Film review: 'Last chance' looks at refugee claimants fleeing homophobia

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From December 7 to December 9, you can watch Paul Émile d’Entremont’s documentary Last Chance for free at the website of the National Film Board of Canada

Last Chance, an NFB film directed by Paul Emile d'Entremont, views the Canadian Immigration refugee process through the eyes of four LGBT refugee status claimants.

These refugees have come to Canada from Jamaica, Colombia, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Egypt seeking sanctuary in one of the few places on earth that accepts sexual orientation as basis for a refugee claim. But it appears that the recently opened door for such claims may soon be slamming shut.

Trudi is a lesbian woman from Jamaica, which despite its reputation for 'One Love,' is one of the most homophobic jurisdictions in the western hemisphere. Trudi was subjected to a gunpoint "corrective rape," the description of which is harrowing.

That this type of rape "rationalization" has any currency in homophobic societies is testament to the need for safe jurisdictions for LGBT persons. Trudi's experience is far from exceptional. The fact that she cannot even go to the police for help speaks volumes for why she is willing to uproot herself to a place where she can be open about her sexuality. Her dream is simply to hold hands with her lover, openly, on the street.

Carlos is a middle aged gay businessman from Colombia. He left behind a son and relative prosperity to seek an open life in Canada. Despite the menial home repair work that he is relegated to as an immigrant, he is genuinely happy just being able to live openly in Canada. But he does not fit Citizenship and Immigration Canada's stereotype of a gay male, and this will prove fatal to his application.

Jennifer is a transsexual from Lebanon. In one interview her mother speaks openly about the family's thought processes as "Charlie" made the transformation to "Jennifer" in her late teens. Among the family's options were killing her, or committing her to an asylum. Visually, Jennifer's transformation in Canada is the most spectacular. This is possible, in part, because of her ability to openly adopt western female dress. This transformation also leads to the success of her refugee application.

Alvaro literally walked north to Canada from his native Nicaragua. His claim was rejected . Only a surge of activism from the LGBT community saved him from this fate mere days from deportation.

Egyptian Zaki is perhaps the most tragic figure in Last Chance. In order to connect with other gay men in Egypt he resorted to the use of an internet site. This led him into a romantic correspondence with what turned out to be a police entrapment operation. Lured to a tryst he was arrested. Tortured and abused, he was finally released into the custody of his whole family, who were all summoned by the police for the occasion.

In the moment in the film where he describes his family coming to the police station, he is reliving what was obviously the worst experience of his life. He describes it as a "moment of total darkness." While Facetiming with his mother from a park, his sadness is palpable, as he fantasizes about someday being able to return home for a visit. His mother, ever in denial,  asks him to bring a girl home with him.

Canada is a beacon of Human Rights. In 1993 it was the first country to accept a refugee on the basis of sexual orientation. In Colombia, Lebanon, Egypt and many other countries, being LGBT is seen in turn as a disease, a psychological condition, a crime or a moral failing. LGBT persons face very real dangers of rape, assault and death. Often the danger is from their own families. The main challenge faced by LGBT refugess is getting to Canada. Visa officers deny visas specifically to deny access to Canada's refugee system.

In order to substantiate their refugee status claims, LGBT claimants have to provide documentary proof of something they may have spent a lifetime concealing in order to survive. Claims are denied on simple technicalities. Lapses in memory can be fatal.

Immigration Board panelists also have no idea what happens to refugee claimants after they are rejected. The system is oblivious to the most important metric of its determinations, the survival rate of rejected claimants. Citizenship and Immigration remains deliberately blind to the fate of LGBT refugees deported to their countries of origin. There is also a deep concern that Conservatives are trying to slam the doors shut on all refugees. This is done by speeding up the system and thereby removing the  opportunity for refugees to effectively substantiate their claim. Participation in local LGBT community is sometimes the only available evidence of sexual orientation. Accelerating the process eliminates the opportunity to establish oneself in the community. The intended result is more people deported to persecution.

Last Chance takes us on a journey to the place where we live. Canada, seen through the eyes of Carlos, Jennifer, Zaki, Trudi, and Alvaro, is a promised land of tolerance and freedom. Paul Emile d’Entremont has succeeded in making a film that makes you proud of Canada, and sad for Canada, at the same time. 

The film also succeeds in breathing life into the challenge to preserve the refuge of Canadian society from the forces of narrow minded conservatism.

Humberto DaSilva is a union activist whose 'Not Rex Murphy' video commentaries are featured on 

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