By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
AT LEAST 16 Bahamians in the past three years have been granted asylum in Canada because of their fear of persecution in the Bahamas.
Although it was not known the basis of their fears, one woman, who was not of their number, said she had also applied because she no longer felt safe living here because of her sexual orientation.
Sources could not reveal the terms under which the 16 individual claims were granted, but the Canadian government considers applications based on race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a social group, such as women or sexual orientation.
In 2010, there were four applicants, but none was granted asylum.
The following year, the Canadian government granted refugee status to 12 Bahamians – there were 18 applicants.
In 2012, there were nine applicants, of which five persons withdrew their application, and four were approved.
The information was uncovered as part of a Tribune investigation into an application filed last year by a Bahamian woman, a lesbian, who has been a refugee claimant residing in Canada for just under two years.
The 33-year-old woman filed her application in 2012 after several incidents of verbal and physical abuse in New Providence.
“A lot of Bahamian queer people,” she said, “they go through some level of abuse. Whether it’s discrimination in their jobs, they arrive at a glass ceiling if they are more open with their sexuality. In any event, survival is something hard to attain, especially when they want to brush it under a rug like it’s not a problem.”
She added: “The whole process still has to take place where I have to go through the court system to make me a landed immigrant, I have to prove my case, write letters and then afterwards they approve.”
Although the process has been lengthy, the claimant said she has been able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in Canada with a work permit and subsidized legal fees.
Applicant consideration is based on the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, of which the Bahamas is also a signatory.
The claimant recalled an incident in Nassau. “A friend and I,” she said, “decided to visit a queer bar in downtown Nassau. We were still in the parking lot when three guys approached me and asked if I was a man or a woman.
“They didn’t believe me when I told them I was a woman, so they started to beat me up. I was either stabbed or punched really hard because I ended up with a deep cut under my chin that would later require stitches.
“After that, I passed out. My friend had locked herself in her car because she was afraid. She watched the whole thing happen. After the guys left, she picked me up and took me to the hospital.
“One day,” she added, “I was talking on the phone with my Canadian friend when she suggested I seek asylum. She didn’t think it was safe for me in the Bahamas anymore. I’d heard of it before, but I really didn’t know what my options were.”
Although homosexuality was decriminalised in the Bahamas in 1991, there is no legislation to protect against human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Constitutional Review Commission determined that there was no need for such protection in 2006; however, when formed this year, the body petitioned for explicit, limited protection for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
The 2013 commission maintained that provisions should be limited in order to circumvent the argument for same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, however, Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett told lawyers in June that Bahamian courts will have to address the issue “soon.”