Resolution Number: A254

Subject: Sanctuary for Refugees

Moved By: Bishop Sue Moxley, from the Diocese of Nova Scotia

Seconded By: Mel Malton, from the Diocese of Algoma

Note: The mover and the seconder must be members of the General Synod and be present in the House when the resolution is before the synod for debate.


That this General Synod request the creation of a working group within the next triennium to develop a policy for the national church that would enable parishes and dioceses to give prayerful consideration to the moral, ethical and legal challenges raised by requests for sanctuary from families and individuals whose claim for refugee status has been rejected by Canada’s refugee determination system—a system where errors happen, where there is no appeal on the merit of the case and where errors result in grave consequences for refugees facing return to countries where they fear for their lives.


Refugee advocates cite the lack of an appeal on the merits of the case as the most fundamental flaw in Canada’s refugee determination system. Although the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act includes provisions for the establishment of a Refugee Appeal Division, the law was implemented without those sections of the Act that give refugee claimants the right of appeal.  Other flaws include: a single decision maker entrusted with the decision on whether or not to grant refugee status and concerns about the ability of the decision maker because the appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board have not been based on merit alone but have been influenced by patronage considerations.

Given these and other flaws in the system, refugees in Canada cannot be assured of a fair and just determination of their refugee claim. Fearing imprisonment, torture or even death should they be sent back home, some refused refugee claimants facing removal orders turn to sanctuary as their last resort. These requests for sanctuary are the last desperate cries for protection taken by people who believe deeply that the refugee determination system has failed them.

Since the 1980s, several individual churches across Canada have used the centuries old tradition of sanctuary to address the threat of persecution expressed by individuals and families who feared return back to their homeland after their claim for refugee status was rejected. Recent cases of churches providing sanctuary include: Two Unitarian congregations (one in Ottawa and another in Quebec), two Montreal-area United Church congregations and one Anglican Parish in Halifax. The churches took this action of civil disobedience because they believed the system had failed the claimants and that the refugees would face harm if returned home.

Sanctuary provides some measure of temporary protection for people whose refugee claim has been wrongly rejected. It is a public action aimed at appealing to the government to reconsider the decision to remove.

On March 5, police entered a church without permission of the church authorities and forcibly removed an Algerian refugee who had taken sanctuary in a Quebec City church to avoid return to his homeland. This was the first time in recent history that the authorities in Canada pulled a person out of sanctuary.

Following the Quebec incident, KAIROS wrote a letter to the Ministers of Public Safety and Citizenship and Immigration requesting assurance from the federal government that it will address the flaws in the refugee determination process and commit to negotiated settlement rather than brute force as the first means of resolving a sanctuary issue.

“When we challenge the causes of injustice that uproot people, the church must be prepared to pay the price of confronting established powers and privileges”. World Council of Churches Statement on Uprooted People.


Source: PWRDF Board
  (name of committee, diocese, etc.)
Submitted by: PWRDF Board