Friday, December 7, 2007

Ottawa stonewalls refugee claimant

Has Quebec residency; Cherfi still on outside looking in after 2 years


Published: Saturday, November 10

QUEBEC - Mohamed Cherfi, the Algerian refugee claimant who was arrested in 2004 by police in the Quebec City church where he was given sanctuary, still can't get back into Canada even though Quebec granted him permanent residence in August 2005.

Jacqueline Roby, spokesperson for the federal immigration department, said yesterday a 25-month delay between an application to immigrate to Canada and admission is normal.

"We have to look at who enters Canada," Roby said. "We are committed to the safety and security of the Canadian public."

Janet Dench, a Montreal lawyer specializing in immigration and refugees, said for family members seeking to enter Canada, 30 per cent of cases are resolved in three months and 80 per cent of applicants get into Canada 11 months after their application has been received.

But Cherfi has applied on humanitarian grounds, not family reunification, and Dench confirmed that could take longer.

"Nothing justifies what is happening," Cherfi's partner, Louise Boivin, said at a news conference in the St. Pierre United Church, where Cherfi was taken into custody in 2004.

Because he entered Canada from the United States in 1998, Cherfi was expelled to the United States, where he was held in a Batavia, N.Y., detention centre near Buffalo, for 16 months before the Americans granted him political refugee status the second time he applied.

Boivin noted the Americans have their own security concerns. Yet they are not worried that Cherfi, now a free man working the night shift in a Buffalo factory, is a security threat.

And she wonders why he has had to wait so long to get into Canada.

But two years after Quebec granted him permanent residence in the province, Cherfi still hasn't received the security clearance from the federal government to cross the border, which includes checks of his "moral" and physical health, according to Roby.

"I don't know what they are doing," Boivin said, adding she can't get information from the federal immigration and public security departments.

When The Gazette called the office of Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, a reporter was referred to the office of Immigration Minister Diane Finley. Finley's spokesperson Tim Vail did not return calls. After three days of no response from Vail, the Gazette spoke with Roby, the department's spokesperson in Montreal.

Roby said the department handles 350,000 applications to enter Canada a year, accepting 250,000 new immigrants a year.

Under an agreement between the federal and Quebec governments, Quebec can choose its own immigrants, but Roby stressed Ottawa has the final word on who enters Canada.

Cherfi, 38, was a high school teacher in Algeria nine years ago, at the height of a bloody conflict between the Algerian state and Islamic fundamentalists, when he was called up for military service.

Because Algeria does not recognize the status of conscientious objectors, Cherfi fled first to the United States, entering on a tourist visa, then entering Canada from the United States as a refugee claimant.

His demand was refused and while living in Montreal he became active defending Algerian refugee claimants, while appealing his own case. His request to stay in Canada was refused, on the ground he had not integrated into Canadian society.

He was arrested and deported after living three weeks in the church basement.