18th February, 2007
Iranian Refugee Arrested and Forced out of Sanctuary by Vancouver City Police
In an unprecedented move on Saturday night, the Vancouver City Police arrested and detained Amir Kazemian, an Iranian refugee who had been in sanctuary at St. Michael’s Anglican Church for 2 years and 8 months.
Mr. Kazemian had called the Vancouver Police Department to file a complaint about an unrelated matter. In the past, the police had, on numerous occasions, attended St. Michael’s Church and cooperated with Mr. Kazemian, including seeking assistance from him for a criminal matter that they were investigating last year. “I have always cooperated with the police, they have visited me on many occasions at the church, and they have always respected my position in sanctuary,” said Mr. Kazemian.
It is not clear why the police officer chose to arrest and detain Mr. Kazemian in this instance. No criminal charges arose and the arrest took place inside the church, violating the tradition of sanctuary and forcing Mr. Kazemian to leave in handcuffs.
The Vancouver Police Department immediately turned Mr. Kazemian over to the Canada Border Services Agency who is holding him in detention. For the last nearly three years, both the police and the Canada Border Services Agency had respected Mr. Kazemian’s status in sanctuary and chose not arrest him, despite there being an outstanding warrant to arrest for deportation to Iran since June, 2004.
Mr. Kazemian’s lawyer, Naomi Minwalla, is requesting that the Canada Border Services Agency release Mr. Kazemian from detention pending a decision on his outstanding application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate (H & C ) grounds. The H & C application is currently with Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials in Ottawa.
Ms. Minwalla stated, “This is not a case where the CBSA deliberately detained Mr. Kazemian. The arrest by the Vancouver City Police appears to have been a mistake. We filed 7 volumes of new evidence and 141 pages of arguments which demonstrate that Mr. Kazemian is at grave risk, including risk of torture or death, if he were returned to Iran. Mr. Kazemian is a survivor of torture who is severely traumatized. Under the circumstances, to continue his detention or to remove him to Iran would be unconscionable.”
Mr. Kazemian’s case is the longest sanctuary case in Canadian history. There has been only one other instance where the police arrested someone in sanctuary within the confines of a church. In 2004, police arrested Algerian born Mohamed Cherfi for allegedly violating his bail conditions. Cherfi was deported to the United States where, a year later, he was granted asylum.
For further information, contact:
Naomi Minwalla, Barrister & Solicitor
(604) 689 – 8100 (Work)
Support for Amir is being organized on Monday Feb 19 at 9:30 am just outside of the elevators on the 7th floor at 300 West Georgia Street (CIC offices by Vancouver Public Library). Pls do attend to support Amir.