By Neil Armstrong
In honour of Human Rights Day on December 10, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) will launch free online from December 7 to 9, Last Chance, a documentary by Paul Emile d’Entremont that tells the stories of five asylum seekers-from Jamaica, Colombia, Lebanon, Egypt and Nicaragua-who have fled homophobic violence in their native countries.
The documentary will be available at nfb.ca/lastchance. The Toronto premiere of the film last Thursday came one day before Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, announced the country’s new asylum system, which becomes effective on December 15.
“Our changes will make Canada’s asylum system faster and fairer,” said Minister Kenney. “For too long, Canada’s generous asylum system has been vulnerable to abuse. Under the new asylum system, genuine refugees fleeing persecution will receive protection more quickly.
At the same time, bogus asylum claimants and those who abuse our generous system at great expense to taxpayers, will be removed much faster.” However lawyers who practice immigration and refugee law and frontline workers of agencies serving asylum seekers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender say Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, will have a negative impact on these claimants.
The ministry said eligible asylum claimants will continue to receive a hearing at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) based on their individual circumstances.
Under the new system, asylum claimants will receive a hearing within 60 days after their claim is referred to the IRB. In contrast, claimants currently wait, on average, close to 600 days to receive a hearing.
To obtain Canadian refugee status, applicants must be able to prove that they are members of a sexual or gender-based minority at a hearing of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Last Chance shines new light on the existing asylum system by providing intimate access to rarely heard stories. In the documentary, d’Entremont explores the theme of personal empowerment, following the heartrending journeys of Trudi (Jamaican), Carlos (Colombian), Jennifer (Lebanese), Zaki (Egyptian) and Alvaro (Nicaraguan).
The Halifax, Nova Scotia-based filmmaker said he made the documentary to raise awareness about the asylum process and its impact on LGBT claimants.
The film graphically portrays the issue of minority rights and exposes for the first time the ordeal that asylum seekers must go through, from their countries of origin to their arrival in Canada.
At last Thursday’s screening of the documentary, Karlene Williams-Clarke, LGBT community services coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre, said that since this year up to November, the Centre have seen over 690 new members connecting with the newcomer program.
The ministry of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism said that for the first time in Canadian history, most applicants will have access to a newly-created Refugee Appeal Division (RAD).
Failed asylum claimants from countries that have a history of producing genuine refugees will have the benefit of this full fact-based appeal. The new RAD will have the authority to reverse a negative decision by the IRB, if the evidence compels it.