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a rare find

Spending time with David LeBlanc and Bruce Ferreira-Wells is like spending a night at the museum

Visiting David LeBlanc and Bruce Ferreira-Wells at their two-storey residence on the edge of Forest Hill is like spending a night at the museum. The 33-year-strong pair (once a romantic couple, but now business partners and life-long best friends) are diehard collectors who have dressed their newly renovated home with hundreds, if not thousands, of rare antiquities from bygone eras and lost civilizations. When they’re not placing winning bids at Christie’s or Waddington’s, they operate Ferreira-Wells Immigration Services Inc., a long-running immigration consultancy that specializes in LGBT immigration and refugee cases.

You guys have been together for 33 years. Wow, that’s a long time.
David: We met in the spring of 1980 and moved in together that same year. We were a couple up until the year 2000. Both of us have had relationships in the last 13 years, but we still live together. He still bosses me around.
Bruce: It’s the other way around, I’m afraid.

That’s an interesting dynamic. How does it play out when you meet someone?
B: We have separate suites in our building.
D: Bruce has had a few partners; I have had a few more. Sometimes people are jealous of our connection because Bruce and I know each other so well. We finish each other’s sentences.

What role do you play in each other’s lives?
D: We still have a motherly presence in each other’s lives. If he does something I don’t think is good for him, I’ll comment on it but leave him with complete freedom of choice. We play protector guardian in each other’s lives.

You also have very different tastes in design.
D: You see it in our suites. My bedroom is Zen-inspired whereas Bruce’s is a night at the museum. He’s an eccentric curator and since we no longer share the same space, he gets to knock himself out at auctions and bring home the darnedest things.
B: I have been an antiquities collector for about 30 years. It’s primarily pre-Columbian art and decorative items from the 18th century.

The antiquities are pretty rare and some are over 2,000 years old.
Your antiquities room is jam-packed.
B: Every inch is covered. I have a gold mask and chalice—the ROM doesn’t even have one (I’m not giving it to them until they’re willing to pay for it). I have statues from archeological digs, a real marble sculpture of the Empress Joséphine, Napoleon’s wife; English Georgian miniatures that people back then carried around as a keepsake of their loved ones. They contain people’s original hair. I got those at Waddington’s.

The room is straight out of 18th-century England. What do you find so appealing about this period?
B: I grew up in a British colony. A lot of it is what my grandparents and parents had. I’m trying to recreate part of my past at home. I have a chair that is 220 years old. It’s incredibly comfortable.
D: Bruce has a chair fetish. He has a bony West Indian ass, but has 12 chairs in one room.

Bruce, why so many chairs?   
B: I think of the generations of people who’ve lived with the chairs. For example: the early chairs are low to the ground because people were short and stout. The seats are built wider. You learn quite a lot about people back then.

David, how does your suite compare?  
D: I went for cleaner lines compared to Bruce. My taste is eclectic and over the last 13 years almost all my partners have been Asian so there’s an Asian influence. My bathroom is what people “oooh” and “ahhh” about. It’s made from Iranian limestone. I wanted it to look like it was from a medieval castle.
B: When you shower in here it’s as if you’re showering outside. There’s a skylight.
D: And twice last year our contractor was on the roof while I was in the shower.

David, you have some prized possessions as well.
D: I have a German bible I bought from a dealer in Pennsylvania. It’s from 1712. The bible is completely intact and all the pages are here. There’s no foxing, mould or wormholes at all.
B: We’ve been able to finish our place by going to auctions and being careful about money. Otherwise some of this stuff would cost a fortune.

You must know how to find a good deal.
D: We have a Tabriz palace rug that’s worth about $13,000 that we got at Ritchies. Palace rugs are so oversized so no one was bidding. We got it for $1,300.

How did you get into the immigration business?
B: I formed the business in October, 1995, after many years working for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. At that time gays and lesbians had no rights under immigration law to sponsor their same-sex partners. But there were ways to do things quietly and legally. So I reached out to the gay community to advise them. Eventually we lobbied the government to have same-sex relationships incorporated into the citizenship act in June, 2002.

Since the passing of same-sex marriage, how much of your business is from the gay community?
D: When I joined 12 years ago it was the majority. Now’s it’s about 50/50.
B: People can do a lot of work on their own now. There was also a temporary drop due to a backlash against non-genuine applications going on.

Backlash?
B:  Our clients were telling us that some lawyers would find straight clients and tell them, ”Say you’re gay, and have a story about discrimination as a gay man.” They’ll take the client through the gay village and have him remember gay bars because in the hearing immigration officers will ask: “Where’s the gay village? Have you been to certain places?”

How does this impact LGBT people who actually need to seek asylum?
B: The process at a hearing is to try and figure out if a person is really gay and has been the subject of threats and persecution for being gay.
D: Let’s say the client doesn’t look gay enough. That’s happened. Or, if you’re like our last client from Russia, who was soft-spoken and gentle, you could be refused a visa because officers think you’re gay and trying to come to Canada to file a [refugee] claim. If they suspect for a moment, you’ll be denied. There’s something very hypocritical about the system.

Do you suspect an increase in clients from Russia in the wake of the country’s passing of anti-gay laws?
D: There will be. Absolutely. But the most challenging thing  is that they need entry visas for Canada before they’re able to make a claim for protection at the border or once inside Canada. And then there is the daunting battle to prove credibility at the Refugee Board.

 

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