Update, Nov 7, 2017: Josué Martín Elvir Zamora will now be allowed to stay in Canada for another four weeks while the government assesses his case.
Josué Martín Elvir Zamora thinks he’s a dead man walking.
The 26-year-old Honduran citizen has been living in Canada since December 2013, when he applied for refugee status.
But in a few hours, the Canadian government plans to deport him back to Honduras. His flight is booked for 3pm EST on Nov 7, 2017.
“If I go back home, it’s suicide, because I know what will happen if I go back,” he tells Xtra, as tears well up in his eyes. “That’s why I’m so nervous now. I’m out of this world.”
Elvir Zamora says he’s a gay man, but the Canadian government doesn’t believe him.
Now he’s begging the federal government, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in particular, for a reprieve from deportation so that he can have the chance to prove that he’s not a liar.
“I left Honduras because I’m gay and that is a homophobic country,” he says. “People can tell that I’m gay because how I look like: my earrings, how I dress, how I walk, how I act.”
And it’s the Honduran gangs that he particularly fears. An effeminate man, who worked as a nurse and a model in Honduras, Elvir Zamora says his life was threatened by gangs that operated out of his neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa. When he went to the police, he says they did nothing.
That wouldn’t be unusual for Honduras, a country where the line between police officer and gang member is often blurry. According to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s own research, police are often the people who victimize LGBT people.
Human Rights Watch says that LGBT people are some of the most vulnerable people to violence in Honduras.
Elvir Zamora can’t understand why the Canadian government doesn’t believe that he’s gay. In Honduras, he lived in the closet — his father is a homophobic, evangelical pastor, he says — but since moving to Canada, he’s lived openly as a gay man. He’s had boyfriends, volunteers with LGBT organizations like Hola and Support Our Youth, and attends Pride celebrations. He’s been open about his sexual orientation on the Spanish-language radio show where he discusses current events in Honduras.
And he isn’t even asking for his deportation to be fully dismissed. He’s asking for his deportation to be delayed at least until Jan 25, 2018, when he would become eligible to apply for a pre-removal risk assessment. Refugee applicants have to wait for a full year after they are denied before they can apply for the assessment.
Elvir Zamora’s lawyers believe that if his case were heard today, the government would believe he’s not lying about his sexual orientation. Earlier this year, the IRB released new guidelines to help panel members in cases that involve LGBT people.
“It is my view that if Mr Elvir Zamora’s case was adjudicated today — with the benefit of the new guidelines — there is a high chance that he would be granted refugee status,” his lawyer Simon Wallace wrote in a letter to the Canadian Border Services Agency on Oct 3, 2017.
Elvir Zamora faced an uphill battle from his first hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board. The sole member on his panel, Brenda Lloyd, has one of the lowest approval rates of any adjudicator, with only a 23.8 percent acceptance rate in 2016.
Xtra previously reported on the case of Rolston Ryan, who was denied refugee status and was going to be deported back to St Kitts and Nevis. Though the IRB believed that Ryan was gay, they were still willing to send him back to his home country, where gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Lloyd was also the sole adjudicator for Ryan’s initial hearing.
After a number of costly appeals, Ryan’s asylum application was accepted in August 2016 and he was allowed to stay in Canada.
Elvir Zamora hopes he’ll be given the same kind of chance to prove his case.
“Let me stay. Let me be safe. Save my life,” he says.