Historic Indo-Canadian rally stops paralysed Sikh’s deportation

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS

Vancouver : In their biggest anti-government rally since the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, thousands of Indo-Canadians forced authorities to stop the deportation of a paralysed Sikh.

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Laibar Singh, a failed refugee claimant who had entered Canada on a forged passport in 2003 and become paralysed last year, was ordered last week to be deported Monday at 2.30 p.m.

But about 3,000 Indo-Canadians, along with some Pakistanis, Chinese, and people of European origin surrounded the car carrying Singh at Vancouver International Airport and denied the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) access to him.

CBSA agents were to take Singh in their care before handing him over to the immigration authorities to put him on board a Cathay Pacific flight to New Delhi via Hong Kong.

But fearing angry protesters shouting slogans against the Tory government and threatening to boycott the airline, CBSA officials decided not to approach the car carrying Singh and allowed him to temporarily stay in Canada.

There was a sense of relief when CBSA official Derek Mellon said: “For safety and security reasons Mr. Singh’s removal has been delayed.” This is the third reprieve for Singh in the last six months.

Singh has now been put in the care of the Khalsa Diwan Society Gurdwara in New Westminster, near Vancouver.

Addressing the protesters, former Canadian revenue minister Herb Dhaliwal said the decision to deport a “helpless man showed the mean-spiritedness of this government”.

Dhaliwal said: “The deportation order highlights that this Conservative government has no respect for the South Asian community. It is against Canadian values to take out someone who is ill. There are precedents when deportations were stopped at the last minute. But I wonder why this immigration minister is so adamant to get this poor man out.”

He told IANS that the ruling Conservative Party would pay a heavy political price for the action. “It is a second Komagata Maru. The South Asian community has shown its political maturity by exposing the arrogance of this government.”

Protest organizer Harsha Walia of No One is Illegal, a rights group of immigrants, told IANS: “They are jeopardizing a helpless man by putting him on a plane when just last night doctors said Singh was unfit to travel. It is utter violation of his rights on Human Rights Day.”

She said: “They argued that Singh was being deported because he has no support in the community. What is this? All Canadians have spoken for this man. There are rallies in Toronto and Montreal against this deportation.”

Another protest organizer, Harpal Singh of South Asian Human Rights Group, told IANS: “When refugee claimants from Poland, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Africa in similar medical conditions were allowed to stay, why not Singh? This shows that the Conservative party is anti-South Asian.

“The Komagata Maru incident happened in this city in 1914 under their watch when they didn’t allow 376 British-Indians to disembark for two months and then sent them back to die at the hands of police in India. This party opposed voting and citizenship rights for us in 1947. Now they are doing this thing to a South Asian.”

Having lost his refugee claimant case, the wheel-chair-bound Singh, a widower with three daughters and a son in India, was first ordered to be deported in July 7.

Even as a private plane with a nurse and doctor was ready to take him to India, his supporters whisked him to a gurdwara at Abbotsford near here. He was arrested in August when came out of the gurdwara for medical care. But he was given a 60-day reprieve and released into the care of the gurdwara for a bond of $50,000. He got another 60-day reprieve in Oct.

To stop his deportation, the Indo-Asian community has promised to pick up his pending medical bills to the tune of $450,000, and pay $150,000 annually for his upkeep if he is allowed to stay in Canada.

More than 40,000 people signed a petition to the Canadian immigration minister to allow him to stay. As many as 19 MPs opposed the deportation and three of them raised the issue in the House of Commons. But immigration minister Diane Finley refused to consider his case.

Singh’s lawyer is likely to file a fresh appeal soon.