Toronto queer artist and community member Alvaro Orozco was denied bail at a detention review on May 17 and may be deported as early as today, May 18.
Orozco, now 25, fled Nicaragua to the United States when he was 12 after, he says, his father beat him for being gay. He lived illegally in the US until 2005 and then came to Toronto. At his initial Canadian refugee hearing in October of 2006, Immigration and Refugee Board member Deborah Lamont told him via teleconference from Calgary that she didn’t believe that he is gay.
Orozco has been living in Toronto under a deportation order since October of 2007. He was arrested by Toronto police as he was waiting for a TTC bus at Ossington Station on the evening of May 13. He remains in custody at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre in Rexdale.
About 30 people gathered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto on Wednesday, May 18 for an impromptu community meeting and art show in support of Orozco. It started with a press conference in which local artists and community members emphasized the extensive relationships Orozco has built within Toronto’s queer community in the years he has lived here.
NDP MP Olivia Chow joined the meeting via Skype, saying, “He should not be deported to Nicaragua.” She added, “If I see Jason Kenney face to face today—”
Suhail Abualsameed, a community advocate and friend of Orozco, emphasized that Canada prides itself on having a reputation as a safe harbour and place of opportunity.
“This is Canada’s moment to prove that we are who we say we are,” he said. Abualsameed said that Orozco is “obviously extremely anxious.” At the same time, he added, “he’s very resilient, and he’s gone through this before.”
Orozco’s photography lined the walls of the theatre, paying tribute to his involvement in Toronto’s art community. Jumblies Theatre artistic director Ruth Howard said Orozco’s artistic contributions to the community demonstrate his creative potential.
“If he could really be at home here and be accepted… he would become a force that would be known and valued,” she said.
Howard broke into tears as she spoke about her own relationship with Orozco. “He’s not much older than my own daughters,” she said, her voice cracking. “Everyone at Jumblies is behind him.”
After the press conference, activists and community members stayed for a planning meeting to discuss how they might best offer support to Orozco. Craig Fortier, of the group No One Is Illegal, is an organizer for the Let Alvaro Stay campaign.
“We’re being made to establish Alvaro’s involvement in this community,” Fortier said. “If that fails, then we start to get angry.”
Fortier says there will be a rally of support on Friday, May 20 at 5:30pm, at the corner of Church and Wellesley streets. In the meantime, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has the authority to intervene; he could release Orozco and grant him residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Kenney’s office did not respond to Xtra’s call before post time, but readers may contact him themselves here. Readers are also urged to join the Let Alvaro Stay Facebook page here.
When asked why, exactly, Toronto police stopped Orozco, Fortier said police are not required to enforce immigration law.
“We’re as puzzled as anybody else,” he said.
Xtra is still investigating why and how police became involved.
UPDATE 18 May, 2011: When asked for comment about the case, Toronto police Constable Wendy Drummond said she found no information about the arrest of Alvaro Orozco, but that “if a person has come into contact [with police]…and there may be an immigration issue, the officer may contact immigration and see what to do.” Drummond added that she could not speak to the specific case, as she could not find any information about Orozco on her database.
Check back for more updates as they become available.