Local activist Wendy Maxwell has lost her fight to stay in Canada. The refugee claimant was deported to Costa Rica on Mar 14. Some 40 protestors came out to Pearson International Airport to support her and call for her immigration application to be processed immediately.
“We were not allowed to see her,” says protestor Daniel Vandervoort. “She was hurriedly whisked away through the back.”
Maxwell, who also goes by the name Nzinga, had been in Canada without legal status since December 2003. She was arrested Mar 5 while fundraising at the International Women’s Day fair.
“The fair had just concluded,” says student and eyewitness Stefanie Gude. “Participants were milling around and Wendy, who was CKLN’s International Women’s Day programmer, was at a table selling cookies when a marked 51 division car pulled up and several uniformed police officers approached her and told her she was under arrest.”
Ironically, Maxwell was taken into police custody on a day set aside to recognize the struggle for women’s rights around the world. She was arrested for being in Canada illegally after fleeing gender persecution, racial discrimination and police repression in Costa Rica.
When asked why the police would allocate resources to go after Maxwell rather than tracking down criminals, the investigating officer at 51 Division said he didn’t have a choice.
“It was not a question of discretion,” says Det John Babiar, the investigating officer in Maxwell’s case. “There was a warrant out for her arrest and when a warrant is out, we shall arrest.”
Since arriving in Canada in 1997, Maxwell has volunteered her time for a number of organizations including the Black Coalition For AIDS Prevention (Black CAP). Many remember her selling lemon “tit-sicles” at last year’s Dyke March as part of CKLN’s Pride participation.
Among the many letters in support of Maxwell and her bid to stay in Canada pending the outcome of her current application was one delivered in person to Minister Of Immigration Joe Volpe’s Ottawa office by Jack Layton, NDP leader and MP for Toronto-Danforth. In his letter, Layton requested that Volpe intervene on Maxwell’s behalf by either processing her application immediately or by issuing a temporary resident permit in order to prevent her deportation. Volpe did not step in.
“Wendy Maxwell has made important contributions to the community during her many years in Canada,” stated Layton in his letter. “She is actively involved in AIDS prevention work, labour rights efforts and other community initiatives. She has made efforts to improve the lives of others in Canada and merits, in my view, your very serious and immediate attention and consideration.”
When Maxwell first arrived in Toronto she was under the impression she was coming to Canada to work as a bartender. She soon found out that she was here not to work behind the bar, but rather as an exotic dancer. Until 1997, exotic dancer was a special category for immigration to Canada, an arrangement that made it difficult for many foreign workers to leave the industry.
After 18 months as a dancer, Maxwell left her job and filed a refugee claim. She launched a case with the Ontario Labour Relations Board over the working conditions at the strip club where she had been working and won, settling out of court on issues of workers’ benefits.
But her claim for refugee status was turned down and in December 2003 an order was issued for her deportation. Maxwell applied for leave to stay in Canada under humanitarian and compassionate grounds in January 2004. While waiting for the application to be processed Maxwell decided to go underground rather than return to Costa Rica, where she says she fears for her life.
It was at this point that Maxwell adopted the name Nzinga after the Angolan monarch who defended her country against the invading Portuguese in the 17th century. An exceptional military strategist and stateswoman, Queen Nzinga surrendered to no one and harassed the Portuguese until her death at age 80. It was this tenacity that Maxwell admired enough to opt to be identified as Nzinga.
Maxwell will be allowed to return to Canada for the hearing of her humanitarian and compassionate grounds application, but she’ll pay for the privilege.
“Not only has she to pay for her return to Canada but she must also pay her deportation fees,” says Vandervoort. “It is just not fair.”
* For updates on Wendy Maxwell’s case check out Supportwendy.com. A defence fund has been set up on Maxwell’s behalf. To make a donation e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Rhoma Spencer is an actor, director, broadcast journalist and founder and artistic director of Theatre Archipelago. Look for her in Mad Miss/Just Jazz at Artword Alternative starting May 25. For further info check out Theatrearchipelago.ca.