A NEWS RELEASE
From the Office of the Bishop
Winnipeg, August 18, 2004 (ELCIC) -- Following is the text of the KAIROS letter sent recently to Judy Sgro, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, regarding a proposed meeting with Canadian Church Leaders to discuss issues related to the Refugee Determination System.
August 13, 2004
Hon. Judy Sgro, PC, MP
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
RE: Proposed meeting with Canadian Church Leaders
Dear Minister Sgro:
We wish to congratulate you on your reappointment as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. As church leaders, we welcome your recent indication that you would like to meet with us to discuss issues related to the refugee determination system. We look forward to such a meeting and to making a fruitful contribution toward your efforts on behalf of refugees and all Canadians.
The eight churches we represent include approximately 18 million Canadians, according to the 2001 census. As churches, we have a long history of relief and development work in areas of crisis from which many refugees have sought asylum. For more than three decades, many of our congregations and members have welcomed refugees into their homes, communities, and lives through the Joint Sponsorship Programme of your Ministry. Many of our members have also encouraged their elected representatives to improve both the overseas sponsorship process and the inland refugee determination system.
A few local churches have taken the extraordinary step of offering temporary sanctuary to refugees whom they believed, after much research and prayer, to be in immediate danger of human rights abuses or death should they be returned to their home country. In taking such a step the churches have been motivated by the Christian ideal of love for one’s neighbour, noting that people who flee persecution are among our most vulnerable "neighbours".
Across the country, we are seeing energetic and sustained public debate in response to your request that the churches stop the practice of sanctuary. This is a reminder to us of the grassroots involvement of faith communities, unions, local communities of all sorts and national non-profit groups in support of refugees. It is why the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees awarded the 1986 Nansen Medal to the people of Canada.
We agree with you that sanctuary is not a solution. The solution is in having a refugee determination system that is just, open, expeditious, and treats people equally. In particular, we encourage you to implement the Appeal Division as contained in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act passed by our Parliament in 2001 and implemented in June 2002.
We also note your statement that Canada’s number one concern is to protect Canadians. We can appreciate this concern and, therefore, urge you to reassure Canadians that our government does not consider refugees to be a security threat. In fact, Canada's efforts to embrace refugees are in the interests of both Canadian and global human security. Canada enhances human security by abiding by its international commitment to accept all asylum-seekers who have a well-founded fear of persecution.
We also urge you to allocate more resources to the overseas sponsorship system so that applications, be they from local churches or other groups, can be processed in a more reasonable time.
A few days ago, the United Church of Canada received a call from your office offering a meeting with church leaders in September. All of us, as members of KAIROS, would be pleased to work with you to find a date in the coming weeks, and to clarify an agenda that reflects our shared commitment to refugee protection. Richard Chambers, the KAIROS board member with responsibility for this issue, will be in touch with your office to begin preparations for this important meeting, and make the necessary arrangements.
Thank you for your willingness to initiate a dialogue which we all hope will lead to greater collaboration for the benefit of those whose human rights we are committed to protecting.
The Reverend Richard W. Fee,
Moderator, The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Margaret Clare Ford
Clerk, Canadian Friends Service Committee
The Most Reverend Andrew Hutchison,
Primate, The Anglican Church of Canada
Mr. Donald Peters
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
The Right Reverend Peter Short,
Moderator, United Church of Canada
The Reverend Raymond L. Schultz
National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
The Most Reverend Brendan O'Brien
Archbishop of St. John’s
President, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Reverend William Veenstra,
Director, Canada Ministries, Christian Reformed Church in North America