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Canada walks the tightrope on Sikh refugee

By Bal Krishna in Toronto
January 25, 2008 14:57 IST
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With the controversy over a failed Indian refugee claimant intensifying, the Canadian government is facing a tough time proceeding with his deportation due to opposition from the Sikh community ahead of the election.

Battle-lines seem to be getting clearly drawn on one Laibar Singh, a failed refugee claimant, who came to Canada on a fake Indian passport and continues to be an unwelcome guest in the country.

While the Sikh community has made it clear that they will do virtually anything to prevent deportation of Singh back to India, opposition has come from the government and some sections of the media, which does not want Canada to become 'a magnet for the world's tired and hungry masses.'

The 48-year-old, whose deportation had been ordered after his plea for refugee status was declined, had arrived from Punjab in November 2003. Singh had claimed that he faced a risk to his life as the Indian police had accused him of being a Sikh extremist, and feared that he would be tortured if they found him.

Last week, the Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day Jr had warned on using force against Singh, who has taken shelter in a Gurdwara. However, the government is currently treading gingerly on the issue because of an impending spring election, where the so-called ethnic vote can be critical in several ridings (constituencies), particularly in the urban centres of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Some sections of the media, on the other hand, have gone ballistic on Singh.

'The whole affair is a complete moral disaster -- one that grows worse with every minute the unfortunate gentleman stays on our soil,' Canadian newspaper The National Post recently said, summing up the mood of much of the nation.

"With 30,000 refugee claimants waiting in queue in Canada, in addition to asylum-seekers in various UN camps in strife-torn zones all over the world, Singh's case has become a lightning rod. Singh's case is a test case for Canadian government. Whether to follow rule of law or get vote," a highly-placed official, who did want to be quoted, said, adding, "It seems the government is determined to deport him."

In between is another issue on whether or not Singh will receive good medical care in India. Meanwhile, an economics professor, Don DeVoretz, has weighed into the debate by suggesting a typically 'Canadian way' to resolve the stand-off.

He said it would be 'un-Canadian' for government officers to forcibly enter a temple and force Singh into a plane. Instead, the government should guarantee that it will ensure that Singh has access to good medical care in India, he said.
However, media reports suggested that the health issue was a bogey intended to keep Singh in Canada indefinitely and thereby defy the removal order. They also pointed out that Singh has four children in India who need their father's love and care.

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Bal Krishna in Toronto
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