On Saturday, March 5, at the end of a diverse and lively International Women’s Day march, Toronto police came on to the Ryerson University campus and arrested Wendy Maxwell, a well-respected feminist and queer activist. At the time Wendy was selling cookies at the IWD fair to raise funds for CKLN, a local community radio station. She is currently being held at the Vanier Women’s detention centre.

Wendy has been fighting the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for status in Canada since she arrived from Costa Rica in July, 1997. Her application for refugee status was turned down in early 2004 and she has been living underground ever since. Despite the risks, Wendy never stopped her activism on behalf of others. She has been a volunteer with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, the Latin American Coalition to End Violence against Women, the Barbara Schlifer Clinic and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention as well as CKLN.

Born in Costa Rica, Wendy is a woman of Jamaican descent who fled to Canada to escape the gender persecution she faced as a black queer activist in her country of birth.

Toronto feminist and community activists are mobilizing to stop her deportation. Wendy has a strong case for humanitarian and compassionate grounds but because of a Kafkaesque provision of the Immigration Act, she can be deported while awaiting a hearing on humanitarian grounds.

“What happened to Wendy is not an isolated incident,” said Jean McDonald of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Coalition. “Police use municipal funds to do the dirty work of Immigration Canada forcing the 200,000 non-status people living and working in Canada to live in daily fear of detention and deportation.”

Another issue that has emerged is the reason for the decision of the Toronto police for executing the arrest warrant. The police have discretion about whether to arrest undocumented workers. Usually immigration authorities do this. Clearly Wendy was no danger to anyone. Some people are asking questions as to whether the arrest has to do with the fact that the police are angry with CKLN for their show Bad Cop, No Donut! that has been critical of the police.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, March 4, Giselle Orland of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres pointed out that Wendy’s predicament is similar to hundreds of women with no status. “Wendy left her children behind in Costa Rica because she was fleeing persecution. She has been separated from her children for ten years.” Giselle was particularly outraged that the police chose an International Women’s Day event to make the arrest.

Late yesterday, in Ottawa, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton presented his request to Immigration Minister Joe Volpe asking him to intervene in Wendy’s case. “As her Humanitarian and Compassionate Leave application is still pending,” Layton wrote, “we are requesting that you intervene and either process the application immediately or issue a temporary resident permit in order to prevent the deportation until the humanitarian application is processed.

“Wendy Maxwell has made important contributions to the community during her many years in Canada. She is actively involved in AIDS prevention work, labour rights efforts and other community initiatives. She has made efforts to improve the lives of others in Canada and merits, in my view, your very serious and immediate attention and consideration. Oncompassionate grounds, I do hope that your can intervene in this file.”

Today, March 8, there will be a demonstration gathering at noon at Ryerson University, where Wendy was arrested. People are being asked to send emails to Volpe — [email protected] — to demand that he use his discretion to stop her deportation, at least until her hearing on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

If ever there was a person who deserves to immigrate to Canada, it is Wendy Maxwell. She has already contributed more to her community than most. Take a moment and help make sure that Wendy Maxwell stays in Canada to continue her excellent work.

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick is the author of Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political and was the founding publisher of rabble.ca. She also holds the CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy.