The following are my notes from a rally I spoke at Nov. 5/2004, a rally
called after Mohammed Cherifi was arrested, removed from a church sanctuary and deported from Canada.
It underscores the need for effective support for churches that offer
sanctuary for those whose lives are at risk if they are removed from
When the police raided the Quebec church where Mohamed Cherifi had
soughtsanctuary all of us were endangered. If someone can be removed from sanctuary in a church because he had been arrested for engaged in a legal act—attending a rally—and be expelled from Canada the fabric of rights for everyone has been torn. Acting in solidarity with Mohamed Cherfi is not an unselfish act— if he can not come to Canada and be considered as a refugee who among us can honestly feel safe? If he is returned, then there is hope that the fear and paranoia that has lead to a major increase in state power is dissipating, that the state will not the excuse of the events of September 11th to continue to crack down on those who are marginalised.
The treatment of Cherfi has parallels in other struggles. Those who work
and advocate for housing for the homeless run into NIMBYism—desires to
keep out or under control those who are economically marginalised. People
will try and discredit organisations and individuals that speak out and act
to ensure that housing is a right. Criminal courts are used to silence
those that are most effectively vocal in regards to challenging poverty and
homelessness. Bureaucratic processes and civil courts are used to
challenge those that provide affordable housing. What happened to Cherfi
is NIMBYism writ large—he is not wanted in some peoples’ back yard.
Instead of finding a home in Canada or even a haven in a church, he is
imprisoned in the U.S. and in fear of being sent back to Algeria.
As a person of a faith, the attack on Cherfi is a challenge to me on two
fronts. From the provision of sanctuary cities in Israel to the tradition
of church sanctuary in more recent times, the ideal that the provision of
sanctuary for those in distress is a duty of the church is one that can not
be put aside due to political expediency. And the ongoing duty to care for
the sojourner, the homeless wander, is also not an aspect of faith subject
to the whims to political fashion. These are at the core of a faith that
is alive and nurturing and expressing an acceptance of the call for peace,
justice and the integrity of creation. To be true to the calling of
Christianity is not to vote for hatred in a referendum but to act with love
and hope to share what we have with those in need. This radical view of
faith is not without risk, but it is certainly far less risky for us than
what is risked for those needing a refuge if we do not act.
Canada has a chance to do something that was done by the Islamic Ottoman
empire in 1492 when it opened its boarders to the Jews expelled from Spain.
We can be the light of hope and justice in a time of darkness. Mohammed
Cherfi is our neighbour and we should welcome here for ourselves and for