Over 100 people rallied in downtown Toronto on new year's eve this morning to demand freedom and status for Parkdale Collegiate high school student Daniel Garcia. The students, teachers, and concerned community members gathered outside the Federal Court of Canada courtrooms at 180 Queen Street West to condemn 19-year-old Garcia's deportation back to Mexico, scheduled for January 1st, 2011.
Daniel Garcia and his sister fled threats and homophobic violence in Mexico four years ago. At that time, then 15-year-old Garcia's older sister Brenda was his guardian. They both faced persecution for Brenda Garcia's sexual orientation. Her partner was attacked and murdered while Daniel Garcia was in the room.
For the past four years, Garcia has adjusted to life in Toronto. He is described as a hard-working student and a caring young community member. After the death of his former legal advocate, Garcia has had to navigate the complex Canadian immigration system alone, as a teenager from Mexico without English fluency.
"It is absurd that the government demands a student whose second language is English to navigate the system alone," denounced fellow Parkdale Collegiate student and Friends of Daniel Garcia organizer Akiro Kato-McKerr.
"Let it be clear that what we are asking for is in no way absurd," added Kato-McKerr.
Rally organizers and participants are asking Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney to grant a Temporary Resident Permit to Garcia, so that he may complete the school year and complete his request for political asylum with legal representation. However, less than 24 hours remain before a deportation order is carried out on January 1st, 2011.
"Daniel was detained last Thursday night," explained Garcia's ESL teacher Hillel Heinstein.
"He was detained over Christmas. He was not hiding," said Roger Langen, the Toronto District Human Rights Officer for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation.
"Everyone has rallied around Daniel in just a week," said Parkdale Collegiate teacher Heinstein, explaining that when he went to visit Garcia in detention yesterday evening, the young student was both scared about the future and grateful for all of the support.
"People respect him in the school. He's an integral part of our community," he added.
Lawyer Guidy Mamann managed to connect with Garcia on the phone during the rally, and placed his cell phone on speaker phone up to the microphone. Rally participants smiled as they heard his grateful "thank you" to friends, teachers, community members, and everyone else who had rallied to support him.
"What do we want? Status for Daniel! When do we want it? Now!," cheered those gathered along Queen street, so that Garcia could hear how many people had rallied on new year's eve to support him.
Mamann explained that the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) maintains its position, and that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a statement yesterday, saying that there was no reason that the deportation will not proceed. Mamann added that Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney has yet to respond to the Temporary Resident Permit application, which includes a request for a stay of deportation.
"Show some clemency. Show some humanity," said New Democratic Party president Peggy Nash, addressing Kenney while expressing full party support for Garcia.
Member of Parliament Cheri DeNovo of the Parkdale High Park district also voiced her support for Garcia and denounced the deportation order. She also highlighted the irony that Garcia, fleeing homophobic violence, had been living less than one mile away from where DeNovo herself performed the first same-sex marriage years ago, between two young Hispanic women.
"We have been fighting for queer rights for so long," said DeNovo.
"This is not compassion. This is not mercy," she added. "It's not my Canada. I suspect that it's not your Canada either," continued DeNovo, advocating for a Canada of compassion, inclusion, and justice.
Friends of Daniel Garcia rally organizers are urging people to continue to call Minister Kenney at 613-992-2235 today, and to take other actions outlined on the Status for Daniel section of the No One is Illegal Toronto website.
Sandra Cuffe is a contributing member of the Vancouver Media Coop.