Sanctuary, Refugee, Religion, Justification
Stories about Canadian Christian churches engaging in civil disobedience by offering sanctuary to refugee claimants have been much in the news the past several years. Typical is the case of Ms. Sanja Pecelji who fled to St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Halifax to avoid a deportation order back to Serbia-Montenegro. The church minister, Rev. Susan Moxley, stated that Ms. Pecelji and her supporters in the church community were determined that she would reside in the church until the government reviewed her application for refugee status. “The tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need is a long-standing one for the church,” Rev. Moxley explained. “There might not be anything written in law to support such a move, but we fully expect the Canadian government will respect it.” The situation in Canada came to something of a dramatic head in 2004 when the newly-appointed Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Ms. Judy Sgro, requested that churches abandon the ancient practice of sanctuary. She explained that “It’s a very difficult issue to deal with and, frankly, if we start using the churches as the back door to enter Canada, we’re going to have huge problems. The protection of our country and of Canadians has to be the No. 1 concern. And people shouldn’t be allowed to hide anywhere.”
David Michels & David Blaikie, “Religious Justification for the Practice of Ecclesiastical Sanctuary” in Giving Sanctuary to Illegal Immigrants: Between Civil Disobedience and Legal Obligation (Sherbrooke, QC: Les Editions Revue de Droit de l’Université de Sherbrooke, 2009).