By Neil Armstrong
|From left: Sebastian Commock, Alexander Joseph and Jeff Lopez of the Canadian Legacy Refugee Alliance (CLRAA).|
Several legacy claimants – many LGBTQ refugees from the Caribbean – are walking with more confidence now that their five-year wait is over and they recently had successful hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).
Executive members of the support group, Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy Alliance (CLRAA), say they have been hearing happiness in the voices of those who contacted them after the hearings.
Refugee claims referred to the IRB before December 15, 2012– are what it calls "legacy claims” – and many claimants felt forgotten when the Stephen Harper-led government changed the system.
The IRB said although most of these claims were heard before the new refugee determination system took effect on December 15, 2012, there were some claims that had not yet been heard.
The hearings started on September 18 at the IRB in downtown Toronto, and among those who were successful is Alex, 49, of Saint Lucia who had his on September 29.
He said the adjudicator was very polite and made him feel very comfortable.
She asked him some questions for about 15 minutes and then asked his lawyer if he had any questions. The lawyer did, and after statements from a witness, the decision was made after 30 minutes.
Within an hour Alex’s hearing was done and he walked out of the IRB heaving a sigh of relief – the 5-year wait was over and he was successful.
Alex came to Canada on September 9, 2012 and filed a refugee claim on October 18.
“The final decision was very relieving. I actually had tears of joy on hearing those words that we consider you a conventional refugee deserving of Canada’s protection.”
He said every year he wondered if he would hear these words welcoming him to this country. Upon hearing them he cried.
“I couldn't stay there anymore. The biggest reason, I was being threatened in the community where I lived and another reason was extortion. The culminating thing was that two of my friends were arrested because they were caught having sex with someone in their car and they made the news for two weeks, their pictures on the television screen,” he said regarding his reason for fleeing his homeland.
Alex said through his 44 years of living in Saint Lucia “it was like 44 years of torture.”
“I mean I had some good times, but in terms of my sexuality and how people treated me, very terrible.”
Alex said he had given up before the formation of CLRAA, especially after he and a friend visited the office of his Member of Parliament to seek help in the matter but got none and left feeling frustrated.
He said CLRAA uplifted his spirit and made him feel a lot better than the “very dark time” that he was experiencing.
“When you listen to how people express how the group has impacted them that is enough to give you the drive to continue. Literally, right now the way I feel, if someone cries, the tears come to my eyes. If they smile, I’m smiling with them. I feel like I’m a person that’s in this situation,” says Jamaica-born Sebastian Commock, an executive member of CLRAA.
Commock met with Gaétan Cousineau, head of the legacy task force, a few times over the summer and was told that legacy claimants would be contacted.
“Seeing the people’s faces and just being with them and being able to help them really makes me feel good,” says Jeff Lopez, another CLRAA executive member.
Alex said since he got his hearing date he wasn’t sleeping much and was waking up after four hours but on the night of his hearing he slept for almost eight hours.
“I have been sleeping well ever since,” he said, hoping also that legacy claimants will not have to wait 18 months but can be fast tracked for their permanent resident cards.
He said CLRAA has a WhatsApp group of 30 people that provided him with positive energy and support on the day of his hearing.
Last year, several Caribbean and African LGBTQ refugee claimants who have been in Canada since 2011 and 2012 shared their frustration at the long wait time to resolve their situation with the Weekly Gleaner. Many felt that their lives were in limbo.
El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer, representing many Caribbean clients who have legacy cases – most of whom are Jamaicans – said almost all of the cases are either sexual orientation or gender-based, so LGBT people or women fleeing some kind of domestic violence situation.
While answering a question at an event organized by Operation Black Vote Canada and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals on July 27 in Toronto, Ahmed Hussen, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship said changes to the refugee system made by former minister, Jason Kenney, in 2012 had really disadvantaged some refugee claimants.
“Through no fault of their own these people’s lives are in limbo and they’re called legacy refugees. There used to be about 20,000. We’ve reduced them to about 5-6,000 people. And I have been very, very, involved in this issue,” said Hussen, noting that he meets the chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, Mario Dion, almost on a monthly basis.
Hussen said he was assured by Dion that all the 5,600 cases will be cleared in less than two years “so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”