All posts by Will

The Final Regs for TFW Vulnerable Work Permits = Good, But a Lot Rests on Implementation/Anti-Fraud

Today, via Part II of the Canada Gazette, the Government released the final regulatory amendments for an open work permit regime for vulnerable temporary foreign workers experiencing abuse as defined by R. 196.2 of the Regulations. See link here: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2019/2019-05-29/html/sor-dors148-eng.html

The changes, which come into effect 4 June 2019, create an effective national regime. The regulatory changes themselves are quite simple.

Regulations Amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations

Amendments

1 (1) Subparagraph 200(1)(c)(ii) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations footnote 1 is replaced by the following:

  • (ii) intends to perform work described in section 204 or 205 but does not have an offer of employment to perform that work or is described in section 207 or 207.1 but does not have an offer of employment,

(2) Section 200 of the Regulations is amended by adding the following after subsection (3):

Non-application of paragraph (3)(e)

(3.1) Paragraph (3)(e) does not apply to a foreign national referred to in subsection 207.1(1) who engaged in unauthorized work in Canada or failed to comply with a condition of a previous permit or authorization.

2 The Regulations are amended by adding the following after section 207:

Vulnerable workers

207.1 (1) A work permit may be issued under section 200 to a foreign national in Canada if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the foreign national is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse in the context of their employment in Canada and if they

  • (a) hold a work permit issued under subparagraph 200(1)(c)(ii.1) or (iii); or
  • (b) previously held a work permit issued under subparagraph 200(1)(c)(ii.1) or (iii), have applied for a renewal of that permit under subsection 201(1) and are authorized to work in Canada under paragraph 186(u).

Family member of vulnerable worker

(2) A work permit may be issued under section 200 to a foreign national in Canada who is a family member of a person described in paragraph (1)(a) or (b).

3 Subsection 299(2) of the Regulations is amended by striking out “and” at the end of paragraph (j), by adding “and” at the end of paragraph (k) and by adding the following after paragraph (k):

  • (l) a person described in section 207.1.

Coming into Force

4 These Regulations come into force at 00:00:01 a.m. Eastern daylight time, June 4, 2019, but if they are registered after that time, they come into force at 00:00:01 a.m. Eastern daylight time on the day after the day on which they are registered.

It interesting to note though that the changes amend R. 200 but don’t directly reference R. 199 which creates some interpretative questions/challenges. While I think in practice, a broad interpretation of R. 199 could still support in-Canada processing under R.199(a), (b), family members under (e) and (f) if R.207.1 was read in, I agree with a Twitter commentator who noted several amendments and wording issues could create uncertainties.

Here are some thoughts I provided on Twitter:

Three Good Changes Emanating From the Regulatory Amendments

1. Providing Recourse to the Six-Month Bar to these Workers – Allowing individuals who may have violated previous work permit conditions or unauthorized work to still access a work permit under R.200(3.1). This would likely forgive 3(e) unauthorized work which may arise from where unauthorized work is necessary as a result of an abusive employer.

2.  Program Delivery Instructions Fluidity/Consultation Process – recognizing the need for strong Program Delivery Instructions and fluidity. I think this came out of a very effective consultation. process.  Full disclosure – I was in attendance for the Vancouver consultation (on behalf of a sex worker organization I assist) and also contributed my thoughts/notes to those drafting the Canadian Bar Association’s position which Deanna, from McRae Law, did a fantastic job on.

3.  Processing Times and Duration of Work Permit – Near the end, there is a discussion of five business day processing standards in 80% of the case. There is also some discussion earlier about the importance of case-by-case discretion. There seems to be acknowledgement that ESDC and LMIA-processing times are heavily intertwined. Cross-departmental coordination to encourage a reduction in processing times (which the LMIA processing moving online as it is expected to do) will play a big part of.

My Major Concern – Program Misuse

One of the concerns I possibly see is in coming up with an effective mitigation strategy against program misuse is that the problem may go deeper than limiting false claims to use this program inappropriately.

While I appreciate the multiple language access (especially for those who self-represented), I think we under-estimate two important factors:

1) Literacy of Those Who Will Likely Fall Under the Policy

  • Just because instructions are available in many languages that applicants may speak – it does not mean those individuals will interact with them.
  • In fact, when these materials are available in different languages this can also encourage more peddling of this information by community consultants and other individuals who this type of work.
  • This won’t be an easy PDI to put into English let alone other languages. There will be discretion. There will be cultural nuances to navigate as well.
  • We have to remember as well that many individuals who work in the SWAP program or in positions such as cleaners and attendants can often lack high school education or literacy to read through the length of a documentation that will be required to breakdown the definition of abuse into various related real-life, and relatable scenarios.

2) Pathways to Abuse – the International Student Parallel

  • One of the challenges I foresee is that the abuse may legitimately occur in Canada but that the roots of the abuse could be overseas through unlicensed agents and ghost consultants.
  • We saw and/or are seeing this with international students with respect to their humanitarian and compassionate grounds or refugee claims. Many of these claims cannot be said to be fraudulent and/or even without basis but were created when the individual first received a letter of acceptance to a college/university they did not know and were not prepared to necessarily attend.
  •  I do see lawyers, consultants, and community organizations legitimately using this application to try and ameliorative exploitative situations. There will be threshold issues. However, what this does not stop is the trend of bringing in individuals by third-parties who know/or are wilfully blind to the fact that exploitation or deception will happen. Agents are actively working to set up students into schools and employees into employers knowing that students will leave for LMIA-based jobs or that that the LMIA conditions will not be met. These potential workers can either be not aware of this, aware of this, or even strategizing their pathway to Canada around this. In short, there’s nothing to stop an unscrupulous agent abroad from utilizing the Vulnerable Open Worker Permit as a safety net (which it is clear from the RIAS this is not supposed to be).
  • In order to make sure this is done properly, I don’t think you can create a safety valve without controlling the front end floodplains. I worry about this being another part of the pathway to PR that it is truly not meant to be.

I am working with several community organizations/non-profits and organizing around this from a public service perspective. The LMIA process (which requires an Employer to pay for the processing fees and not reduce the costs of the processes from an Employee’s wages) can create major conflicts when both employer and employee want to go forward but cannot financially support the process. It is still very likely that several vulnerable workers will still be forced between the decision as to whether to stay in Canada (via a humanitarian and compassionate grounds and/or refugee claim) or whether to leave.

Keep me posted as this program moves forward.

Would love to engage with you and/or your orgs on this.

 

Taoyanzhen, Qiu Jin, and My Great-Grandfather’s Parable to the Great-Grandson He Never Met

First – to Frame

I have been trying to write this piece for over seven years. I had this constant struggle with whether this story should remain a family secret/dinner table fable or whether there was a greater utility in sharing it publicly.

I have decided, ultimately, there is. First, I was inspired by my mentor Dr. Henry Yu who had this piece written about him in the Georgia Straight which he delves into family and delves into his motivations for doing the work that he does. Second, recently, I have read a lot about China and the Chinese Canadian diaspora in Canadian media (about the country and the people, to be specific and certain) that discords from my own experiences and threatens to paint over the history of myself and many others with broad brush strokes represented by a current politics many of us want nothing to do with.

For first and second-generation (and many further past generations – I like to call us all X-Gen’s) our histories are inextricably tied and always will be tied to our ancestral homes. China (and for others Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau) will always be a home for us. Our way of living of bringing in the past into our present (the same missions we’re fighting in Chinatown, Punjabi Market, and Indigenous communities across) is for us, our form of existence and survival as settlers between homes.

For many of my friends with Southern Chinese roots, these stories come from cities such as Xinhui, Kaiping, Panyu, Enping and Heshan. Sadly, I have yet to visit these towns although it is high on my to-do list to study how families made it generations through distance and exclusion. I know that every time I watch documentaries where youth or Vancouverites go back to meet their elders, speaking their Cantonese, Toishanese, Hakka, I get the feels. Even though I don’t speak Cantonese, I share the same warmth. My own ancestral dialect of local Shaoxing is a weird mix of Mandarin and Shanghainese that I find delightful and complicated (as a kid who grew up with an ear for Shanghainese, and a mouth that spoke on basic Mandarin). Our dialect (coming from the South – Nanfang 南方)as opposed to the North (where standard Beijing Putonghua 北京普通话 comes from) – also leads to understanding bits and pieces of Cantonese.

Linguistics is just one example. When we look beyond what divides us, we find some similarities like this that we forget to appreciate and cherish. This extends to those who come recently and who may bring with them different means than many of us originally came with.

Through writing this piece and sharing just a bit of my Chinese Canadian story, I hope that for those people and pundits who cannot separate the physical space, the people, and the Government, that gives a different lens into past, present, and future. That they can give space and room for Chinese Canadians to share their stories and to recognize that with over a billion people there exists more than two sides to the coin of China and how the country and culture has shaped our identity, historically and continuing today.

We are not monolithic, we are different, coming from different political histories, levels of historical and current affluence (of mind as well as money), periods of migration – that all sought Canada as our country of opportunity and new beginnings. That did not change then and does not change now. Our stories are worth sharing because they are unique, different, and for many of us – extremely humbling and full of our rooted values of filial piety, respect, and community. Again, there’s so much that ties us together and makes us each other’s keeper in ways we have not yet begun to appreciate.

Here’s just a slice of my mooncake I hope to share.

Taoyanzhen, Shaoxing – My Paternal Ancestral Hometown

This is where the grandfather and the great-grandfather were born. Taoyanzhen (陶堰镇)Shaoxing (绍兴)Zhejiang Province (浙江省).

When I was young, I thought before that my ‘ancestoral home’ was Shanghai (上海)as that was where mom and pops grew up.  I still remember no mention of Shaoxing in that brown shoebox project my dad helped me with in elementary school where he wrote over it in beautiful calligraphy, ‘My Ancestral Home’ (我的家乡).  In the few vacations I made in the city as a child, teenager, and later young adult – it never felt ancestral or ‘Chinese.’ It felt like Paris. Other than the food, to be honest I was often left craving more. I was a bigger fan of the historical attractions of Beijing than the fast metros of Shanghai.

I found what I was looking for in Shaoxing, and specifically my ancestral hometown village of Taoyaozhen (about a 15-20 minute taxi ride outside of the City Centre). For those that are wondering, – yes the ‘Tao’ is the same ‘Tao’ as my last name. This is a village of people theoretically related to me (although many have intermarried so last names of various type are in abundance). I almost/kind-of had that Punjabi-wedding meet and greet feeling that many of my close friends speak about.

Here is the look of one of the main ‘streets.’ The river serves as a canal with draw bridges. It’s very, very working class. Toilets are a hole in the ground. The whole town a series of intricate mazes and bridges.

For more info about the town check this out link in Chinese.

Going to Taoyanzhen in 2012

When my pops and I went to Taoyanzhen, Shaoxing in 2012, we took a taxi to town entirely lost. My father had been a bit hesitant about going. To him the ‘past was the past,’ and he feared that we would either find nothing from the past or find something that would create additional familial burdens.

After getting off the train from Shanghai (about two and a half hours away) and hopping into a taxi,  a couple individuals in town saw us get off with our Western backpacks and told us we needed to check in with Master Tao (陶老师) who would know how to help us find the information we were seeking. Turns out, Master Tao was the town historian and archivist. In fact, he was doing a family mapping project for the whole village. He sat down with my Dad and proceeded to tell him about his father and his grandfather – from memory. It was a fascinating history for someone who studied the filed in undergrad. It turns out my grandfather left town for Shanghai really early at the age of 12 and never looked (or went) back.

Master Tao showed my father the project he was working on. I remember he also treated us to the famous local Shaoxing corn and I had my first bowl of Shaoxing yellow wine (more on food later).

The project ended up being a book (that my father has and now sits at my mom’s house) and a DVD that he provided me the last time I went there in 2016. I have a copy of the family tree on my laptop which I look at frequently (to the amusement of my spouse Olivia).

My late father was quite the amateur photographer. I love this photo of the Master’s glasses with his work sheets. The photo is nice, so it must have been my father who took it (I’ll own up to my bad photography). At that time he had not yet finished the full collection (the DVD which he gave Olivia and I in 2016).

The Master took us on a short walk to my Great-Grandfather’s home. I don’t think I ever appreciated how good I had it (even in the basements of my childhood) until I saw these humble beginnings.

While I am sure the room looked different then, thinking about my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother, and my grandfather, together in the space I was now standing gave me shivers. Looking at it now still does.

After touring the (literal) ancestral home, my father was re-introduced to and spent time bonding with my father’s cousin (his grandfather’s younger sister’s daughter [could be wrong on generations here]. I believe she hadn’t seen my dad in some thirty years at that time but had faint memories of going to Shanghai on a few occasions to see him.

After a great meal, the next day my father and I went exploring around Shaoxing. The famous author Lu Xun has his ancestral home near the City core so we went there and shared  plate of famous Shaoxing dishes, some referenced in Lu Xun’s work. Shaoxing food is known for it’s liberal use of Shaoxing Yellow wine. It is one of my favourite cooking ingredients – although sadly the ones found in your local Asian grocer bear very little resemblance to the real thing. Shaoxing also has some of the best fermented vegetables and fresh green tea leaves I have ever had in my very biased opinion.

I remember being happy – having convinced my father to make this trip and learning more about him and history that I had spent 24 years of my life entirely oblivious to.

Qiu Jin

This woman needs no introduction. She is one of China’s first feminist heroes, considered China’s ‘Joan of Arc.’ Without butchering the importance of her life story (which the New York times partially covers in their Overlooked series here), she was important as she fought against the patriarchal imperialist society of the time and her own arranged marriage where her spouse subjugated her to a house wife role. She ended up cutting her hair, dressing like a man, and going to Japan to study and eventually became a revolutionary martyr. In coming back and trying to organize she ended up back in her ancestral home town of Shaoxing. She was eventually murdered (beheaded) by the Qing troops who caught up with her in Shaoxing.

Some in the west are familiar with the following stanza of her famous poem written as she was facing death:

“Autumn wind, autumn rain, fill one’s heart with melancholy.”

I want to share another poem of hers called Mistake (失题) where she drops deep metaphors of war, and the failures of masculinity. She writes in traditional five character stanzas where are deep and beyond my level of Mandarin comprehension but I’m slowly working through. Her work is truly something else.

失题
登天骑白龙,走山跨猛虎。
叱咤风云生,精神四飞舞。
大人处世当与神物游,
顾彼豚犬诸儿安足伍!
不见项羽酣呼钜鹿战,
刘秀雷震昆阳鼓,
年约二十余,而能兴汉楚;
杀人莫敢当,万世钦英武。
愧我年二七,于世尚无补。
空负时局忧,无策驱胡虏。
所幸在风尘,志气终不腐。
每闻鼓鼙声,心思辄震怒。
其奈势力孤,群才不为助。
因之泛东海,冀得壮士辅。

 

Other than hometown, you might be wondering what my own story has to do with Qiu Jin other than the shared hometown. That is where my great-grandfather comes in and plays an interesting (and very complicated role).

My Great-Grandfather’s Parable to a Grandson He Never Met

I’ve never met my great grandfather. In fact, I only have met my own grandfather twice (once on a longer extended trip) before he passed. He had my father when he was quite old (sadly, I only realized this about two weeks back when I was doing the math based on the family tree).

My grandfather was a teacher and educator and wrote about language retention techniques (if I am not mistaken). Some of his textbooks written in the 1980s are still for sale in China., online today. Apparently he left Shaoxing and Taoyanzhen when he was 12 years old for Shanghai.

His father, my great-grandfather, was a man named Tao Yun 云 (Chinese word for ‘cloud.’) He also had two other names Lusheng 鹿笙 (Chinese word for ‘deer’) and the nickname 梦 (Chinese word for ‘dream’). I definitely got the ‘clouds’ and the ‘dream’ portion passed on to me (not so sure about the deer).

All of this was captured in Master Tao’s family tree book which I mentioned I had a digital copy of, but here is the excerpt for my great-grandfather (29th generation). We’re 31st and my future kids hopefully 32nd.

On that first trip to my ancestral hometown, Master Tao told my father that his grandfather Lusheng Tao (he called him), was quite a renowned teacher/mentor. He would teach several youth/teenagers/adolescents to read and write, the classics, and became their mentor. It appears he was a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ guy, wasn’t considered famous but yet he was well-known in the community.

Doing some further research online, I found out he was also the teacher of one Zhang Xiyu, who also became a writer/publisher, strong feminist advocate, and later was a victim of the cultural revolution the late 1960’s. As a side note, I would love to know from others/historians/individuals located in China if he mentored and taught more students.

Another one of my great-grandfather’s students was – you guessed it – Qiu Jin. When Tao Master told my father, I was listening but my command of the language wasn’t good enough. I missed a lot of the important details. However, I did learn this one parable about what happened to my great-grandfather with respect to Qiu Jin.

When Qiu Jin fled the Qing imperial forces (as a result of her counter-revolutionary activities) she apparently landed on my great-grandfather’s door steps seeking refuge. After all, he was her mentor. I am not sure if this was just when Qiu Jin was a youth or after she escaped her abusive relationship and went to Japan – something I am eager to piece together.

Apparently my great-grandfather, looking at his wife and son at that time, decided he couldn’t do it. Harbouring a fugitive would mean that his head would also be on the cutting board. After Qiu Jin’s eventual death, it was a decision he came to highly regret. I was told by Master Tao that he eventually became mentally ill because of this regret and passed away quite young in his late 40’s.

There may be a bunch of ties that I am creating  myself here – but this story and this parable speaks volumes to me. I love and have a passion for teaching, mentoring, and being a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ fixer. I constantly worry about situations involving pitting family and public interest. I like watching those I work with elevate their careers. I am passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health issues and to see a direct family connection to the effects of the illness is eye-opening.

The most eye-opening one is to my work now as an immigration and refugee lawyer. Clients are entering my office often times seeking respite and refuge from their lives. I open doors for them and hear their stories, but there are honestly and definitely times where I have similarly regretted stepping up in difficult situations. In that sense, I empathize with the conflicts my great-grandfather have but try to will myself to step up so I do not have that regret moving forward. It is still a constant battle and I look to more courageous colleagues for some of the brilliant work they do as source of inspiration.

All in all, I feel so bonded to this great-grandfather I never met.

Full Circle – Returning with Olivia

My father passed away in early 2016. In June of that year, I went to China to pick up my then fiancee (now spouse) Olivia to bring her back to Vancouver so we could formally start our lives together here.

I wanted to show her my ancestral home as she had so graciously done for me on several occasions since we met in 2013.

We found Master Tao again and told him the unfortunate news of my father’s passing. He immediately showed us the work he had continued to do since we last saw him four years ago.

During the trip, and walking around Shaoxing, I also introduced Olivia to Qiu Jin (her statute lies around this beautiful Shaoxing lake-bend) who she read about in history books but didn’t quite relate to. She still doesn’t quite share my obsession over everything Qiu Jin, but I definitely see that strong feminist characteristic in her as well – one I have to work on elevating against my own often-bad patriarchal habits. I like to think of Olivia, who volunteers with Atira and constantly challenges toxic masculinity in environments she is in, as a Qiu Jin-like figure in my life.

That day we also returned to my great-grandfather’s house. I felt that beautiful blue ray of light seem to shine down from the heavens. The house was even more dilapidated (and now abandoned), but it still has withstood time.

The next day we met up with my father’s cousins and their extended family. It was a surprise trip – they gathered all my related cousins and they treated us to amazing home-cooked Shaoxing food. I learned that my father, without our knowledge, had kept in touch with her and supported her when she lost her own husband to illness with money. That was the kind of guy my father was – super low-key and caring to a fault.

Our Stories Matter. Take Time to Listen to Them.

Where does that leave me. Back to the start.

These are our stories. These are the stories our parents often times didn’t tell us, many times because their parents did not tell us. These are the histories that we didn’t grow up with but are slowly, with age struggling to reclaim.

In the same way your parents talk about the amazing war heroes of the time, and revolutionary business owners who were the big firsts, we try to uncover the stories of our past. These stories don’t come easy. They come scarred, broken, often times in languages we barely understand.

Yet these are our stories. Without these stories there is no us. There is no migration. There is no diaspora. There is no rich cultural “Canadian mosaic” that brings you foods and your friends. Behind this,  without key decisions made at different times by different family members, we may have stayed in these villages bearing our names, never to have known Canada and this Canadian life we are so privileged and grateful to live.

I, for one, am very touched by Indigenous brothers and sisters who always start off meetings by welcoming others and channelling the ancestral spirits from the pasts. What, in our modern day, has led us to do the opposite? To stop welcoming others, and to try and ignore and or speak over the stories of others to write our truths over theirs.

Give space. Open up your minds to the fact a world outside of these columnist’s reminiscing on their 80’s tourist trips to China exists. Similarly open up your minds to the fact there are substantial populations in China who cannot share their stories or even their day-to-day truths like I can so freely do here.

While in Canada, never forget that behind each face, each building, each passport bio-data page, each mixed race individual, each dish, each piece of clothing – is a story.

We should champion each other and each other’s stories and carry on the legacies of our parents, elders, and the ancestors of the homelands of our present and past.

My pops. God rest his soul. I love this photo of him and it also scares me how I’m another 20 years from looking like this (although he was always much better looking than I am).

Why Lawyering With Honesty and Emotion Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Last Friday, I had the privilege of mentoring two brilliant students.

Both students were racialized law students. Both reminded me of myself. They were very humble, aware, fearful – altogether, so very human. I have seen my share of young law students or lawyers with fresh-pressed suits carrying an air of premature confidence. To see two law students who reminded me of myself back in the day was refreshing. I felt connected to them and I felt we communicated well.

During the hearing, I saw the lead counsel constantly looking to me for validation.  Something I find myself still doing. I saw him carry this air of a honest good kid, trying his best to help his client. He didn’t hide his emotion, did not sugarcoat moments where he felt like a fish out of water. It was his first hearing and frankly – he outperformed many experienced counsel I have seen. He showed a level of humility and grace wise beyond his years.

During lunch, I gave him a bit of a pep-talk – one that inspires this following post. I told him I was in his shoes before. He was handling things wonderfully.

I, like many other racialized lawyers, have likely heard the following criticism from others:

“You are too emotional!”….. “You need to disconnect from your work, more Will.” ….. “You need to play your cards better.”….. “stop wearing your emotion on your sleeve.”

This isn’t just a North American phenomenon. I remember when I was in China and the lawyers there told me it was probably wise for me to not pursue law there because in their words I was too “honest” and wouldn’t be able to “work” the system. I wasn’t good at playing ‘my cards’ so to speak.

I find that students struggle with this idea of having to disengage with who they are (i.e. fake it until you make it) in order to obtain their career goals. They feel as though they need to acquire some sort of larger than life, impenetrable personality in order to succeed.

This is particularly the case in litigation, where through either pop culture or frankly real life SCC telecasts, we get this idea of the litigator needing to be that way. Bold, brainiac, and brilliant. Not, Asian, not shy, not neurotic, and not soft.

I want to break that stereotype.

In my own immigration work, and through some trial and error I have come to view it differently. Regardless of whether you are a solicitor or a litigator, I do believe there is room in this profession for those who do not (and or cannot) fake it until they make it, be a bolder version of their softer self, and who can still advance strong litigative efforts on behalf of their clients.

This doesn’t also always involve taking a back seat. I do not want to understate the benefit of collaborating with bolder personalities and playing off each other in that sense. I for one, have been a huge beneficiary of partnering with more aggressive litigators and felt that process just as rewarding.

However, I do feel there is room for the honest litigator who wears their emotion on their sleeves. They may not get the accolades or the same press coverage that other star litigators do but many times they are just beloved by their clients and their community. They are able to make an impact without overshadowing. They are able to empower and utilize their empathy to bring out relevant facts and bridge to opposing parties. They are able to mediate differences through finding shared interests rather than taking necessarily polarizing positions. Clients will be super grateful because you are able through your honesty, thorough preparation, and ability to connect – as you can avoid high cost litigation, negative PR, and secure good results.

I do think the legal profession will benefit from more Type B – introverted individuals. I think also that great litigation teams can be made combining various personalities. The types of new personalities going into law, the diversity of lawyers and their experiences with authority and advocacy, the increase in women approaching law from positions of historical oppression, and often-forgotten Indigenous legal perspectives all suggest we need to re-examine what makes a traditional ‘litigator.’

I’m proud and excited to be part of this new generation – it won’t be easy but we’ll keep fighting (and learning)!

Reflections from the ACCT Conference: Chinese Canadians Need to Organize Around Community Mental Health Resources STAT

Jason Isolini [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
This past weekend, I went to Calgary to join over 100 fellow Chinese-Canadians to attend the inaugural “Action! Chinese Canadians Together (ACCT) Leadership Conference.

It was a weekend of deep healing and reflections on identity, progress, and the many barriers that still exist for us as a community. Among the highlights were a youth panel, organized by many of my younger colleagues, to deep dive into the inter-generational challenges that made some of the previous sessions difficult to set through.

Many of the youth (including those well into their 30’s) felt as though their leadership efforts were not yet being recognized and that speakers were speaking down to some of their lived experiences and re-enforcing patriarchal modes of thinking.

Personally, I did observe that older male voices tended to dominate speaker panels and the small group sessions meant for sharing weren’t always accessible to those with quieter voices or more nuanced/conflicting perspectives. The concept of co-existing ‘commonalities’ and ‘differences’ came up several times during the afternoon.

What I also saw  was therapy in session – as tears were shed, especially by many of the younger participants, but in particular when speaking to the challenges of growing up Chinese, growing up mixed race, and the difficulties connecting to both our parents and grandparents generation and mainstream society. Many elders in the room, afterwards, came around to commend the youth and discussed how they too had tears from listening to these perspecties.

I think these type of spaces and conversations are so important, yet more and more mainstream society is asking us to think beyond, colour, race and identity that we don’t lose sight of how crucial these are to our DNA and our understanding of the individual ‘self.’

I would also argue that, to contrary, until we have these conversations with ourselves and between ourselves (and other oppressed communities including the wisdom of Indigenous descendants to this land) we will not be able to simply carry our ‘play the game’ mentality to positions of power and privilege in Canadian society in a manner that does not cause us to re-enforce those oppressive systems on others, and does not tokenize us away from our communities.

The Mental Health Crisis that No One Is Talking About and the Stigmas Within

The most incredible experience I had was in facilitating a session with Olivia Chow on both story-telling and community organizing. I was one of several facilitators and was assigned to a group from Calgary.

I won’t be discussing any names and organizations (as per the community agreement made before starting the panel and in my small group that I enforced).

I will say that during the story-telling session (after I was socratic-method called on stage and bombed a story-telling example), a speaker in my small group opened up to talk about their own challenges with mental health, how they had a personal connection to suicide, and how this issue affect their Chinese-Canadian clients (i.e. the ongoing ‘stigma’). After a group feedback session of coaching, they felt empowered to share this story with the larger group of attendees. It was very powerful and relatable to the individuals there to here them call us to action – and in fact led to a stakeholder in the room connecting with them to offer support.

I can’t remember the exact facts that were shared, but apparently a subset of Asian Canadian (or was it Chinese Canadian youth) are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from mental health related issues. Another stat that came up earlier in the conference was that within a period of I think it was 20-30 years, mental health will become the greatest factor inhibiting our economy. This places our community at the forefront of a risk to our economic and personal well-being.

We had discussed in our small group that we wanted to bring these theme of mental health into the second part of the workshop. The second part of the workshop was discussing the ideas arising from our stories and our own work (largely around Chinatowns) and turning it into some sort of organizing goal.

We came up with an organizing statement, theory of change, ally mapping, and tactic generation process to try and start up a “Chinese-Canadian Mental Health Co-Op” on the premise that these individuals and organizations present wanted to lobby the Alberta Provincial Government for funds prior to their budget this Fall and provide culturally and linguistically-specific funding.

Before even coming up with our organizing statement, a simple intro around the room revealed everyone…. (self-selecting, as they choose to work on this project) had their lives touched by mental health. It ranged from elders who themselves were going through mental health issues from abusive relationships, to mothers unable to work full-time to take care of a child debilitated by mental health, to seniors feeling isolated from community, to youth and international students going through these challenges. As we went around the room, it was clear that for many of us this was the first time we were sharing on this ‘taboo’ and stigmatized topic. The mood was somber yet resolute.

It was clear that there was a lot of work to be done in our short planning session.

First, as Chinese Canadians we realized we needed to organize on this by creating inclusive personal spaces to hold these conversations. We discussed how the encouragement of young adults to pursue careers in social work and counseling would also help deal with the issue of resource shortage. We recognized that most of the available mental health resources online are in the English language, creating a major barrier to those who are unable to find names and that these resource lists are often in big cities and not shared province or Nation-wide. I heard again (as I have heard time and time again from my clients) that school and work counselors and resources are not nearly enough to address these issues.

As we were organizing and planning, it was clear that a plan was do-able but that such a plan appeared to replicate the usual process of (1) lobbying government through petitions; (2) a cultural communications strategy highlighting prominent Chinese-Canadians suffering from mental health issues; (3) surveys and committees struck up to study the issue and highlight the scope of the problem; and (4) events to raise funds and awareness.  To implement these in practice would require a lot of connecting with stakeholders and persons with power, many of whom may not be vocal champions or see the need for resources directed at one particular cultural community.

We ended up setting up our tactics after getting group consensus but not being able to map these out in terms of timelines. We could have used another three hours, which unfortunately weren’t there.

I am sad that the workshop is over but I do hope someone and some ground of people will take the championing of this forward in Calgary and other cities across Canada. Especially given the tragic news of 9-year old Amal (cited by the speaker in their talk as well) I think it is only appropriate that we were beginning the planning process there.

I have tried to, below, summarize some of my thoughts arising from the session:

  • Mainstream mental health organizing efforts, although well-intentioned, are not culturally or linguistically-specific enough to serve the Chinese-Canadian community. Furthermore, there are challenges with inclusivity and especially finding professionals who understand cultural-specific components of these mental health-issue (such as PTSD, migration-created separation anxiety, filial piety, importance of physical home and community, etc.,)
  • When mapping our allies, several allies are neutral (possibly neutral-negative) but both have and do not have power. This lack of understanding of their positions (due to lack of approaching them on this issue) hurts our organizing.
  • Social media can be a powerful way of spreading awareness but also a contributor to mental health issues. This double-edged sword must be kept in mind as we plan;
  • There is a two-step challenge: (1) fighting to get rid of the stigma; (2) finding tailored solutions that do not end up pitting our communities against each other from precious/limited resources. We can’t simply be firefighting the next suicide without addressing other trigger points from a settlement/sociological perspective (such as racism, inclusion, social isolation, etc.)
  • We have a surface level understanding challenges international students are having with anxiety, depression, and other mental health-related issues – and are painfully unaware of the type of challenges our seniors/elders are having with isolation and costs of living. I think this supports the work of organizations such as Yarrow in Vancouver and to facilitate inter-generational conversations that may be therapeutic for both elder and international student youth.

I have been trying to do some work recently and have been open about issues I myself have had (from seasonal depression to life-long anxiety [you wouldn’t have guessed it from my media appearances and work as a litigator]). Speaking about it publicly and openly with others has truly made me realize and appreciate the spectrum we are all on. Similar to the concept we were discussing about shifting allies over by one category rather than expecting a dramatic shift, I think we can also tackle mental health with the same approach of not trying to eliminate these issues entirely but rather facilitate a more supportive environment for those whose lives are negatively affected and/or debilitated by it so they can improve their lives incrementally.

More broadly speaking, as someone who assists many individuals ranging from minor depression and anxiety to severe mental health issues, that our institutions, rules of engagement, and our societal pace can confound problems. I am also very aware that we do not even publicly appreciate a small percentage of the problem that is out there.

I am also very grateful to journalists such as Wanyee Li (The Star) for writing pieces such as this one to bring awareness to the broader community about the efforts taking place in the diaspora to tackle this.

Most journalism these days rarely ever shows  or espouses the dual concepts of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘opportunity’ so to see it from those who write or reflected in the communities they write about is beautiful.

I look forward to seeing how to get involved in this conversation in Vancouver in a culturally and linguistically meaningful way. I do hope that more public resources.For one, I think more “Big Brother/Big Sister” style mentorship programs between old generation and new generation Chinese Canadians, whether it is systematically organized or just done in informal networks.

What are your thoughts? Do you want to share your experiences or discuss? Would you like to collaborate to make this issue a more prominent public health issue and break free from the stigma?

Feel free to email me at willtao06@gmail.com

21 Day Anthology – Day 5 – Storytelling Training Session

I did training today with a group of Chinese-Canadian leaders for a workshop on storytelling.

There are some really good things – which I don’t want to spoil for those eventually attend the workshop, but I will share the story that I came up with. Perhaps you could draw the key concepts we were asked to include from my actual piece. Ps. the last paragraph doesn’t reflect reality.

On a side note, I am very excited to get to go to Calgary this Friday for The Action, Chinese Canadians Together Foundation Summit in Calgary.

Without further ado, here’s my short piece. I know I’m one day behind, so hopefully this is a good excuse.

I was born to an immigrant father who has 60 dollars in his pocket. Both himself and my mother were doctor’s in China. They had to restart their education from scratch in Canada. They lived in basements, cooked food for their landlords in exchange for rent. They had to endure prejudice from colleagues at work and financial struggle. I was born in Victoria, immune to the struggle around me.

 

As a 2nd-generation Canadian, I reaped the benefits of the economic success they had built for our family but blamed them for the cultural tensions they created within the household and the relationships I failed to establish with others – mostly white colleagues and white teachers.

 

I moved away from the Chinese culture viewing it as a crutch, a weakness, to be shed along with my integration into white society. In my childhood, going to ethnic enclaves such as a Chinatown began as a weekly obligation, a necessary requirement to be avoided. Sure, I enjoyed the barbeque buns but my father often harassed us back in the car to go home as soon as possible – the streets were apparently ‘not safe.’ As soon as I had another place to go – nicer, brighter, cleaner supermarkets in Richmond (similar to the way Toronto has Richmond Hill). I left. I pursued whiteness as a solution.

 

I was never told the stories of our struggles, the violence, to obtain equality that begun on these streets, the constant harassing of our businesses by bylaw enforcement officials, the exclusion of our women, the taking way of our basic rights to vote. I became a lawyer fighting for justice without knowing the story of our own community’s injustice. I owe it Dr. Henry Yu, at UBC, for teaching me and asking me to rethink my own story but also the role of Chinese-Canadians in building Canada.

 

I learned railroad wasn’t built us just buy us by hired help that we were here and built it for our own subjugation. This story gave me meaning.

 

I know many individuals feel the same as me. We’ve spent time in Chinatown but forgotten our roots to this space, and the roots to our identities. To me reclaiming Chinatown is reclaiming our history and showing Canadians there is more that unites us and divides us. It is a story of humility, of resilience, crossing ethnic communities. It is of grandparents, of kindness and generosity, of vendors feeding us and sacrifice on the street corners. Yet, I still see the same tensions that affected the relationship between me and my parent’s generation today.

 

Now, we need to ensure that Chinatown does not become a forgotten asterix, a planning. try but fail – or even that we failed. We need to support actions that allow us to apply for UNESCO Designation. We need to encourage efforts to support local businesses to ensure they are not subsumed by unhealthy gentrification. I urge you to come out to our next meeting as a guest to the Chinatown Legacy working group in a week next week and to support our event. We will provide our food to fill your stomachs from our local bakery, we just kindly ask that you make a small donation of $20. This donation will go a long way to supporting our initiatives and supporting our efforts to write a comprehensive report to council on the need for further funding for our next steps.

What Recent IRCC Program Delivery Updates Tell Us About the Direction of International Student Regulations in Canada

Much of Canadian Immigration Law and Regulation around international students in Canada is given life through program delivery instructions that set out the relevant policies. I have explored in recent blogs how posted policies can conflict with the operation of the law under IRPR and IRPA, which often constrain the efficacy of changing law.

I have written blogs about the 7 January 2019 change to assessing the ‘actively-pursuing studies’ requirement and the 14 February 2019 changes to processing instructions for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.

Since then there have been several other new program delivery updates that affect international students:

1. Co-op work permit – 7 March 2019 – https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/updates/2019-co-op-permit.html 

Co-op work permits previously came with acondition (condition 21) that holders were ‘not authorized to work for any employer other than stated.’

The problem with this previous condition was that it created confusion among employers who did not see their name on the permit and as well created confusion as many co-op programs required multiple employers.

This is a welcome clarification that assists students and their co-op employers alike.

2. Co-op work permit clarification – 1 April 2019 https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/updates/2019-co-op-permit.html

In a follow-up clarification, IRCC then posted new instructions on a page titled Work related to a research, educational or training exemption code C31, C32 and C33 (International Mobility Program)

One of the unique elements of this new page is that under a subheading titled Post-secondary co-op – exemption code C32 eligibility, updated instructions are provided to clarify conditions to be entered by the officers in Canada on GCMS when issuing the work permit.

In addition to the requirement of leaving Canada (condition 18), it is interesting that condition 26 – again going to blanket ban on foreign workers engaging in employment in businesses related to the sex trade, such as strip clubs, massage parlours, and escort services” is re-emphasized as a condition. I am working some potential litigation involving individuals who are not employed (i.e. self-employed) in these areas in order to support themselves and their studies financially and would love to speak to anybody subject to enforcement on this basis.

The rest of the focus on these conditions is on designated and non-designated countries (i.e. those countries where you have lived or traveled in the past six-months). The conditions on the work permit will be different depending on both of them, with an additional condition of ‘not authorized to work in agricultural occupations’ (condition 16) added to those individuals from designated countries.

Hidden in a bit in the last point, IRCC also wants to ensure that the duration of the co-op work permit and study permit should be the same. It was in the past not uncommon for students to have a co-op work permit valid for several months after their study permits expired, creating confusion as to whether those permits authorized continuing work in Canada.

3. Post-graduation work permit length for 2 combined programs – 5 April 2019 – https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/updates/2019-post-grad-length.html  

While the posted changes affect Quebec vocational programs with a diploma of college studies (DCS) and an attestation of college studies (ACS), it is important to read this particular page carefully as it provides important information about the length of a post-graduate work permit vis-a-vis the program.

There are a few takeaways of note:

[1] The letters written by DLIs become very important especially around the issue of accelerated studies and to clearly lay out that the students completed the program in accelerated. Failure to do so can lead to shorter post-graduate work permits. These issues are resolvable through applications to extend and amend but could create new graduates uncertainties and hardship in the interim.

[2] IRCC has appeared to give a blanket rejection to laddering programs.

Prior to these these clarifications (implemented in February 2019, I believe with the new changes), a common practice was for private colleges who were not PGWP-eligible to partner up with programs that were to sign matriculation agreements. IRCC was previously giving credence to the length of the combined programs these schools. Meaning that a 1-year ineligible program combined with a 1-year eligible program (in which the individual received the equivalent to a 2-year diploma), did in many cases result in a 3-year post-graduate work permit. This door appears to be closed with the clarified instructions.

4. Study permits: Making an Application – 11 April 2019  and 5. Validity periods and acceptance letters for study permit – 16 April 2019 –

https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/updates/2019-validity-letters-study-permits.html

https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/updates/2019-study-permit-application.html

There is a lot packed into this update and I think it deserves it own article frankly.

I’ve posted a series of tweets to highlight some points I looked at. I will try and do a deeper analysis later – especially on new interpretation of R. 215 IRPR and studies which opens up a slew of opportunities for applicants in various situations.

I also did a series of tweets previously on this topic, but the validity period information was also amended to clarify that Officers should be entering the study permit expiry date as the date of expiry of the study or the applicant’s passport, whichever occurs first.

Reading this in conjecture with the Study permits: Final decisions page, there seems to be a little confusion as to how to reconcile program completion with validity period.

The appropriate step, from my perspective, is to ensure that the expiry of the study permit should still be 90 days after the end of the program of study. This will ensure that the expiry of that study permit will be consistent with the statutory expiry date under R. 222(1) IRPR. If the study permit is given a shorter expiry date (program of study end date), students will have to file an extension that creates more administrative work for studies they may have already completed. Most students will need to have a valid a study permit to both take advantage of the ability to apply inside Canada (R.215 IRPR) and to work according to R.186(w) IPRR prior to a decision made on their PGWP. The instructions are not currently written in the clearest form for Officers to interpret.

Several institutions, understandably to try and protect their students from running into study permit expiry issues, recommended putting a date that was after the actual completion date in study permit forms – meaning students often received study permits that were 120-180 days after the completion of studies. This should put an end to this practice.

With IRCC now clarifying that study permits expire 90 days after completion of studies but also clarifying that they will need to re-engage in studies within 150 days of completion, we will see an important extension window in those 60 days for students to get back into school if they are not eligible for PGWPs or are refused PGWPs and unable to restore their status. I am clarifying how restorations will work under this new regime and will update that in a future blog!

Takeaways

What you are seeing now is the Government really tinkering with the details (the grey areas) that previously left students and institutions unclear when advising on work and study. In most of these areas, we have seen a shift towards flexibility and giving students and officers more specific instructions, especially on timing.

I do believe that we will continue to see issues with students transitioning between studies and to post-graduate work permits in this interim period – as these timing issues are not always perfect.

I also do predict that there will be a period of time where institutions, and then to their students (through relevant channels such as student presentations, consultants, agents, etc.) will need to disseminate these new rules changes to their students. I would suggest seeking professional help from lawyers and consultants and coming up with a comprehensive strategy for this process.

 

21 Day Anthology – Day 4 – Decolonize (one day behind)

I’m one day behind. No excuses. Weekend ball drop. Paul George not playing up on Dame.

Decolonize

I want to decolonize.

I am trapped in colonial work.

It is like I forgot the colour of my own skin.

What is the content of my character?

Am I too content with these spoils at my door.

Why does it burn one out more to help the poor.

But why do I even refer to them as poor.

Their richer in culture than you and me.

They organize, and put feets on the streets.

They speak up and when they drum you best believe your heart is touched your head starts throbbing. You naturally start bobbing.

But don’t forget that very beat was once banned.

And I just pass on laws to clients they can barely understand.

Because sometimes, it wasn’t made to understand rather to reprimand.

We need to decolonize man and there’s a reason I said it.

Instead of caring what they be saying about my work on Reddit.

End it.

21 Day Anthology – Day 3 – Rays of an Immigrant’s Sun

These quickly flipped pages, the work of our modern day sages, trapped in our below-average wages, creating pitfalls so cancerous they got stages, they say we’re just going through economic phases, you know the pendulum swings – yeah they actually say this, got most of us ignoring what the actual time of day is, we’ve been in dark so long, can God save us?

The grass is greener than ever but the cash cow still grazes, forgetting it’s this land not the sands that truly made us. Yet they keep calling it a displacement of their cultural make-up. Yet these conversations behind our backs isn’t why at night we stay up. It’s because we’re sweeping your floors at night after your kids layup. Going home in the mornings after your bosses berate us.

Got a kid at home who wants to be like Russ, but can’t make it to practice from the outskirts – no bus, so now he stuck on the bench as a barely-called sub, straight rust, got his teammates telling him both him and his dad suck, that he should be going back to Pakistan where they supposedly came from, that he should stick to the math books and chilling with Dim Sum, that’s the name they gave his best friend Brandon to remind him where he from, even though he was born just a block from all of them. Half the time they wish they could run. The other half they wish they could pull out a gun. The reality is these bricks weigh a ton. Back breaking sticks and stones under rays of an immigrant’s sun.