Organizer Craig Fortier marches alongside other supporters on Yonge Street.
On Tuesday, around 50 people convened at Yonge-Dundas Square and prepared to march in protest of the arrest and detainment of queer artist Alvaro Orozco. The protest, to end at the office of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada at 74 Victoria Street, was the third show of support for Orozco within a week: an art show and community meeting was organized last Wednesday, and last Friday men and women formed a dance mob near the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets. They sang “We Are Family” while holding placards with a cartoon image of Orozco’s face and the caption “Let Alvaro Stay.”
Orozco was arrested on May 13 after a random police search at Ossington station while waiting for a bus. The protesters are attempting to grab the attention of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, in hopes of persuading him to grant residency to the 25-year-old Orozco, who has been under a deportation order since October 2007 but is in the midst of an application process to stay, based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The timing of the arrest has raised eyebrows, with queer news source Xtra asking in a headline: “Is the government rushing to deport Alvaro Orozco?”
In 2007, Orozco’s case made national headlines when he was denied a stay after Immigration and Refugee board adjudicator Deborah Lamont, who viewed the case from Alberta via video conferencing, felt the then 21 year old had failed to sufficiently prove his homosexuality. Originally from Nicaragua, Orozco fled at the age of 12 saying he had received abuse and a death threat from his father. If the government fails to be persuaded, Orozco could be returned to Nicaragua. Supporters fear for his safety, as he was outed in the Nicaraguan press after the 2007 case.
While Orozco remains in custody at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre in Rexdale, his supporters continue posting videos and anecdotes online in an effort to emphasize his roots in Toronto’s queer and artistic communities. (Orozco did the same in an interview with Rabble.ca.) Supporters have set up a Facebook group called “Let Alvaro Stay” and started a petition to free Orozco that has amassed 3,600 names. At Tuesday’s rally, organizer Craig Fortier shouted, “What better way to show he’s established in the community than by bringing the community to the establishment?” Attendees flapped a long piece of blue fabric, symbolic of a “wave of support,” as Fortier spoke about racism in the immigration system and the government’s hostility to the queer community. The rallies would continue, said Fortier, if supporters failed to hear from Kenney: “We will escalate.”