Saturday, 22 October 2016

Choreographer to showcase dancehall theatre in Vancouver

Choreographer to showcase dancehall theatre in Vancouver
By Neil Armstrong

A Jamaican dancehall choreographer, who presented the world premiere of his solo production in February in Toronto, is now part of a new dance company based in Vancouver and will introduce dancehall theatre to the city.

Over the last weekend in October, Mikhail Morris, 27, who produced “Dichotomy” at the Harbourfront Centre and had been teaching dancehall at City Dance Corps in Toronto, will premiere “Dancehall Donz & Divaz: Blood, Sweat, and Tears” in Canada’s third largest city.

Using dancehall vocabulary as a foundation, Morris said he grew up around dancehall culture and has seen how people fought to celebrate it.

He has performed with several Toronto-based dance companies, including Ballet Creole, COBA, KasheDance, Newton Moreas, and Nafro.

A dancer for 16 years, Morris said he wants to create opportunities for others to tell their story through their culture, history, technique and style.

Four months ago, he flew to Vancouver where he is working with Judy Madarasz at
Ketch Di Vybz (KDV), a company founded in 2015 and which they co-own with Madarasz as the marketing director and Morris as artistic director.

The new dance production promises to show what it feels like to live in the inner city and rural areas of Jamaica, as well as to “communicate the root of all the pain and poverty: the history of slavery in Jamaica.”

“The Donz and Divaz, played by our diverse cast, represent the men and women who fight each and every day through authenticity to protect their loved ones, culture, and ancestors who paved the way for them. By providing the backstory and cultural education on Jamaica and dancehall, this first production is the foundation for many future dancehall theatre shows to be produced by Ketch Di Vybz,” a press release said.

It will run on October 28 and 29 at the Faris Theatre in The Dance Centre in Vancouver.

The cast includes Morris, Kirby Rae Snell, Sophia Gamboa, Orin McRey, Shawn Cheng, Alyssa Amarshi, Martina Stancekova, and Colleen Cassidy.

Ketch Di Vybz notes that dancehall theatre showcases the diverse demographics of Jamaican society expressed through dance movements, emotions, and creative concepts.

It says dancehall culture is mostly known for its music and dance in mainstream entertainment yet there is much more richness to the culture to be shared.

“Dancehall theatre strives to educate deeper on the authentic histories, meanings, and realities of what dancehall and Jamaican culture is truly about,” it said.

It said dancehall is an entire lifestyle and culture that stems from the realities of pain and poverty in Jamaican society.

“To understand dancehall requires an understanding of authentic Jamaican culture and life,” it said.

The company has expanded to include dance training, dance theatre, artist and dance tour management, events, film, and photography.

It specializes in Jamaican Dancehall dance, Afro Contemporary, and West African dance.

The mission of Ketch Di Vybz is to fuel the passion, appreciation, and understanding of Jamaican culture, to uplift and authentically represent the dancehall dance genre, and to create innovative works of art and experiences that push humanity forward and inspire the next generation of youth.

Friday, 14 October 2016

LGBTI Rights in Jamaica and Uganda discussed at Toronto Reference Library

LGBTI Rights in Jamaica and Uganda discussed at Toronto Reference Library
By Neil Armstrong
Left-right: Marcia Young of World Report, CBC Radio, moderator of the conversation with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG, and Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

It was an enlightening conversation at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library on Wednesday night (Oct. 12) when the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network presented “One Love – LGBTI Rights in Jamaica” which explored these rights in Jamaica and Uganda.

Moderated by Marcia Young, host of World Report, CBC Radio, the dialogue was with three leading activists in the struggle for LGBT rights: Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda, author of “In Defense of All God’s Children,” whose brave efforts to advance human rights for LGBT people in his country is chronicled in the film "God Loves Uganda,” Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), who led the successful Pride celebrations in Kingston, and Maurice Tomlinson of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, who gave an update on the network’s challenge to Jamaica's anti-sodomy law.

Just before the conversation, sisters Marguerite Orane and Carole Orane, hosted the “One Love Meet & Greet” with the speakers.

Earlier this week Bishop Senyonjo and Lewis were in Ottawa where they met with Giuliana Natale, Director of Inclusion and Religious Freedom at Global Affairs Canada.

Tomlinson, Bishop Senyonjo, and others are now in Jamaica for the second Montego Bay Pride on October 16.

Bishop Senyonjo, 84, said when a group of young LGBTQ people initially came to him to talk about their sexual orientation he listened to them.

“And when I did, I realized that they knew that they were gay, then I said to them accept yourselves for what you are. This was really good news to them because they felt that even God did not love them. But they knew me as a senior man in the church who had already served for 24 years as a bishop and to hear this they almost couldn’t believe their ears. But I knew this was the truth and I felt happy that these young people felt relieved when they left.”

Asked how he responded to people who heard that he was an advocate for the LGBTQ community in Uganda, Senyonjo said: “The way I’ve been doing this was to listen to them and continue to interact with them, and I’ve done this which has been very important because as I interact and share they’re coming to understand the other side. Many of them, and they still today believe that humans were created to be just heterosexuals, but now more people understand that human beings are not just heterosexuals, they’re also LGBTQ, and this is wonderful to many people but this news is being shared. And education, to me, is very very important.”

The clergyman and campaigner for LGBTQ rights in Uganda, who has faced many challenges because of his advocacy, said there is ignorance about human sexuality and he is quite convinced with the counseling and experience that he has that people don’t realize that the purpose of human sexuality is multi-purposed.

“At this point, I would like to mention procreation, of course. Without procreation none of us would be here but along with procreation there is companionship – you need somebody to keep company – then of course there’s pleasure in sex, pleasure which many people fear to talk about. Sex was meant to be pleasurable.”

He said in his interaction with people he has found that if people do not accept themselves it affects their creativity.

“When people are integrated their sexuality is really part of them, they know who they are and accept themselves. They become more creative. If they’re artists, they become better artists. If they’re scientists, they become more scientists. If you’re religious, you become even more religious. So therefore if people understood this, we shouldn’t be homophobic.”

Bishop Senyonjo started the St. Paul’s Reconciliation and Inequality Centre in Kampala “to end the stigma and to create some kind of understanding between the LGBTQ community and straight,” noted Young.

He said the work of the centre still goes on and because they have insisted, he has seen some progress and change of attitude so there’s hope.

Bishop Senyonjo said there are still people who are being persecuted and they have to move from where they were living in homes because of the potential of harm from those who may find out that “they are not straight.”
He said some of them are finding programs but there is a need to build dialogue with people.
“My organization is trying to have seminars and now we’re trying to build a centre where we can house people who’re being displaced because they’re not finding it easy in the community where they were, and have seminars where we have dialogue with the clergy.”

At end of October, the centre will hold a seminar to which the clergy has been invited. He has left a team of young people in Kampala organizing the event while he is on his visit to Canada and Jamaica.

“So that we have dialogue. In a dialogue, you listen to people and you listen to their views and you share. You’re not forcing them to believe this or that but during that process something is happening – the attitudes change. And because we believe that we know the truth, the truth will not die.”

Bishop Senyonjo knew LGBTQ rights activist, David Kato, who was killed in 2011 shortly after being outed by a newspaper in Uganda.

“He valued and defended human rights. I worked with David, even at my centre when I had just started counseling. He believed in what he was and in the rights of other people. He spoke out and he died, to me, as a martyr. So his death is not in vain. People have not denied being homosexual because David died but they’ve known and respect themselves to be what they are because that’s how God created them.”

Alluding to his book in which a gay man who has suffered a lot said he would continue to advocate the rights of LGBTQ people, Senyonjo said, “We cannot deny who we are, what you are. You have to learn to live with the diversity, with the differences. So Kato has taught us things. He’s dead but he’s still living and speaking.”

“What happens to us in Uganda affects the rest of the world,” said Bishop Senyonjo when asked about the importance of the meeting he had at Global Affairs Canada.

“The world is really one whether we like it or not. As I see it, God is working wonders in the way humans are developing, even different technology. The technology which many beings have developed are showing that we who are made in the image of God – we are one. We should learn from each other. This knowledge shouldn’t just be superficial but knowledge should help us to know that as we are one, we’re different and what is good for one people is also good for the others. Accepting our differences is the human essence. If we as humans don’t accept this, the development we’ve had will be destroyed. We’re going to destroy ourselves. But we have tremendous opportunities for us if we learn to live together – not fight each other because we’re different.”

Uganda is one of 78 countries in the world that has anti-sodomy laws.

“Pride for us is not a parade, they’re other ways to celebrate our diversity as a community. And when we were thinking about it, one of the things I agreed with my team is we’re not going to attempt to do a parade. Jamaica isn’t ready. I think we would have more allies out in the street from the community, for one, and I don’t think there would be enough police protection,” said Lewis.

He said years ago in Jamaica when there was talk of a parade, men were in a busy thoroughfare with machetes and shovels.

For Pride Week last year, they organized an Open Mic Night to showcase the creativity of the LGBTI community and held various activities.

“This year as we highlighted ‘bigger, better, bolder’ we started off with a Sports Day and for me that was awesome, in terms of the turn out of the community, which shows a great trust in J-FLAG as an organization that is shifting from just an organization to a movement. I think we’ve been building up that kind of atmosphere,” Lewis said.

They started off the Sports Day with cheerleading, then netball, track & field events which drew over 600 people and was held near an inner city community where LGBTQ people have been beaten and kicked out.

Lewis said people felt safe to attend the event because they knew that there was security, which was very encouraging.

“The community had been taking lots of risks. In the last ten years, we have come out and claim space and we have to attribute a lot of the shift and change to those who have been able to put their face out there, in whatever way, and certainly the trans community must be applauded for helping to shift that conversation as well. When you create the space they will show up.”

Speaking about creating spaces, Lewis spoke of traversing the same spaces all the time and creating relationships with people.

“You build those relationships. Once they get to see you as, not the pedophile that they assume many of us are, all the stereotypes get broken down and you get to humanize the reality of the LGBT community. That’s basically how many of us have claimed space over time – just building those relationships, people get to see us as human beings, as individuals with the same desire for love and affection, education, secure housing, etc.”

Young referenced the documentary, “The Abominable Crime,” directed by Micah Fink in 2013, which mentioned that 82% of Jamaicans considered homosexuality to be morally wrong.

Asked what was the reality today, Lewis said: “Morality still factors in how people perceive the community and certainly religion plays a huge role in how people perceive different things, sexuality included. Some of that is stripping away.”

He said because of the evangelical movement, Jamaica has not facilitated the kind of conversation that “allows every family to experience that love and affection regardless.”


Bishop Senyonjo said the Christian Right has a certain way to look at the bible, which usually involves its proponents quoting sections of the bible without context.

He said many would be quick to mention Sodom and Gomorrah and homosexuality but would refuse to examine Ezekiel 16:49 to relate the two.

 “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” [Ezekiel 16:49]
According to Senyonjo they go on quoting the bible, Leviticus and so on, “and because people don’t like to see what is really the bible. Are you reading it just superficial, was it meant to bear on the human issues and realize that God still reveals himself? There is still revelation going on. And then we have to learn from what is being discovered that our faith should seek understanding.”
“God is a God of love but quite often people forget that,” the bishop said.
Lewis said, sadly, the Christian Right “are taking their fight to where their issues will take root.”

“They’re leaving spaces where they’ve lost, like Canada and the US, and they’ve come to spaces where, as I raised in Jamaica, that religion factors hugely in how people’s lives are shaped. That’s really what they’ve used.”

He said in Jamaica when Javed Jaghai was the claimant in the first-ever case that came before the court that was subsequently withdrawn, there were 13 churches that filed against the claimant.

“They since had two big rallies in Half Way Tree,” he said, noting that they claimed they had 100,000 people (estimates were about 25,000).

‘That’s a signal to our politicians, unfortunately, the kind of influence that the church has. So that’s really what they’ve used sort of as their sticking point, their bit of leverage to sort of restrict the conversation,” said Lewis.

He said the Christian Right have shut down the conversation and have not facilitated “any proper dialogue where we can actually talk about the things that are of common interest, and which is, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to strike up that kind of…but they left spaces where they’ve lost and come to what is fertile ground in the Caribbean and spaces in Africa to carry a message of hate and exclusion.”

Bishop Senyonjo said the battle goes on and the fight back includes education.

Lewis said the Christian Right is shutting down conversations about sexuality in schools and in children’s homes where there is a lot of sexual abuse and a lot of experimentation.

Identifying areas of need, Lewis said unfortunately there are still a lot of young people being kicked out of homes and communities because it’s “the young people who are willing to come out at whatever age right now and they’re just being very bold about it. As I say, claiming space, but certainly the young people and the trans community have helped to push the envelope in the last 5 years.”

Lewis said there is a growing homeless community and J-FLAG has not been able to raise enough funds to be able to own a space, and he thinks that’s the only way they will be able to get it done.

He said interventions have been done around counseling and trying to provide psychosocial support.

Lewis also wants to facilitate in spaces the kinds of conversations that are going to be empowering to LGBT youth.

“For us, Pride is also about creating space for the community to be themselves outside of a party party, outside of having sex, apparently those are the only times we can form our identity. Unfortunately, how you live your life in certain spaces is supposed to be relegated to behind closed doors. What does that mean? And so we need to understand that there are other ways to express who you are that’s not just about sex or about party.”

Lewis noted that colour and class play a lot in how life is navigated.

He acknowledged that people’s response to his leadership of J-FLAG is different because of his skin colour and assumptions of his class status and surnames sometimes make a difference too.

“That certainly has a lot to do with how people experience life, unfortunately,” he said.

Tomlinson said he thinks he needs to lend his voice to the LGBTI community and the work that is going on in Jamaica.

“There’s a lot of work going on as Dane has described but I think I have privilege and I can use it. The privilege I have is that I have resources, I have the ability to go and come, I have a face and a name that won’t jeopardize me or my family any more. They’re people who can’t be as visible as I can be. I also, at some point, plan to retire to Jamaica,” he said.

Referencing Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law passed in 1864, Tomlinson said it was imposed as a British colonial product and sentences “men, principally, to up to 10 years in prison for same gender intimacy and this can include anything, including holding hands in the privacy of your bedroom. You cannot consent to this,” he said noting that men can be charged for either buggery or gross indecency.

He said in 2011, Jamaica updated the law by adding a requirement to the Sexual Offences Act that “if you’re convicted under this 1864 law, you must now be registered as a sex offender, you must carry a pass and if you’re without this pass you face a JA$1million fine plus up to 12 months in prison for each offence.”

“We’ve tried in Jamaica to insulate this law from any form of judicial review but we, at the network, and with our partners have found a way to get around that. The challenge also is that in 2011 we updated the Constitution to also ban any form of same gender relationship.”

Tomlinson said this is a clear example of the western imposition of this anti-gay agenda.

“We in Jamaica don’t care about marriage per se, 85% of our population is born out of wedlock.”

He said this wasn’t an issue for the LGBT community or for most of the heterosexual community.

“Common law marriage was the way things were done but now, in addition to this criminalization and this registration as sex offenders, we also have this ban on any form of same gender relationships. We are challenging right now the law criminalizing same gender intimacy,” said Tomlinson.

Regarding his court challenge of a decision by three television stations in Jamaica not to air an advertisement calling for respect of the rights of homosexuals, he said the basis of the claim was that the refusal violated his rights under the new Charter which Jamaica adopted in 2011.

It allowed him to sue a television station privately for violating his right of freedom of expression and access to the media.

He said the court did not agree that the television stations violated his rights but for the first time the court ruled that even though the Charter does not specifically protect LGBT people, “it is to be assumed that because we’re Jamaicans we’re entitled to all the rights of the Constitution. So that gives us a win to take to other cases.”

He said the court also acknowledged that private citizens can sue other private citizens for violations of their rights.

Tomlinson said they are now awaiting a decision from the Court of Appeal in this matter.

With regard to this question from Young, “Is it an imposition to say to the Jamaican judiciary and legislators, this is how it ought to be done?” – Tomlinson said when he speaks to Jamaican and Canadian politicians, he adopts a quick acronym, ARB.

“You need to acknowledge as Canadians that a lot of the homophobia we’re experiencing in the global south comes from the global north, we also need to acknowledge that in the global north we still have challenges here, let’s not pretend that it’s perfect. We also need to respect the elected leaders in the global south because sometimes in our exuberance, our political leaders here can say the wrong things and they can exacerbate the situation, as happened in Uganda, a government minister in Canada spoke out against the situation in Uganda to the Speaker of the House, Mrs. Kadaga and she was so incensed at how the matter was dealt with that she went back and pushed through the anti-homosexuality bill. So, please respect the leaders. As I’ve said before, they’re bastards but they are our bastards so please respect our political process because it’s a mark of respect for us as a people. We’re working on them. As Dane will tell you there’s a lot of backdoor dialogue, discussions that you may not know.”

“And, respect the local people on the ground because they are doing work, they don’t need to be saved” said Tomlinson.

His advice is to engage decision makers/politicians with positives not negatives as people will be more willing to listen.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network promotes the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and internationally, through research and analysis, advocacy and litigation, public education and community mobilization.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A Different Booklist wins the Premier's ace award for the Arts

A Different Booklist wins the Premier’s ace award for the Arts
By Neil Armstrong
Miguel San Vicente and Itah Sadu, owners of A Different Booklist speaking at the Premier's Awards for Excellence in the Arts at the Art Gallery of Ontario on October 5, 2016. Photo credit: Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport

Left-right:Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario; Eleanor McMahon, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport; Itah Sadu and Miguel San Vicente, owners of A Different Booklist; and Han Dong, MPP for Spadina-Trinity at the Premier's Awards for Excellence in the Arts at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Photo credit: Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport

An intellectual hub in the African Canadian community, A Different Booklist, an independent bookstore and literary cultural destination in Toronto, won the Arts Organization Award last night at the Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts.

Two African Canadian poets, George Elliott Clarke and Dwayne Morgan, were among the finalists for the Individual Artist Award.

At a reception held at the Art Gallery of Ontario on October 5, Premier Kathleen Wynne honoured the winners of the 10th annual awards presentation.

The other winners are Indigenous artists, Christi Belcourt and Christian Chapman.

The awards program recognizes outstanding artists and arts organizations for their contributions to Ontario’s vibrant arts and culture sector.

“Ontario’s art sector reflects the drive, talent and diversity of our province. I am honoured to recognize the outstanding winners and finalists of the 10th annual Premier’s Awards for their passion, dedication and commitment to excellence. Thank you for enriching our daily lives and inspiring us all,” said Premier Wynne.

A Different Booklist is respected nationally and internationally for its specialty in books by African-Canadian and Caribbean writers.

“It’s a great honour. It recognizes that the bookstore has become a key important institution for our community, that it’s irreplaceable to have an institution like this which represents the traditions, the culture, the history of our people, housed in a bookstore. And that is why a bookstore is so important to our community and to the wider public because where else would they go to find evidence of that cultural history,” says Miguel San Vicente, co-owner with his wife, Itah Sadu of the bookstore.

He says the bookstore allows “our young people to have access to that and allows our scholars to have a place to present their literature to the community outside the academic word. It also allows for a space for new and emerging authors to display their works.”

Since everything in life is connected to books, A Different Booklist also serves as a meeting point and hub where generations and ideas can intersect, as well as a
catalyst for multiple conversations.

From across the province to across Canada and beyond, the bookstore’s focus on diversity, equity and social justice has enabled it to partner with and support innovative diverse literary projects, reflecting the Canadian mosaic.

The small local bookstore has become an engaging space and gathering place for many in the Black and Caribbean communities in Toronto, and is now known as A Different Booklist Cultural Centre.

Recently, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, the bookstore held the 4th annual Black and Caribbean Book Affair and honoured the legacy of the strident and pioneering newspaper, Contrast, at 28 Lennox Street in Toronto.

Contrast, founder by Al Hamilton of Edmonton, Alberta, was known as “the eyes, ears and voice of the Black community” and existed from 1969-1991.

A Different Booklist is also involved with an exhibition, Welcome to Blackhurst Street,” which will open on October 15 and runs until November 27 at Markham House in Mirvish Village.

Curated by designer, Chinedu Ukabam, it is an exhibition that commemorates and celebrates the Black history of Bathurst and Bloor using archival material and original artwork.

“The exhibition also examines the current state of the community and its future role in shaping our City. Conceptualized as an immersive exploration of black artistry, activism, and entrepreneurship the installation weaves together elements of visual art, photography, archival documents, video, sound, and found objects from the Contrast Archives, Honest Ed’s, the Mirvish Family Collection, and other sources,” notes a press release.

It is also made possible by ERA Architects, Monograph Design, and the Ontario Black History Society.

The bookstore has been behind initiatives such as the Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train Ride, the naming of a bench in honour of Gwen and Lenny Johnston – founders of Third World Books and Crafts – outside Bathurst subway station, the naming of benches to recognize the contribution of several African Canadians to the arts in Ontario at the Harbourfront Centre, an annual “Walk with Excellence” of high school students, starting at C.W. Jefferys and ending at York University – a public demonstration of student achievement, and many other ventures.

A Different Booklist also played a seminal role in the Toronto Public Library naming a collection that was the brainchild of veteran librarian, Dr. Rita Cox – the “Rita Cox and Caribbean Heritage Collection.”

Belcourt is a Michif (Métis) visual artist and author whose ancestry originates from the Métis historic community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. She won the Individual Artist Award.

Like generations of Indigenous artists before her, she celebrates the beauty of the natural world while exploring nature’s symbolic properties.

Her work can be found in the public collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Gabriel Dumont Institute, the Indian and Inuit Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian Museum of History and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

In 2014 she won the Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award and in 2016 was named an inaugural winner of the Governor General's Innovation Award.

Chapman, an Anishinaabe visual artist and filmmaker from Fort William First Nation, was honoured as Emerging Artist of the Year.

Using storytelling as a main theme, his two-dimensional, mixed-media artwork includes
computer-manipulated images, painting, drawing and printmaking.

“The winners of this year’s Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts exemplify the talent, passion and vitality that Ontario’s arts community is known for. Congratulations on this well- deserved honour, and thank you for all you do to inspire us, challenge us and bring beauty to our lives,” said Eleanor McMahon, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

The Premier’s Awards are open to artists and arts organizations engaged in any
professional arts practice in Ontario whose artistic work or service spans a significant period of time.

“Congratulations to Christi Belcourt, A Different Booklist, and Christian Chapman on receiving the 10th annual Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. Each of this year’s winners show how the arts can bring together communities, draw attention to crucial issues, and inspire us to see the world from new perspectives. My thanks to them, and all of this year’s finalists, for their outstanding work,” said Rita Davies, Chair, Ontario Arts Council.

The awards are administered by the Ontario Arts Council. Winners are selected by jury, and the Emerging Artist of the Year is chosen by the winner of the Individual Artist Award.

The winning artist receives a $35,000 prize and selects an emerging artist who receives a $15,000 prize. The winning arts organization is awarded $50,000.

The culture sector adds more than $25 billion to Ontario’s economy each year and
generates about 280,000 jobs.

Nominations for the 2017 awards are being accepted until December 1, 2016. All Ontarians are invited to submit a nomination.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Long wait is cause of frustration for Caribbean LGBTQ refugee claimants

El-Farouk is an immigration and refugee lawyer in Toronto, Canada. Photo contributed
Craig Cromwell is the refugee settlement coordinator at the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) in Toronto. Photo contributed

Long wait is cause of frustration for Caribbean LGBT refugee claimants
By Neil Armstrong

Several LGBTQ refugee protection claimants from the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere, who have been in Canada since 2011 and 2012 feel that their lives are at standstill because of changes to the refugee system, which became effective in December 2012.

As a result of those changes introduced by the Stephen Harper-led government, claimants in Canada before December 15, 2012 -- known as legacy claims -- have been waiting for 5 or 4 years for a hearing from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

The IRB is an independent administrative tribunal that makes decisions on immigration and refugee matters. It decides who is a convention refugee or a person in need of protection.

“The IRB’s capacity to resolve legacy Refugee Protection Division (RPD) claims has been impacted by a growing intake of new refugee protection claims, which must be scheduled for a hearing within legislated time limits (30, 45 or 60 days from referral)‎. New referrals increased by 22%, going from 13,200 in 2014-15 to 17,000 in 2015-16,” says Anna Pape, senior communications advisor at IRB.

She notes that RPD legacy claims, which were referred before December 15, 2012, are not subject to legislated time limits and are scheduled as capacity allows. There were just under 5,800 RPD legacy claims as of the end of August 2016.


Steve, Rayan P., and Josephine – all pseudonyms – all Jamaicans, and Tamia Namakula of Uganda are among these legacy claims whose lives are being affected by the uncertainty of their situation.

Another claimant from St. Kitts and Nevis said he felt extremely frustrated and that his life is now in a limbo.

Steve, 35, came here from Jamaica in April 2012 and has been waiting for a hearing since November 30 of that year.

He says a hearing was scheduled for January 20 this year, but on the eve of that date his lawyer called and told him that the IRB had postponed the hearing, noting that when a new date is announced they will let him know.

Steve says he spoke to the registrar at IRB twice and the head of a department told him that they are “bringing back all the old members and they’re retraining them, along with the new ones, so that by November they can start having hearings for persons with legacy cases.

She could not guarantee which batch his hearing would be in and noted that they only have 15 rooms and accommodate 30 hearings each day, he said.

“It’s extreme pressure. There are times I feel depressed, knowing that you’ve been here 4 years and you’ve started to establish yourself and you don’t know if Canada is going to say yes or is going to say no. When I got the date for January I was so excited. Having to go back and relive all that ordeal that happened to me in Jamaica on the day of the hearing, when I got the news that it was postponed, to be honest, I felt suicidal.”

He said fear crept in his mind that he might have to go back to Jamaica and face the homophobia he escaped from there.

His doctor has diagnosed him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and he has been taking medication and attended counseling for it.

Steve said there are many who want to pursue education and employment opportunities but because they do not have the proper landed documents they are “barred from doing a lot of things that you would really want to do.”

There is also the concern that all of his documents will expire in June 2017 and there is a 3-month requirement of IRB for claimants to re-submit them.

They have to apply for a work permit annually which takes 41 days if done online, and 120 days by regular post, he said.

He also said refugee claimants have to apply for their social insurance number annually and there are certain basic medications that are not covered by the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) anymore.

IFHP provides limited, temporary coverage of health-care benefits to protected persons, including resettled refugees, refuge claimants, and certain other groups who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.

Rayan P., 28, came to Canada from Jamaica on September 7, 2012, and filed for refugee status one week later.

He said since the new refugee claim system came into place he has not heard much about his case except the repeated message that there is no budget and he has to wait.

“So basically, we’re just waiting, waiting, waiting and nothing has been done.”

Initially, Rayan P. thought being designated a legacy case meant his would be given priority but after waiting for 4 years, he feels disrespected.

“Basically, it is unfair I’ll say as well, because we’ve been here much longer than a lot of the people who have come into the country and are now settled as convention refugees. They have gone on to permanent resident status, now looking to apply for their citizenship.”

Rayan P. said persons who came into Canada long after he and others “are now progressing faster than us who have been here for so long contributing to the Canadian economy.”

He wants to study political science or law to pursue a legal or political career but said it is stressful for him because he does not have the means to do so as he is still a refugee claimant.

The only option that is available to legacy case claimants, he said, is to find a job paying minimum wage or a little above it to contribute to the Canadian economy by paying taxes.

“For me, personally, that has caused depression, stress, and thinking about certain things that I’ve never thought about for the majority of my life.”

He said the fear of living in Jamaica as a gay man is constantly on his mind and he has nightmares frequently about the possibility of being sent back.

Josephine, 52, also a Jamaican who came to Canada in 2012, says she is stressed and depressed and the uncertainty of her situation is causing a bit of anguish.

“You start your life, you have a job, you make roots; you lost everything back home so there’s nothing to go home to -- nothing at all, no home, nothing – and you’ve built this life. Back home you had a good job and circumstances, family and other people, you have to flee.”

Josephine said the uncertainty of her future here is “eating” her alive and causing nightmares.

Even though she has settled, started a life and has a job, she says there is no comfort for her and she feels stagnant.

Equipped with a postsecondary degree, Josephine wants to pursue another one, however, she cannot act on it because of her predicament.

Working in the social service system and watching the news, she has seen other people come in after her who have gotten their “permanent residency and health cards as they come.”

“It depresses you and you feel helpless. You feel like you’re in this void. You’re jealous but you’re also grateful that the other person get through.”

As a social worker, some of these people are her clients and she is happy for them but “inside you’re dying because you’re saying look at this, they’re going back to school, they’re buying cars, they’re buying houses and you’re just here, opportunities pass you by and I’m not getting younger.”

As a result of this, suicidal thoughts have crossed her mind and Josephine had to see a psychologist and psychiatrist, and has been on anti-depressants, anxiety, and high blood pressure medication.

She is also HIV-positive and said this kind of stress caused by an “unknown” future is not good for her health.

As a survivor of sexual abuse she has developed a phobia for nighttime and so cannot access services that are only available from some agencies at night.

In August 2012, Namakula, 27, of Kampala, Uganda arrived here and filed to become a refugee claimant.

“I received a hearing in 2014 but it was postponed. From that day I’ve never got any hearing dates,” she says, noting that her lawyer said the reason given for the postponement was that there was no member to attend to her file on that day.

Namakula said she went to adult school but when she was finished she could not go on to university or college because she needs to be a permanent resident or to be a convention refugee to get in.

She said her family in Uganda did not like her because of her sexual orientation and being a Muslim, it was really hard for her. She had to move from her community.

“I had to move to the north part of Uganda where, literally, no one knew me to hide,” she says, because the police were looking for her in her old community in central Kampala.

“News was spreading, like in newspapers, so it was getting worse, that’s why when I got a chance to come here I came immediately.”

The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), The 519, Access Alliance, and the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture have support programs for LGBTQ refugee claimants.

“In my country it was very hard to find the same person in a similar situation like you. So when you go in those groups you get people in the same situation and if they’re from the same country you feel at home,” said Namakula.

She said since the refugee rules changed she has seen many people come from her country and different countries who get their hearings and can move on.

“Right now, if you don’t have papers it’s very hard to move on. It’s very hard to do so many stuff when you don’t have even papers at all,” said Namakula who works on contract as a customer service representative.


El-Farouk Khaki is a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer who represents many of these legacy cases.

He says it’s like IRB has allocated no resources to the hearing of these cases.

“The new system that came in, in December of 2012, was supposed to be supposedly expeditious and efficient and so on and so forth, except I have cases that were postponed two years ago and have not been rescheduled, and that’s in the new system. And we can’t get them on the schedule. That’s the new system, it’s not even the legacy file.”

Khaki said a lot of times, IRB will postpone a hearing and “they’ll say there is no member available or they’ll say there’s no security certificate, we haven’t received a security certificate and so we’re postponing the hearing, and they don’t give us the new date.”

He said those ones that they don’t give him a new date for they don’t bother rescheduling them.

“So they have a whole slew of cases in the new system that are also backlogged and these are not the legacy files, these are actually in the system right now. And that also includes a lot of Caribbean cases.”

The lawyer said a significant part of his practice is Caribbean clients -- a major part of the Caribbean cases are Jamaican.

About 30-40% of Khaki’s client base is Caribbean and of this, about 50% is Jamaican.

“And, of course, the Caribbean cases are usually almost all of them are either sexual orientation or gender-based, so LGBT people or women fleeing some kind of domestic violence situation. Out of Jamaica, it’s mostly sexual orientation. Out of my Jamaican cases, I would say 98-95% are sexual orientation and only 5 or 10% are domestic violence-related,” he said.

Khaki said there is nothing much that he can do to reassure his clients and noted that there are clients waiting since 2011 for their hearing and there is nothing that he can tell them.

“Because anytime we make contact with the refugee board to schedule a hearing, they say we’ll get back to you when we have the resources to schedule them. So, basically, my clients are in complete limbo. I have a few 2011 cases and a whole bunch of 2012 cases that are still waiting.”

Khaki said legacy cases claimants have the recourse of a federal court judicial review if they want to appeal a decision of the IRB.

The new refugee appeal division is not available to the legacy file.


Pape said as of September 2015, the RPD was fully staffed for the first time with a total of 94 funded public servant decision-maker positions.

In addition, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) was able to reallocate funds internally earlier this year to increase the total number of RPD decision makers to 113. This will permit the hearing of approximately ‎17,500 new refugee protection claims within the legislated time limits.

“However, given the rising intake over the past year and ongoing resource constraints, there is also a pending inventory of new system intake (new referrals, Refugee Appeal Division and Federal Court returns) of about 12,400 cases, of which 7000 are in excess of a healthy rolling inventory,” she said.

Pape said the IRB initiated a staffing process to create an inventory of public servant RPD decision-makers who can be hired, when resources permit, to deal with both the pending inventory of new system intake (new referrals, Refugee Appeal Division and Federal Court returns) and legacy claims.

She noted that despite limited capacity and growing new intake, through the introduction of expedited processes and other strategies, in 2015-16, the RPD decided approximately 1,950 legacy claims and 13,440 new intake claims.

“In 2015-16, more than half of all new system cases decided were finalized within 3 months. The IRB recognizes the importance of timely processing and appreciates the difficulties this situation can present for legacy claimants,” she said.


Meanwhile, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is recommending the regularization of legacy claimants.

It recommends that a regulatory class be created for legacy claimants, that legacy claimants be landed if they apply and meet minimum requirements (e.g. they have worked for at least 6 months or have been in some form of education for at least 6 months in Canada), and that applicants for this class not be required to withdraw their claims.

Khaki completely agrees with all of the recommendations of the council.

“There’s this expression ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ We talk about that within the criminal justice or other areas but what about these people who are like stuck in a limbo and don’t know…and the danger of some of these cases too is the circumstances. Somebody who has been here four years, five years and things change back home, then these people that have been here in a limbo and then they have their hearings and they’re like that situation no longer exist, you can go back, or it’s been 4 years since you left and sorry the guy who you were scared of, your ex-husband or your ex-partner has maybe given up and now has moved on, so we don’t think that you have anything to be afraid of anymore.”

“It’s shameful and it’s kind of sad for these folk,” he said.

The lawyer said the Liberals promised to revisit and to remedy the deficiencies in the system and to actually roll back on some of the more oppressive aspects of the legislations that were put into place by the previous government.

“And while there has been some movement, it’s not been enough, and one of the things to fall through the cracks is the legacy files. What do you tell people who have been here for five years as to when their hearing is going to be? I’ve had people who have all sorts of degrees and qualifications who are completely stuck, not able to move forward with their lives in anyway because nobody wants to give somebody a job if they don’t know they’re going to be here.”

He knows of people who have been offered jobs and have to go for training in the US but they can’t travel so “it’s really an oppressive place to be in right now – this limbo.”

Khaki said maybe the Liberal government can allocate some resources to having these cases heard or what CCR has recommended which would actually clear a large part of that backlog of people.

He said one of those recommendations about people working for a certain period being qualified is not always possible when people only have a temporary permit to be able to actually get a job.

He has heard from people that they are applying for jobs but nobody wants to give them a job or the kinds of jobs they get are crappy, cash jobs or pay minimum wage.


In the meantime, Craig Cromwell, refugee settlement coordinator at Black CAP, guesstimates that he has about 70 clients who are legacy cases, most of whom are from the Caribbean.

“They just really frustrated. Their lives are at a standstill, whether it’s going to school to further education or finding long term employment. They don’t qualify for OSAP [Ontario Student Assistance Program], there’s many different opportunities, whether it is employment or education – they’re just ineligible to apply.”

He said many have settled and made a life for themselves and are working but it is very frustrating.

Cromwell said most of the legacy cases claimants are pretty settled so they don’t have a lot of a needs but they will check in to let him know how they’re doing with school, work, or moving somewhere.

He said many of them give back a lot to Black CAP and if they need to see a counselor about their mental health he can refer them to the culturally appropriate counseling services.

“They talk about their frustration with me when they do see me. Some of them have actually approached Black CAP to see what Black CAP could do in support of them but we’re kind of limited.”

He said Black CAP gets the same information that his clients get when they call IRB, “that Immigration Canada is saying that we need more money from the federal government to deal with this backlog. As of now, the federal government is not giving us any more money to deal with it.”

Cromwell said the situation of legacy cases has not been highlighted and it appears that they are like the forgotten group of immigrants.

There is the feeling among some that a lot of money has been invested in other refugee communities yet there is this group of asylum seekers, especially from the LGBT community, that is forgotten.

Meanwhile, on October 12, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network will present “One Love: LGBTI Rights in Jamaica,” a conversation with three leading activists in the struggle for LGBT rights.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda, author of “In Defense of All God’s Children” whose efforts are chronicled in the film, "God Loves Uganda,” Dane Lewis, executive director of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), and Maurice Tomlinson, senior policy analyst of the Legal Network will join in a dialogue moderated by veteran World Report, CBC Radio host, Marcia Young. 

The event will be held in the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. from 7:00-8:30 p.m.

It is free but registration is required at