Right of sanctuary no threat to security

Mikhail Lennikov is a Russian who speaks Japanese.

Mikhail Lennikov is a Russian who speaks Japanese.

He was recruited by the KGB in 1982 to do translation for the powerful Russian secret police.

He quit in 1988, three years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Twelve years ago, he came to Canada with his wife and son on a student visa and has been living in Burnaby British Columbia ever since.

His son recently graduated from a Burnaby high school.

Section 34 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act makes former enemy spies “inadmissible” to Canada. The next line however empowers the minister of public safety to cancel that “inadmissibility” if the person is no threat to Canada.

Lennikov is no threat to Canada.

“Public opinion is very clearly in favour of the Lennikovs,” said Peter Julian, the NDP MP for Burnaby-New Westminster.

“I know in my community, the local paper did a poll over the weekend and 98 per cent were supporting the Lennikovs.”

Nevertheless, Lennikov has been ordered deported and a Federal Court has rejected pleas from his lawyers to suspend the deportation.

Fearful that Canada Border Services Agency officials might detain him in advance of his June 3 deportation date, Lennikov accepted an offer of sanctuary at First Lutheran Church in East Vancouver where he and his family have been members of the congregation.

All he wants is for the threat of deportation to be removed.

“I cannot ask for permanent residency because there are issues that need to be addressed.” But he needs time to pursue whatever other legal options he may have and is prepared to be in sanctuary, unable to leave the church building, for years if necessary.

The pastor of the church, Richard Hergesheimer, said that the church council has been planning this for months and have built a room for Lennikov to live in and are ready for the long haul. Lennikov feels that the voluntary prison is still a better option than being forcibly removed to Russia, likely never able to leave that country again and his wife, Irina, and son, Dmitri, unable to visit him for fear of not being able to return to Canada.

There is a long tradition of sanctuary in Canada. There is also a long tradition of government fearing that churches will create a back door through which the unwanted can sneak into Canada. That is not going to happen. A little common sense is in order.

Churches are not hiding places. Authorities know where those claiming shelter are staying and can detain them if they step off church grounds. Taking sanctuary is akin to house arrest so where is the danger to national security?

The ancient practice of granting asylum-seekers refuge was recognized by English law from the 4th to the 17th century.

Although authorities today continue to respect the ancient tradition, right of sanctuary is not a legal right in Canada.

Only tradition prohibits officials from entering a church to arrest people.

So why would any church consider risking civil disobedience?

Because they have a moral responsibility, in certain cases involving those facing deportation, to provoke sober second thought from immigration officials.

No church is going to allow their property to shield those who are trying to avoid their penalty for heinous crimes. The church, however, may have reason to believe that errors have occurred. Systems can be flawed.

When Christians believe that justice is at risk because of a flawed system, a fair resolution is all that is asked.

Since 1989, the United Church of Canada has offered safe haven to 13 individuals, of which 12 cases were resolved without controversy.

Congregations attempting to uphold the traditions of justice and compassion, hallmarks of Canadian governance, through the venerable custom of sanctuary, pose no threat to national security.

To suggest otherwise is to dismantle a moral counterweight to the injustices that even the best bureaucracy can occasionally perpetrate.

Bob Ripley is a United Church minister in London, Ont.

Just Posted

Red Deer to get new plan to end homelessness as problem persists

Despite some successes there’s ‘a long way to go,’ says manager

Canada ranks 16th on World Economic Forum’s annual gender gap list

TORONTO — Canada has landed the 16th spot in the World Economic… Continue reading

Steel, aluminum tariffs impacting one-third of Canadian exporters: poll

OTTAWA — More than one-third of Canadian exporters say they have been… Continue reading

Canada has fifth biggest AI workforce, but still lacks diversity: study

TORONTO — Canada has the globe’s fifth largest artificial intelligence workforce, but… Continue reading

Air passenger rights: Six things about what the Liberals are offering in draft rules

OTTAWA — The Liberals will publish the draft text of their long-promised… Continue reading

Chabot scores overtime winner to lift Senators over Predators 4-3

OTTAWA — Thomas Chabot saw an opening and he took it. And… Continue reading

Canadian Marielle Thompson earns World Cup ski cross bronze in season opener

AROSA, Switzerland — Canada’s Marielle Thompson captured bronze at the opening World… Continue reading

Canada doesn’t make Oscars short list for best foreign language film

LOS ANGELES — Canada is no longer in the running for best… Continue reading

Warrant issued for arrest of ‘Schwimmer lookalike’ suspect

LONDON — A British judge has issued an arrest warrant for an… Continue reading

Moneywise: Canadian workers unhappy with pay, want pension plans

Many working Canadians are feeling underpaid and are so worried about their… Continue reading

Brazil police say faith healer has turned himself in

RIO DE JANEIRO — A celebrity faith healer accused of sexually abusing… Continue reading

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

VANCOUVER — Nicola Froese says she has always loved playing sports, but… Continue reading

Canada’s Kim McRae finishes seventh at luge World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Canada’s Kim McRae finished in seventh place at… Continue reading

Most Read