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Gay Italian man launches social-media campaign to stay in Canada

Nicola Pavan says he faced years of bullying in his tiny hometown

“I have no words to describe how different things are here,” Nicola Pavan says of Toronto.

It’s only recently that Nicola Pavan has been able to say he has a home.

Hailing from the small Italian town of Farra di Soligo, he experienced years of humiliation, assault and bullying before he moved to Toronto three months ago on a one-year working holiday visa.

“I have no words to describe how different things are here,” Pavan says. After coming through hardships that included one psychologist recommending regression therapy, he feels that he is finally home in Canada. “This is where I’m meant to be.”

But Canadian immigration law would see the 26-year-old sent back to Italy in May 2014. Falling behind many of its neighbours, Italy has no legislation that protects citizens against discrimination based on sexual orientation. “We’re stuck; there’s no progress,” Pavan says.

So, instead of waiting for his homeland to come around, he’s launched a grassroots social-media campaign to stay in Canada. The goal of the initiative? To find a Canadian employer willing to sponsor him.

Save Nicola is part resumé, part amnesty plea. “I want to have the same type of future your country allows you to have,” his website reads. “In Italy I have no future.”

Pavan has a few options for staying in the country, including marrying a Canadian or enrolling in school. But as he’s single and can’t afford to attend university for a second time, he sees employment as his only realistic option for staying here.

His decision to launch a social-media campaign is not surprising. With a background in marketing, he says that social media provided salvation when he was struggling to stay afloat in Italy. He recalls seeing online campaigns and realizing that he wasn’t alone.

“[I’ve watched] every It Gets Better video on the internet, and they all make me cry . . . and I hope I will be able to make one of those videos, too,” he says.

Unfortunately for Pavan, passion might not count for as much as he’s hoping.

“He’s doing himself a disservice by focusing on the fact that he’s gay and his hardships,” says Toronto employment recruiter Cathy Preston.

Legally, employers can’t give non-Canadians preferential treatment solely because they sympathize with their cause. “Fundamentally, we and our clients don’t care that he’s gay,” Preston says. “We don’t care. It’s irrelevant.” Instead, would-be Canadians have to prove that they fill a role that no Canadian applicant can, and that’s what Preston says Pavan should be focusing on: the purse strings, not the heart strings.  

“This isn’t an emotional topic, really and truly.”

Having reviewed his campaign, Preston does think Pavan has professional assets that are in high demand and suggests he leverage his past hardships by showing that they’ve equipped him with even more employable skills: perseverance, flexibility, sensitivity and empathy.

Immigration lawyer Michael Battista says there’s legitimacy in Pavan’s campaign. “It’s good for him to do something proactive . . . as opposed to something more drastic, like this 14-year-old who killed himself” — a reference to the Rome teenager who recently took his life because of homophobic abuse.

But Battista, who specializes in LGBT immigration issues, says he’s not sure the campaign will be effective since the onus ultimately falls on employers, whose hands are tied by federal hiring policies. Instead, he suggests Pavan apply to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which grant asylum to people who “would suffer excessive hardship if they had to return to their home country.”

According to Battista, roughly 30 percent of applicants are granted stays through this avenue. However, Pavan was advised by his legal counsel that he didn’t qualify for this, even saying that he could face deportation should his file be rejected, which is why he’s focusing on immigration through employment.

But regardless of how, Pavan just wants to stay in Canada. “My life here could be way better than where I’m from,” he says.

When asked to describe his idea of home, he takes a minute to gather his thoughts and says, “[It’s] a place where I feel safe, where I don’t have to hide any part of myself and where I am loved for who I am.” And after all these years, he feels he’s finally home in Canada.