The National Post reports that a Chinese migrant seeking refugee status in Canada, because he faced persecution in China for his Christian beliefs, was denied his claim because he could not describe what Jesus was “like as a person.”

Wu Xin Wang was able to note that “Jesus is the Son of God” – correct verb tense for a Christian “is” – and that “Jesus was conceived through the Holy Ghost and was born in this world” and noted Jesus is “In my heart, He is my Saviour.” However, he did not answer to Daniel McSweeney’s satisfaction the question “So tell me about Jesus as a person, what was he like?”

Despite describing underground church participation and a home visit from China’s Public Security Bureau investigating illegal Christian activities, the refugee claimant was found not to be credible on the basis of his answers to the question “What was Jesus like as a person?”

Step back and ask yourself what the average committed Canadian Christian would answer to this series of questions:

“So, tell me about Jesus as a person. What was he like?”

“I am not asking who he was or what he did. I am asking what is he like as a person?”

“Anybody could memorize a creed and recite the creed. I want to know what you believe and what you know of Jesus as a person.”

“Tell me what Jesus is like as a person and this is the last time I am going to ask you.”

I’m not sure I would have done much better than Wu Xin Wang. What about you?

If you lived in a country where Christians are routinely rounded up and imprisoned, even tortured, for their associations, without being asked to state their beliefs, would you admit publicly (even in another country) to believing how Jesus was conceived and that He is the Son of God and had become your personal Saviour?

While it seems reasonable to make enquiry about an individual’s religious beliefs when that is the ground on which refugee status is claimed, is it reasonable that the individual rise to a level of expression about those beliefs – cultural, language and fear barriers in place – that satisfies the expectation of one person? Remember, Wu Xin Wang is from a country where the very answers he gave if given to one person who did not share his faith, even if not in a position of authority, could easily have resulted in imprisonment, hard labour and potentially torture for himself and family members.

Sadly, instead of reflecting on the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, in which the court noted that judicial bodies are not to enquire into the depths of personal belief once the belief itself can be established from the evidence presented, Judge David Near of the Federal Court, who was hearing the appeal of Mr. McSweeney’s decision concluded, “This court cannot, on judicial review, decide to, in effect, reweigh the results of what can begin to look like a round of Bible-trivia.” Appeal courts might not reweigh evidence, but judges are responsible to consider errors in law and correct application of Charter values, i.e. religious belief requirements as determined by the Supreme Court of Canada.

I agree with Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees who suggested questions more in line with the Supreme Court’s comments in Amselem.

“If it is unclear what the correct answer is, how can that be an appropriate test?” she asked.

Ms. Dench said a better way to gauge a refugee claimant’s credibility is to ask them about their experience: Where do you worship? What happens there? How often do you go?

I’ve been in a lot of churches where the question “what Jesus was like as a person” might have been answered with a Bible story, a statement of personal belief (as Wu Xin Wang did) or a recollection of an image from Sunday School – long blonde hair and blue eyes in some, dark hair and brown eyes in others. I suspect none of these would have met the immigration board test. With religious persecution happening in over half of the world’s nations to hundreds of millions of people, it seems past the time when Canada’s immigration review officers should be sensitive to how to handle such claims.

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