Paralysed refugee can't speak, but thousands speak up for him

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2007, 12:00am


Laibar Singh cannot feed or take care of himself, and is wholly dependent upon the charity of others for his survival.

An aneurysm and stroke have left Mr Singh, 48, partially paralysed and he can't speak. Fortunately for the failed refugee claimant, thousands are speaking up for him.

Last week, Vancouver International Airport was shut temporarily and traffic forced to reroute after 1,500 supporters showed up to block his deportation.

It was an astounding show of force.

Mr Singh's supporters surrounded the taxi in which he lay silent, showing no emotion.

Boycotts were threatened against Cathay Pacific, which was to carry Mr Singh to Hong Kong then India. Protesters' placards assailed Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Since arriving in Canada on a forged passport, Mr Singh, a widower who left four children behind in India, has failed every attempt to legally stay in Canada, where he hoped to work as a labourer and send money to his children.

Refugees with legitimate and often life-threatening reasons to flee their countries often arrive in Canada with fake papers.

But the forged passport alone was not the reason why Mr Singh's claim of refugee status was denied. The immigration board said his claim that his life was in danger in India was not credible.

On the eve of his originally scheduled deportation last summer, he sought asylum in an Abbotsford Sikh temple.

His case has been taken up by tens of thousands of people, mostly from the Sikh community. His supporters raised bail money so he could stay out of jail while making his applications to stay in the country.

When Mr Singh had a stroke, he spent nearly half a year at Vancouver Hospital. Taxpayers paid his medical expenses of nearly C$500,000 (HK$3.83 million).

'He is not a burden,' said supporter Harsha Walia. 'If he is sent back to India, he is in serious danger of dying. His specialists have said he should not be getting on a plane.'

Two extensions issued by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day put off Mr Singh's removal. The first extension ran out on October 20, the second last Monday, when the airport protesters blocked his removal.

To some in the Sikh community, which has used non-violence and large crowds to urge politicians to make an exception for him, the protests about Mr Singh's case have drawn attention to a case that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

But others argue that Mr Singh would be better off if returned and that efforts would be better spent raising money for him and his family in India.

In the face of the airport protest, the Canadian Border Services Agency, the officials responsible for removing failed claimants, put a stay on Mr Singh's deportation.

The move was for 'safety and security reasons,' said a department spokesman, who declined to say if the removal would proceed when things quieten down.

Mr Singh was taken from the airport to a Sikh temple, and his supporters say they will gather again if he is taken to the airport for removal. For now, the showdown remains a stalemate.