by Danny Glenwright
This past May British criminal Conrad Black was allowed to move to Canada after he was released from an American prison. In 2007 Black was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended the decision, noting that officials often hand out temporary residence permits “to foreign nationals who have had criminal convictions if in their opinion they do not pose a risk to Canadian society.”
“They also look at other criteria,” Kenney continued, “such as whether that person has long-standing ties to the country, family connections, humanitarian and compassionate considerations.”
Phew. Surely this means Leatitia Nanziri is safe.
The Ugandan lesbian fled to Canada after years of abuse, torture, threats and rape in her home country. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and lawmakers there are currently debating whether gay people should be put to death (some, like gay activist David Kato, have already been murdered). Nanziri gave birth to two children in Canada — both are Canadian citizens who have never been to Africa.
These facts are simple enough — and surely fall in line with Kenney’s criteria.
Nanziri is not a felon, she has long-standing ties to Canada, including family connections (her children), and anyone who knows anything about the situation for gay people in central Africa would certainly grant her residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Not so. The country where Nanziri has sought refuge and raised her children for the past seven years is now trying to kick her out. An officer at the Refugee Board does not believe Nanziri is a lesbian and has said she should be deported.
Nanziri, who has admittedly been in relationships with both men and women, was in court Aug 1 fighting for the right to remain here with her children while she appeals this order.
This distressing news comes after federal judge James Russell recently criticized refugee adjudicators, admonishing them to stop relying on stereotypes to determine the sexuality of refugee claimants who say they are gay. “Behaviours which establish a claimant’s homosexuality are inherently private,” Russell rightly noted.
Vancouver lawyer barbara findlay agrees, appropriately asking in her blog, “How would you prove you are queer?”
It’s a question I’ve asked in this space before. How can we expect people who have spent their lives trying to conceal and deny their sexuality to turn around and prove they are gay in the refugee or immigration application process? Shouldn’t we then also ask convicted criminals like Conrad Black to prove that they do not pose a risk to Canadian society?
I have many gay friends from Africa and can testify to the unremitting fear they face, fear that is often more pronounced once they reach the “safe” shores of countries like Canada. Sometimes members of immigrant communities can be even more dogmatic about culture and religion than they would be back home. It is a way of coping and maintaining traditions in a strange place. We all do it in different ways — I’ve never been to more lavish Canada Day parties than those hosted by Canadians in foreign capitals.
One gay friend (who years ago proved to me he is gay in the only way one can prove such things) moved to Canada from Uganda to study and decided to stay here for some of the same reasons as Nanziri. We’ll call him Timothy. Timothy was here only a short while before gossip in Toronto’s Ugandan community (and rumours back home) forced him to take a drastic measure to ensure his safety. Timothy travelled back to Uganda and had sex with a woman there until she became pregnant. He became a father in Africa so he is able to safely remain in Canada as a gay man.
Sadly, none of this should be all that surprising. It wasn’t long ago many gay Canadians took similar measures (some still do). “Canada doesn’t understand that if you live in a repressive country you may hide your sexual orientation; you may have a heterosexual marriage,” findlay wrote on her blog. “And just like many Canadian lesbians with a husband and maybe children in their past, Ugandan lesbians may marry . . . and still be lesbians.”
Of course, at the end of the day the only thing that should matter, regardless of who Nanziri is currently shagging, is that she fears for her life if she is sent back home because people in Uganda believe she is a lesbian.
As if to underscore the danger faced by queer people like Nanziri in central Africa, a gay Tanzanian activist was found strangled to death in Dar es Salaam on July 31. Last year trans activist Victor Mukasa told Xtra about how he was “correctively” raped at a Pentecostal church in Uganda.
Federal officials, including Jason Kenney and Canada’s Refugee Board have a responsibility to protect Leatitia Nanziri from a similar fate. Until they do, those of us who live safely in Canada and don’t have such threats hanging over us need to be as loud as we can in her defence.