Actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi say they want to stay in Canada as refugees, after they were arrested in Vancouver on U.S. warrants that stem from vandalism charges in California.

The couple appeared at a Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board hearing Friday afternoon. A request was made to hold the hearing in private, CTV's Rob Brown reported, leading to speculation that the couple would apply for refugee status.

The Quaids say they are being persecuted south of the border.

Evi Quaid pleaded for a Canadian immigration adjudicator not to have them returned to the U.S. She said her husband's friends, including actors David Carradine and Heath Ledger, have been dying under suspicious circumstances and she's concerned the same fate will befall him.

"We feel our lives are in danger," she said.

She also has dangerously high blood pressure, she said, and Randy Quaid's mother is in hospital due to stress stemming from the couple's legal woes.

On Monday, authorities in California issued arrest warrants for Randy Quaid, 60, and his 47-year-old wife after they failed to appear in a Santa Barbara court for allegedly squatting in a home illegally.

The Quaids had previously owned the house in nearby Montecito, Calif. Both face felony vandalism charges after being arrested last month on suspicion they were living in the property's guest house.

Local authorities said the couple caused more than $5,000 in damage, including smashing a $7,000 mirror. After they failed to make their court appearance, a judge issued $50,000 bench warrants against them.

Celebrity bounty hunter Duane 'Dog' Chapman issued a public challenge to the couple Thursday night, urging them to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities, or face capture by the TV tough guy.

"At least do it for your wife and for how you were raised. If not, the Chapman family is coming after you," the bounty hunter said on comedian George Lopez's late night show, "Lopez Tonight."

Randy Quaid said the couple came to Canada so that he could accept an award, and that the couple had been debating moving to Vancouver.

He said the couple was not fleeing the country to avoid U.S. authorities, because they thought the warrants were issued in error and had since been withdrawn.

"I love Canada," Randy Quaid said at the hearing. "It's been a very welcoming nation to me. I would not do anything to besmirch my reputation."

The Canadian Border Services Agency is arguing that Quaids should be kept in custody due to their habit of missing court dates.

The couple failed to appear for several court dates in a previous case, in which they were accused of defrauding an innkeeper. Evi Quaid pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour count when the case was resolved earlier this year. Charges against Randy were dropped.

Randy Quaid has appeared in films such as "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "Independence Day" and "Brokeback Mountain."

Accolades for his work on-screen include a Golden Globe for his role as former U.S. president Lyndon Johnson in the 1987 TV movie "LBJ: The Early Years," and an Academy Award nomination for the 1973 film "The Last Detail."

He is the brother of actor Dennis Quaid.

With files from The Associated Press