Court gets it right

By 
  • December 10, 2009
{mosimage}Christians living in several Middle East, African and Asian nations are routinely persecuted and often killed. It is a serious issue that is generally overlooked amid the many international and domestic matters that occupy our media and political leaders.

So it was as welcomed as it was rare to see a Federal Court judge overrule an immigration department official and grant a temporary order last week allowing a Catholic convert from Guinea to remain in Canada. Lamine Yansané is seeking permanent refugee status claiming that his father, a fundamentalist imam, had ordered his death — declared a fatwa against him — if he is returned to Guinea.

The judge’s ruling means that Yansané’s case must be reopened by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and that the agency is required to treat seriously the death threats. Yansané’s case had been previously dismissed on the grounds that it was “devoid of credibility,” but the federal court heard evidence that led it to conclude Yansané did not receive a reasonable evaluation of his situation.

The Dec. 7 ruling does not by itself grant Yansané permanent residency, but by ordering the case reopened and requiring immigration staff to diligently assess his claim of religious persecution, the ruling seems to establish an important precedent. Christian persecution is real and it is deadly. It routinely occurs in dozens of nations, including large countries like China, India and Iraq, and smaller ones like Sri Lanka and Guinea. Asylum seekers who arrive in Canada claiming to be fleeing religious persecution deserve a thorough and fair hearing, deserve to be taken seriously. The court ruling makes that more likely to happen.

Yansané, the court ruled, did not receive such a hearing. Upon arriving in Canada four years ago from the town of Boké in Guinea, he told immigration officials that he had become an outcast in his hometown when he married a Catholic woman and converted from Islam. His application for refugee status was based on claims that, due to the fatwa declared against him by his father, returning home would mean almost certain death.

In pressing his client’s case, Yansané’s lawyer presented the written testimony of a priest and a lawyer from Boké, as well as an article from the National Post quoting Yansané’s father, that seemed to verify existence of the fatwa. Yet an immigration official, rejecting the lawyer’s assertion that returning his client to Guinea was a death sentence, ordered Yansané deported.

Merely claiming religious persecution should not guarantee a permanent home in Canada. Obviously, a thorough review of each claim is necessary. Even then, some cheaters will get in. But better that than sending a legitimate claimant home to harassment or even death.

It is incumbent on immigration officials to take claims of religious persecution seriously and investigate them thoroughly. A Federal Court judge ruled that Yansané’s case fell short of that standard. We applaud the court for making it right.

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