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Immigration conference gets wake-up call on refugees.




Jeff Heinrich

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The Gazette

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The wife of deported Algerian activist Mohamed Cherfi and a handful of
other refugee advocates disrupted a national conference of 600 immigration
specialists in Montreal yesterday.

"He's not a criminal, he's an asylum seeker," Louise Boivin said of her
husband, seized March 5 from a Quebec City church and deported to the U.S.

"I speak to him every night in prison (in Buffalo, N.Y.). He's someone who
needs protection, and democracy requires that his rights be respected."

Boivin and her supporters shouted their protest at the launch of the
seventh annual Metropolis conference, a four-day gathering of researchers,
community workers and government experts on immigration.

Held at the Sheraton Hotel, the conference is funded mainly by the federal
and provincial governments.

The protesters claimed the government's immigration and refugee policies
are designed to exclude foreigners, not welcome them.

In fact, next to Australia, Canada has the highest percentage of of
foreign-born people of any country in the world, said Marc Renaud,
president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of

Eighteen per cent of Canada's 32 million people are foreign-born, he
noted. In Toronto, for example, the country's largest city, 44 per cent of
residents are first-generation immigrants.

Getting in as media representatives and student participants, the
protesters at 4 p.m. unfurled a black banner that read "Bring Mohamed
Cherfi home," and had a 10-minute shouting match with the moderator before
they left peacefully.

"They really didn't need to do what they did," commented Stephan
ReicRating 2 old, head of the Montreal-based Table de concertation des
organismes au service des personnes refugiees et immigrantes, who was on
the panel at the front of the hotel's ballroom when the protesters struck.
"They were really preaching to the converted."

Warned there would be demonstrators, federal Immigration Minister Judy
Sgro and her Quebec counterpart Michelle Courchesne did not attend the
launch as planned.

Courchesne did meet an international delegation of 40 youth leaders for an
hour before the event, but left before the opening plenary, a spokesperson

After the protesters left, Sgro's deputy minister, Alfred MacLeod, told
the audience the surprise outburst had given the conference "a sense of
reality and a sense of urgency."

Asked afterward to comment on Cherfi's case, he refused. "The individual
in question is no longer in the country," MacLeod said. "No comment."

For more on the conference, consult the Metropolis Web site at




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