Will Canada Admit "Nancy"?

Mar 06, 2003 01:33 PM EST

Even as one "door" closes, another may be opening in the case of "Nancy," the Iranian woman seeking refugee status in Canada because of her fear that, as a Christian convert, she will be jailed or killed if forced to return to her homeland.

Predominantly Muslim Iran is known to permit harsh treatment of those who convert to Christianity, although officially it allows a person to be a Christian, according to Nancy's pastor, Rev. Harold Ristau, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, a Missouri Synod congregation in Montreal.

"Nancy" is a pseudonym, to help protect the woman's identity in case she is denied refugee status and deported.

On Feb. 19, Ristau met with Gaetan Cousineau, vice president of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), and IRB attorney Francois Guilbault to discuss whether the board could help get Nancy classified as a refugee.

Following the meeting, Ristau wrote in an e-mail to the LCMS "Reporter" newspaper that "[Cousineau's] message was clear and simple, that the IRB, as an independent panel, is unable to do anything else in regard to Nancy's case. Her case is closed."

At issue was whether the IRB would be able to overturn or circumvent a ruling handed down last year by an immigration-authority judge. In effect, that ruling said that Nancy was not in danger in Iran since she was, in fact, not a convert to Christianity.

Since that ruling, Nancy has been in danger of being deported from Canada to Iran, from which she emmigrated two years earlier.

At the time, Ristau contested the judge's ruling, stating that Nancy is one of the most-active communicant members of his congregation. Since then, he has remained active in Nancy's case, soliciting media publicity and organizing a letter-writing campaign on her behalf. It was, he suggested in a separate e-mail to "Reporter," the letters of support that prompted the IRB to request the Feb. 19 meeting.

"The good news," continued Ristau's Feb. 19 e-mail, "is that they suggested that the immigration minister is aware of her case and is open to relooking at it (as he, ultimately, has the final say) and that `she has a pretty good chance' [of remaining in Canada as a refugee]."

And, wrote Ristau, "although Cousineau was not prepared to admit that the panel member [judge] in question made serious errors in regard to her decision regarding Nancy, he did say that, through this case, they have learned that their panel members need more training in the field of religion. They promised us that they are in the process of educating the panel members."

Ristau has requested "letters of support and conviction concerning Nancy's confession" be sent to Ascension Lutheran Church, 865 Rue Jarry Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, H3N 1G8, Canada. Ristau will forward them to the IRB.

By Albert H. Lee
[email protected]