City Centre Mirror
Barring a last-minute reprieve, Toronto photographer Alvaro Orozco is set to be deported to his native Nicaragua Thursday, June 9.
Members of the queer and arts communities have held numerous rallies and other events to shine a light on Orozco's work within the community, where he has made a name for himself for both his own work and his mentorship work with queer youth.
Orozco was arrested outside Ossington subway station Friday, May 13 and has been held in a detention facility in Rexdale since awaiting word as to whether he will be allowed to remain in Canada or forced to return to his birth country.
The 25-year-old artist arrived in Canada in 2006 after leaving home at the age of 12. He has said he fled abuse at the hands of his father who beat Orozco for being gay.
Despite the hardships he faced in Nicaragua, his appeals for refugee status and landed immigrant status have thus far been unsuccessful. Orozco was originally slated to be deported on Thursday, June 2, but that was postponed to June 9 on Monday, May 30. That delay came as a relief for those who are working to keep the artist in his adopted home country.
Craig Fortier of the advocacy group No One is Illegal said supporters are holding out hope that he will be allowed to stay through a Humanitarian and Compassionate (H and C) application.
"We've heard the H and C was to come down in April or May," he said. "Hopefully, (the week-long postponement) means the H and C is in the works."
Orozco has become a familiar face on the photography scene with work shown at the Pride Art Exhibition, Mayworks Festival, Toronto City Hall, Migrant Expressions Photo Exhibition and other venues. He was named a winner of the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line's Outstanding Contribution to Arts and Culture award after his arrest.
At a May 18 meeting at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, friends and colleagues pled for the artist's release and urged the Canadian government to allow him to stay in Toronto.
Suhail Abualsameed of Supporting Our Youth noted that Orozco moved from country to country in hopes of finding a place where he would be accepted. That search, he said, ended when Orozco settled in downtown Toronto.
"In his lifetime, this is the only home he could feel safe at," he said. "He's going to be sent away from his home (to a place where) he might speak the language, but that's about it."
Abualsameed said Orozco's case could go a long way toward upholding Canada's place as a bastion of compassion and human rights.
Local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam noted that Orozco was denied refugee status and had an appeal denied. While she wants to see the young photographer stay in Canada, she said the impact of the case stretch beyond its impact on Orozco.
"It's about children who are needing safe spaces to grow," she said.
Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow joined the meeting via an online feed and vowed to do what she could to ensure Orozco is not deported. She promised to speak with Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney to plead his case, adding the Minister of Public Safety could also intervene on Orozco's behalf.
Chow touted the photographer's art and work in the community as proof he is a valuable member of the Canadian community.
"Alvaro's work in the community since (his original refugee claim was refused) has been phenomenal," she told the roughly 40 people gather at Buddies. "Let's make it loud and clear that we want Alvaro to stay in Canada."
Orozco's friend, Alejandro Martinez noted the photographer has overcome a difficult life to become a strong mentor for youngsters.
"At an age when a boy is supposed to be in school, supposed to be playing, he had to run away," he said. "(In Canada,) Alvaro has embraced the opportunity to provide honest and heartfelt support to LGBT youth."
A Facebook page has been set up where people can show their support for Orozco, and a YouTube page has also been launched featuring testimonial videos highlighting his impact on the community.
An online petition has also been created at www.change.org/petitions/let-alvaro-stay-in-canada and more than 8,500 signatures have been collected.
Fortier said Orozco's supporters will continue to do what they can to keep him in Canada.
"There is a plan to do further actions," he said. "We might have a rally or a vigil at the detention centre, but we're still planning."
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