claim had been accepted. A sign demanding "Free Amir" was hastily changed with a marker to "Freed Amir."
Rob Johnson, manager of enforcement for the Canada Border Services Agency, said he could not comment on the timing of the letter sent from Ottawa yesterday morning granting Mr. Kazemian landed residency status in Canada.
"He is a free individual and he's encouraged to go to Citizenship and Immigration Canada," Mr. Johnson said outside the immigration office as the soaking wet crowd of about 100 people cheered.
Mr. Kazemian's lawyer, Naomi Minwalla, said she doesn't know whether the release of her client two days after his arrest was coincidental.
"You'll have to ask the government that. To me, that doesn't really matter," she said yesterday. "The great thing is he has been approved and I thank the government for making this decision today in an expeditious manner."
Ms. Minwalla said she has not received the reasons yet why Mr. Kazemian's claims were approved yesterday.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Lois Reimer said the information will be sent to Mr. Kazemian and his lawyer in the next couple of days.
The decision to allow him to stay in Canada was made late last week before his arrest was known and his case received wide media attention again.
Last month, Ms. Minwalla filed new documents to CIC with information that included medical records of hemorrhaging Mr. Kazemian suffered while in prison.
But Ms. Reimer said yesterday that she cannot say what new information resulted in a reversal of earlier decisions.
"It was quite a significant submission, a decision of that significance takes time and a decision was made," she said.
The decision yesterday by CIC gives Mr. Kazemian permanent residence, and after three years, he can apply to become a citizen.
His mother, who made the same refugee claim as her son but was accepted, has stayed in Vancouver to be close to him. Mr. Kazemian's father is in the Britain, where he is quite ill. The family wants to reunite for a visit.
Reverend John Marsh, a friend of Mr. Kazemian and his mother, said sanctuary is a long-standing tradition that should be respected. About half a dozen people around Canada are currently in asylum at churches.
"Sanctuary is understood as a compassionate act, an ethical act," Mr. Marsh said.
The positive outcome for Mr. Kazemian does not mean more failed refugee claimants will show up at the church's doorstep, Mr. Marsh said.
"We have space, but the community needs a break now. We're not sure of the exact number of people in sanctuaries now, but this is not a growth industry."
As he hugged supporter after supporter who encircled him, Mr. Kazemian thanked each one.
"With this passion, with this love, I'm never ever you know, I'm never ever you know, feel myself lonely," he said before letting his friends sweep him along out the door into the rain.