Traditionally, English criminals could seek refuge from the law in churches. I suppose the underlying idea had something to do with Christian concepts of mercy and redemption. Nevertheless, English law ceased to recognize church sanctuary in the 17th century, before there was even much British settlement in Canada. This makes it rather surprising that a deserter from the US army is claiming sanctuary in a United Church in Vancouver right now, and is apparently being allowed to get away with it:
For more than three years, U.S. Army deserter Rodney Watson has staved off deportation using nothing more than the brick walls of Downtown Vancouver’s First United Church — and the unwritten biblical code of “sanctuary.”
Thus, when border officials spotted Mr. Watson “off property” during a routine check of the building Tuesday, they saw fit to make their move.
Seeing the officers approach, an elderly friend of Mr. Watson rushed in to fight them off, allowing the 35-year-old to foil their pursuit and slip back over the church’s threshold.
But why should a secular nation have any respect whatsoever for “the church’s threshold”? Surely the police ought to barge into the church, grab Watson, and send him back to the United States.
Unfortunately, there’s a little more to it than that:
In October, a source close to Mr. Lennikov guessed that church sanctuary enjoyed tacit approval because it provides “breathing room” for both the CBSA [Canadian Border Services Agency] and would-be deportees.
“The person seeking sanctuary avoids deportation and [CBSA] doesn’t ‘have’ to do what they really don’t want to do, namely, deport someone [who] appeals to the populace,” they wrote in an email to the Post.
“Sanctuary is, in a word, a way of ‘icing the puck’ and stopping play for a time.”
However, the integrity of Canada’s borders is hardly a game. The unwillingness of the police to arrest Rodney Watson seems like a result of the confluence of three unhealthy factors: excessive deference to religion, a lack of police officers who actually have the nerve to do their job, and a public that seems prepared to viscerally sympathise with anyone who can plausibly present himself or herself as a victim. The sooner this sorry farce ends, the better.