The Sanctuary Coalition

The Sanctuary Coalition is an ecumenical coalition, centred at the Church of the Holy Trinity, concerned with refugees whose claims, in the view of the Coalition, have been wrongly rejected by Canada’s Refugee Board. The Coalition came into existence in 1993 when it made a decision “not to abandon” twenty-three people whose claims had been vetted by the Coalition, Amnesty International and other refugee agencies. When the Coalition’s “civil initiative” was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister, he instructed that the cases be reviewed.

The Coalition has an educational as well as an advocacy function. One expression of this was the “Call to Conscience” and interfaith statements of concern for refugees (hanging on the south wall of the nave) issued a few years ago.

There were many shifting currents in the flow of Canada’s refugee policy-making in the year 2002. The new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, complete with a new and long overdue appeal process was to come into effect in mid-year but at the last moment, the Minister “postponed” implementation of the new appeal procedure. In the course of the year, there was increasing talk of a “safe third country” agreement between Canada and the U.S.. This would mean that almost all refugee claimants coming to Canada through the U.S. (and a third to a half of all refugees coming to Canada come through the States) would be turned back to the U.S. as a “safe third country.” The Agreement has now been signed and will come into effect sometime in 2003.

Sanctuary members made representations to the House of Commons Committee on Citizenship and Immigration challenging the postponement of the Appeal Process and opposing the proposed “safe third country” agreement (popularly known as the “none is too many” agreement). The Committee was not unsympathetic but it has limited powers. Nonetheless, we will keep making our views known, and the Chair of the Committee, Joe Fontana (a Liberal MP from London) seems willing to listen.

In September, at an all day consultation held at Romero House, an expanded Sanctuary Coalition prepared “A Declaration, A Civil Initiative in Support of Refugees”, which a number of people from Holy Trinity have signed. At that point (late September), we still hoped the Agreement would not be signed but we gave notice in this Declaration that should the agreement materialize, the tradition of the Underground Railway would be invoked, and we would continue to support genuine refugees who found their way into Canada.

The Sanctuary Coalition continues to support Suleyman Goven’s attempts to get landed (the last of our original 23 cases). A Court ruling in his favour recently encouraged him but the Court ruling does not guarantee landing. This will stay on our agenda in 2003 along with much that is unfolding in the current situation.