Lucy Lu faces renewed threat of expulsion

By Annette Phillips
Local News - Friday, August 06, 2004 @ 07:00

Lucy Lu, the Chinese immigrant who won a stay of deportation after locking herself inside Calvary Bible Church, is once again facing the threat of expulsion from Canada.

Lu — her formal Chinese name is Kwai Kwan Zhao – is tangled in a red-tape roadblock that will see her temporary residency permit expire before she can obtain the pardon that would let her stay in the country permanently.

“If I don’t have an extension, I don’t know what to do,” Lu said in an interview.

The soft-spoken 47-year-old was ordered deported in January 1990, a year after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter following the death of her first husband in China, a crime that means automatic deportation. When immigration officials tried to remove her from the country, the congregation of Calvary Bible Church gave Lu sanctuary in the church while lawyers, politicians and supporters fought to overturn the deportation order.

The federal government doesn’t enter churches to forcibly remove refugees, although the future of such sanctuary is in doubt. Canada’s new immigration minister, Judy Sgro, said last week she is considering changes to that policy and warned church leaders against providing sanctuary to refugees.

After 16 months in the church, Lu was granted temporary residency in March 2002 by immigration minister Denis Coderre.

Lu was given a minister’s permit that granted a three-year reprieve from deportation. The stay was granted on the condition Lu seek, and receive, a pardon for her crime from the National Parole Board no later than March 2005.

So far, she has been unable to apply for that pardon. Federal rules say Lu can’t submit a pardon application, or apply for the necessary paperwork, until her murder sentence was fully expired. The sentence expired in March.

Lu and her lawyer, Michael Mandelcorn, have been trying to acquire the papers ever since, to no avail.

Lu has written twice to the Toronto courts for some of the papers. They haven’t arrived, although Lu said yesterday she has been told they’re on their way.

A fingerprint analysis was started in March after Lu renewed the prints on file with a trip to the RCMP office in Kingston. The fingerprint report, another necessary part of the pardon application, hasn’t been sent to Lu.

Until those papers are received, the pardon application can’t be completed.

“I can’t put any [application] in until I get papers. I don’t know how long it will be. I don’t know why it has to take so long,” Lu said.

The pardon process takes between 12 and 18 months, meaning Lu’s pardon can’t be processed by the March 2005, deadline, Mandelcorn said.

As a result, Lu not only needs to go through the pardon process of the National Parole Board, but she’ll also need to apply to the immigration minister to grant an extension on the permit that gives her the temporary right to stay in Canada.

The minister has the discretion to grant or refuse an extension, Mandelcorn said.

Mandelcorn believes there might have been an informal understanding with Coderre that Lu’s stay could be extended if necessary. With a new minister in place, the extension is up in the air, he said.

“No one said the stay would be extended as a right,” Mandelcorn said.

“Technically, if we don’t have an extension, she would be deported.”

MP Peter Milliken, who has acted as an advocate for Lu since her deportation was first ordered, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Milliken’s chief of staff, Jeff Garrah, said talks have been held with the new minister’s staff about the Lu case.

Garrah hopes to set up formal meetings with the minister as soon as possible to discuss the extension of Lu’s residency permit.

Even with an extension on the residency permit, Lu could still face deportation if she fails to win a pardon from the National Parole Board.

It isn’t known if she would be allowed to seek sanctuary at her church again.

Rev. Terry Wicks, the current pastor of Calvary Bible Church, declined to be interviewed.

But Rev. Bill Duffy, who was pastor at the time of Lu’s self-imposed, 16-month imprisonment, said church members would probably grant Lu sanctuary again regardless of whether the immigration minister changes the law.

“If someone came in off the street to Calvary to plead their situation ... I don’t think the church would do that,” Duffy said. “Lucy was a very respected person in the church. She was married there. She was loved. She was part of the family.”

Parishioners have an obligation to obey the law, but they also felt a moral responsibility to intervene in what they saw as a miscarriage of justice, Duffy said.

Chinese laws allow execution or lifetime imprisonment of citizens who have committed crimes abroad, and many members of the church felt they had to intervene in order to gain Lu a chance to stay in Canada to fight her legal battle, Duffy said.

Immigration authorities wanted to deport Lu first and consider her application for residency once she was back in China.

Canadian immigration authorities, Duffy said, simply refused to listen to Lu’s case on its merits or to delve deeper into the questionable murder plea.

“Under the circumstances, I felt we had no recourse,” Duffy said of the decision to offer Lu sanctuary. “It was either that, or ship her back [to China].”

Recent reports peg the number of refugees currently in church sanctuaries at about 12.

Duffy believes Canadian church leaders will oppose Sgro’s new laws if they mean potentially innocent victims can be routed from sanctuaries.

“This is sort of making a mountain out of a molehill,” Duffy said. “The Church will oppose this. I think there is going to be loud protest.”

Lu’s husband, Darryl Gellner, said church sanctuary proved to be a crucial “cooling off” period in the battle between his wife and immigration officials who had only deportation on their minds and who kept turning down Lu’s appeals.

Lu maintains she never committed the crime. Court transcripts indicate no evidence connected her to the crime.

After several years of legal wrangling, with two mistrials behind her and with little understanding of all of the legal and immigration implications, Lu said she pleaded guilty to manslaughter to bring the ordeal to an end.

Lu served her sentence at the Prison for Women, was granted early parole and went to work in a Kingston shoe store.

Though she was under a deportation order, Immigration Canada didn’t act on the order for nearly a decade. Two weeks after she married local businessman and fellow parishioner Gellner, Lu was told she was to be deported.

Immigration officials repeatedly argued that they had no authority to consider Lu’s claims of innocence.

Because Lu pleaded guilty, Immigration Canada was forced to deport her, officials said at the time.

“These people were just looking at paper and let’s face it, Lucy looks really bad on paper,” Gellner said.

“We needed someone to hear this case on its merits.”