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Providing Free and Inclusive Space for Change

October 22, 2017

A previous program participant of our refugee program, Among Friends, and now a staff member at The 519, Sebastian decided to initiate an advocacy group called Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy and Alliance to provide help to legacy refugee claimants in Canada – and The 519 offered support. 

Sebastian was at work when a person came to his desk announcing that he wants someone, anyone but Sebastian, to help him. He simply wanted to borrow a pen but when Sebastian offered him one, he seemed averse to the idea. Reluctantly, he took a tissue to grab the pen from Sebastian’s hand – because Sebastian was ‘suspected’ to be a gay man. This homophobic experience was the last straw for Sebastian to make a decision to leave Jamaica and come to Canada to claim refuge in 2015.

He had to wait for one year for his refugee claim hearing. The uncertainty of that year caused him immense stress and anxiety, and also limited his access to services and opportunities. He found support in the Among Friends program at The 519, and after volunteering, started working at the centre as a member of the community access and engagement team. He also discovered a passion for community building, something he never thought he would consider pursuing as a profession.

After having a successful hearing, and finding out that his claim would be processed, Sebastian stopped having nightmares about his own fate in Canada, but became more and more connected to the plight of thousands of other legacy claimants whose claims are pending since December 2012.

So when he participated in a leadership course at AIDS Committee of Toronto and had to work on a short-term project on community building, he decided to make the project long-term to support the legacy claimants. He created the Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy and Alliance (CLRAA), an advocacy and support group.

With support from other community builders and The 519, Sebastian has made tremendous strides through his grassroots advocacy initiatives. The group has had 10 meetings in 4 months with more than 200 people engaged. As a result of their campaigning and direct communication, CLRAA was able to connect with the Task Force for Legacy Claimants and put forward a proposal to fast track legacy claims with minimum disruption to the lives of people who came to Canada for a stable life and are still awaiting their fate.

“The 519 supported our grassroots initiative and is providing us space, food, outreach opportunities, transportation, and consultation. I am honoured to work for an organization that is responsive and supportive of community-led initiatives.”

The group is inviting all legacy refugee claimants to join in the project and work together for a common goal. Several group members have already had successful hearings as a result of the work CLRAA is doing.

The 519 provides accessible, and accepting space where individuals and organizations can gather, meet, and work towards common goals. Most bookings by non-profit, government and community groups are free-of-charge. Our social enterprise community cafe FABARNAK provides in-house catering for all events.