UPDATE: Augustas Dennie’s sliver of hope

Coalition forming to help refugee claimant stay in Canada

UPDATE: Fri, Oct 12 — Augustas Dennie is a week away from his exit interview.

Dennie, who came before a Canada Border Services Agency official Oct 11, has until Oct 19 to produce some medical records. After he hands them over, he will be fingerprinted and given a plane ticket. An official will conduct an interview with Dennie, and his removal will be all but a fait accompli.

But there is still one sliver of hope.

Craig Cromwell, LGBT settlement coordinator at the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention, accompanied Dennie to the Oct 11 hearing. He says that once Dennie’s departure date is finalized, they can begin the process to postpone his deportation. Dennie’s lawyer will submit the request, along with letters from Dennie’s friends, service providers and support workers to bolster the claim. If approved, Dennie will be allowed to stay until the judicial review of his pre-removal risk assesment is complete.

If that effort fails, Dennie will be deported. The date is tentatively set for Nov 8.

But Dennie has friends in his corner. Along with Cromwell, his friend Ranjith Kulatilake — who serves as equity coordinator of the Rainbow Health Network — has vowed to launch a campaign to keep Dennie here. The two are planning to cobble together a coalition of activists and support workers to pressure the government to step in and keep Dennie in Canada.

Xtra is following this story.

Wed, Oct 10 — Augustas Dennie used to be a dancer.

Now, he has trouble speaking.

Dennie says he was the victim of a brutal gaybashing in his native St Vincent and the Grenadines. It left him helpless, unable to work and scarred.

He fled to Canada in 2010, seeking safety from his attackers — who he says have threatened to finish the job. Yet government officials here are looking to deport Dennie because they do not believe he is gay – an increasingly common story in the Conservative government’s immigration regime.

Dennie says he was attacked by a man outside a St Vincent restaurant in 2009. He was beaten with a bottle of Hennessy cognac – so severely it fractured his skull, leaving him with a piece of bone lodged in his brain. His attacker shouted anti-gay slurs such as “faggot” and “bulla-man” and stood over Dennie’s semi-conscious body with a large rock before he was stopped by some bystanders.

Dennie now suffers memory loss, seizures, verbal ticks and has limited function in his right hand. He also has a massive scar on his head.

After a month in hospital, one thing became apparent to Dennie — he had to get out.


St Vincent

When the attack happened, Dennie was already trying to leave St Vincent. He was living in Florida with another gay man, but he soon married a woman to get his green card. Dennie eventually came out of the closet and began fighting with his wife. It culminated in her pressing assault charges against Dennie, and he spent a short time in jail before being given two years’ probation. Dennie says the two had a tussle. They are now separated and he says aspects of his ex-wife’s account are untrue.

Ranjth Kulatilake, a gay Sri Lankan immigrant who became friends with Dennie, says the marriage was “stormy,” and the couple fought because of Dennie’s sexual orientation. Kulatilake says he’s met many gay men who have “hidden behind straight marriages for the sake of their lives” despite being deeply unhappy. “Internalized homophobia at its best,” he says.

While Dennie was serving his probation, he received word that his mother had died, and a judge gave him temporary leave to go bury her.

The problem is that when Dennie tried to return to the United States he was refused entry. Officials say he violated the terms of his parole.

The near-fatal beating occurred five years later.

Dennie says that following the assault he consulted with an American diplomat, who urged him to get out of the country as soon as possible. A friend mentioned Canada’s generous refugee system, so Dennie quickly sold many of his clothes and possessions and purchased a ticket for an Air Canada flight to Toronto. He arrived in the airport and, still operating with reduced motor functions, applied for refugee status.

A refugee in Canada

But the promise of refugee status was short-lived. Officers working under Canada’s immigration system, which has no formal guidelines for dealing with queer refugees, ordered him deported on Aug 30.

This, despite recent promises from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, by way of an email targeted to homosexuals in Canada, that “Canada should always be a place of refuge for those who truly need our protection. That is why we continue to welcome those fleeing persecution, which oftentimes includes certain death, including on the basis of sexual orientation.”

But Dennie is scheduled to be deported on Oct 17.

“I can’t sleep at night,” he tells Xtra.

On top of this, Dennie was involved with the opposition New Democratic Party in St Vincent (no relation to the Canadian NDP), which he says also puts him at risk of violence. Several of his family members have been murdered in what appear to be politically motivated crimes.

But Dennie’s immigration official concluded that Dennie “would not be subject to risk of torture, risk to life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if returned.”

Credibility issues?

The immigration judge stated that Dennie’s testimony was not credible for several reasons. He pointed to the fact that Dennie moved back into his old neighbourhood and went back to working as a dancer — arguing that if he were afraid of persecution, he would have moved somewhere safer and taken a less gay job. Dennie, for his part, says he had little money and was forced to move back to his mother’s house and take the job.

That official did recognize the “impressive” amount of evidence supporting Dennie’s claims that he is a homosexual yet found it unmoving, as he ruled Dennie was not “a credible historian of his own personal background.”

Citing one example, the official says that Dennie’s testimony contradicts itself — he claims to have had homosexual experiences in his youth, yet later he says he wasn’t gay until after marrying his wife. Dennie, speaking with Xtra, made clear that he had homosexual experiences while in St Vincent but did not come out of the closet fully until he was in Florida.

Kulatilake, Dennie’s friend, is incredulous. “What do these people know about credibility? Can the ‘Canadian standards’ of ‘credibility’ be applied wholesale in such cases as Augustas’s?”

The official states that even if he were to accept Dennie’s orientation, there is no proof that he faces danger at home.

This despite multiple letters that — on top of confirming that he is, indeed, gay — tell the board that Dennie faces imminent danger if he is returned. One letter from a St Vincent friend reports that word in the community is that Dennie “wouldn’t even last a week” if he returned. Another, from a human rights association, says police botched the investigation of Dennie’s attacker, who is still “on the run.”

Dennie is now pleading with the government of Canada to let him stay.

“Please reconsider this. Give me a chance to live,” he says through a choked voice and heavy stuttering.

“I live in real fear of my life because I know what my people are able to do.”

While the sparse documentation on persecution of gays in St Vincent may not have compelled the board, Dennie says there’s a reason for that — gays who face abuse don’t risk outing themselves. “Everything was hush-hush,” he says.

But here in Canada, he says, it couldn’t be more different. “It’s very lovely,” he says, noting he’s adjusted into Toronto’s gay community. He doesn’t want to leave.

If forced to return to St Vincent, Dennie promises to be defiant. He won’t go back to living in the closet, he says. “I know who I am.”

Yet rather than face his attackers again, he says he’d rather take his own life.

“It’s going to lead me to committing suicide.”

Dennie’s last chance is on Oct 11. He will need to convince a federal judge that there’s merit for an appeal on his case. If the judge agrees, he will be granted a stay of deportation until he concludes his appeal. If he wins that, he will still have to go through an entire new application for refugee status. The process could last years.

Kulatilake reports that the stress is beginning to get to Dennie. He collapsed Oct 9 and was taken to a Scarborough hospital.

Earlier this year, Xtra reported on the similar case of Leatitia Nanziri, whose deportation order was suspended because she faces imminent danger in her home country.

Freelance journalist covering current affairs and politics for Xtra.

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