Category Archives: Community Building Initiatives

Page that discusses my community initiatives and work

Why Canadian Law Schools Need to Pay Attention to the Racialized Dynamics of Mooting

By Cimmerian praetor – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14772458

I want to write this piece partially because when a law student who passed on her experiences to me, it triggered my own experiences which led me to really thinking about the importance of sharing this in a more public form.

“We felt judged differently”

I met with a WOC law student a few days ago and began by asking her with how things have been recently. She mentioned they were okay, and I had asked about her moot as I had seen them robed up for it not too long ago.

She mentioned right away, without even talking about the content of the case question or positive experiences, that her own experiences and ones shared with other WOC participants in different sessions were that the judges appeared to be extremely tough on them. How in content they were presenting the same material as their white colleagues/classmates but in the feedback they got grilled harder and praised less. While it was just a small snapshot, it cannot be by more than chance that two separate mooters in two different sessions connected on the same point as an immediate feedback following the moot.

This experience is parallel to  the experience of WOC in many other professional fields. I harken back to a quote by U.S. Democratic Rep Rashida Tlaib last

Source: https://thehill.com/homenews/house/429550-tlaib-people-hear-you-differently-when-youre-a-woman-of-color-and-a-first-in

We’re seeing it in Canada too. As I have been tweeting, the differential treatment (and personalized attacks) against Dr. Theresa Tam (Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, a racialized Women of Colour) as compared to Dr. Bonnie Henry (BC’s Chief Medical Officer). I’ve written in the past as well on how many of my WOC colleagues had experiences of clients ‘going over them’ to contact male Firm Partners to complain, something racialized men deal with much less frequently.

Connecting with those experiences

Today I would consider myself a solicitigator but increasing involved in litigation. I openly admit that my writing is much better than my oral advocacy, and in terms of presenting in front of a courtroom there’s much for me to learn and improve on.  I am still grateful for how far I have come. During PLTC, I was so nervous with public speaking and sharing my voice publicly that I literally stumbled sharing my own name. I remember I almost failed a mock assignment because I became so anxious and had my mind go blank, creating disconnect between my written notes and oral arguments.

I’ve always been a decent speechwriter. When I write prepared statements they are often thoughtful/well-crafted. Oral advocacy via litigation, where you are having a ‘conversation with a judge is more difficult. I grew up in very hierarchical settings where you never looked an elder directly in the face – where your father’s word was to be followed, your teacher’s were held up as perfect, and you, as your nobody self, was to follow not question these relationships. You grew up very conflict adverse – often resorting to silence or swallowing discontent and disagreement. Expressing disagreement publically usually led to a raised-voice argument and emotions that got in the way of logical discourse. I know many others probably share this experience.

Going into law school, and specifically still having hopes of being someone who litigates, then becomes a crucial space for learning and challenging oneself. Unfortunately, both the socratic method (less commonly employed) or through larger lectures where the same voices would dominate (usually white, privileged voices) created a lack of an environment to test out that litigative voice or engage in those types of important (outloud conversations). I only remember being able to share more freely through small groups and our incredible Tort Professor Dr. Jena McGill who would canvass each of us in ways that were non-intrusive and allowed for continued conversation.

What happens through these processes of silence (I can literally count on one hand the number of times I spoke up in lecture within three-years) is this internalized fear of speaking out. While stats do not exist (and in my opinion should be gathered), I believe for many racialized folk we get streamlined into solicitors work because we are not given the opportunity to work through our litigative fears/challenges/and culturally-specific barriers. To this date I hear from many upper year students who are preparing to graduate that they would love to pursue litigation but never made it to upper-year competitive moot teams, never properly received mentorship on becoming a litigator, and importantly never had space to practice and fail.

My Own Moot Experience

I only ever participated in one moot – a labour law moot. The topic was something to do with drug use within a unionized workplace, a sawmill if I remember correctly.

I remember that our first-round competitors (two-white men) presented their case. They were good – there wasn’t much depth of analysis but they were confident and clear. I don’t remember much in way of feedback presented to them.

I remember that after myself and my partner (a white woman colleague) presented, the entire feedback session was directed at me. A white woman judge criticized my decision to include my assessment of the societal impacts of the decision as a standalone argument as opposed to integrated into the points I was trying to make. I really did not have a defense – to this date in my cases I have done it both ways and found it effective.

While my teammate tried to console us (after our defeat) and I apologized for not ‘doing my best’ (even though I had spent hours preparing for both of us),  I really felt afterwards abandoned by the process. I thought I had gone much more in-depth than the other mooters – really engaged with the facts. Ultimately, however, I was picked apart for one strategic decision and that was that. There was no positive reinforcement, no identification that there was some potential there.

Needless to say we did not advance and that was the end of my mooting experience. I never applied for competitive moots, and avoided moots like the plague.

Systemically, moots will indelibly continue to reflect the whiteness of litigation, the way it stands. This is important because moots are usually the starting point for those who want to pursue litigation, which is the gateway to those who eventually become tribunal members and judges. Having strong moot experiences also tends to increase one’s chances of obtaining clerkships and increasing one’s interaction with Professors and moot coaches (often lawyers) who can open career/litigation doors.

Recommendations

A great starting point of change is for the aforementioned first-year moots, which I think all law schools should make mandatory.

For first-year moot especially, there needs to be a greater emphasis on selecting a diversity of guest judges (especially early round judges).

Having different perspectives in the room (even if they are non-subject matter experts – i.e. even if they are quieter solicitors) can change the dynamic in the room. I think judges should be encouraged as well to disagree with one another and themselves engage in positive conflict as opposed to be a consensual sounding board. That dialogue, showing disagreement, can liberate those who are themselves finding themselves in an uncomfortable process. For example, had I see women of colour receive unbalanced criticism from a white judge, I might engage that judge directly as another judge. I might bring in some of those different viewpoints and perspectives. I might even show additional patience or chime in to validate rather than rush to criticize.

For more competitive moots, it starts from the selection committee. Those who arrange competitive moots at schools tend to be usually social-facing white professors. If charged with choosing teams, there is certainly inherent bias towards similarly situated persons who reflect past teams of success and likely not those who were like me who struggled [the whole trauma behind being picked for teams – I’ll save for later posts]. 

Perhaps, schools can also consider putting in B-teams (second teams) as well that don’t represent the next four best mooters but four individuals who indicated their interest in litigation and who may not have had access to past experiences. Rather than going in with an intention to win, these teams can enter with a non-competitive lens of improving oral advocacy skills as a primary goal.

Furthermore, I would encourage affinity groups such as Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and South Asian Bar Association to follow the steps of the Black Law Students Association and the Julius Alexander Isaac Diversity Moot and arrange more experiences. Aim these moots not only at diversity issues but also of Charter cases, public law cases, and other areas. Host workshops, feedback sessions, and other opportunities for students to learn, fail, and challenge themselves. Turn Moot not just to a competitive law school sport, but also a recreational activity for all levels. While one may not turn to litigation right away, it could spark students to consider it or at least add it to their arsenal of tools moving forward into articling and practice.

 

Conclusion – Creating Safer Spaces for Students to Litigate

The fact that students are returning from these first-year moots, which are meant to help inspire litigation pathways and expose students to oral advocacy, with feelings that they may not want to do this again are very troubling. When there is a lack of diversity on the judiciary, we should begin to look at the root causes – including how students are being exposed to litigation.

Ultimately, my recommendation is that we start with first-year moots by having more diverse (including non-subjective matter expert) judges balance out the room and give voice and support to those students who may not come from oral advocacy/vocal backgrounds. Second, we consider competitive moot teams beyond just A-teams and actively into putting together non-competitive B-teams for those who want to improve their skills. Third, affinity groups (through their advocacy committees, etc.) can put together more moots directed at this target audience.

I hope that with some of these challenges we can start empowering BIPOC lawyers to pursue litigation careers beyond their time at law school.

 

 

Top Five Memories from 2019 and Some 2020 Pre-Year Reflections (Because Why Not)

I am a huge lists fan.

I also have a very short memory span so writing things is literally my way of carrying forward 2018 into 2019

Combining both, I will do a quick list of my top five work-related memories of 2019, in no particular order.

This list has also transformed into a more personal piece as I continued to write. I was going to go all professional but realized my worlds are so blurred and I cannot talk about things that occurred without the people that made it happen. So it’s now a mix of both personal/work related stuff.

  1. Initiating and Co-Running the Parent and Grandparent with my colleague Erin Roth

This was fun. The irony of this situation was that our Firm internet was not the fastest so none of us actually signed up clients for the Invitation to Apply, allowing us to carry on the litigation without conflicts.

I learned so much from Erin’s strong written advocacy and deep diving into s.15 Charter arguments. Somewhere I definitely hope to spend more of my time investigating how to better have judicial recognition of race equity issues – through training, re-examining concepts of bias, and unpacking s.15 of the Charter among other issues.

Links:

HuffPost  Article: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/outrage-builds-against-discriminatory-parent-and-grandparent-sponsorship-program_ca_5cd589f3e4b07bc729790228 

CBC Article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/immigration-parent-sponsorship-legal-settlement-1.5154407 

 

2. Co-Writing a Piece About the Diverse and Divergent Experiences Lawyers Go Through with Linda and Tina

This project also took awhile and I took some shots for it.

I was reading The Advocate back sometime in 2018 and I remember wondering why our Law Society Fees paid for content that often times didn’t reflect our lived experiences. We met with them, expressed our concerns, and was told – ‘you want to write something, write it.’ The process of getting this published involved an uphill battle as well. We had to make a major revision in the face of new terminology, older readership, and what I can classify as white fragility.

To their credit, The Advocate did in this issue and has provided a platform to underrepresented issues in the legal community. In that piece and in follow-up pieces, they have taken efforts to write about legal issues affecting racialized communities. Hopefully this work can be continued with others who choose to write for the Advocate pushing their traditional readership.

This work writing with Tina kicked off other projects as well. We both went to Conscious Use of Power hosted by Inner Activist. We organized as well for Punjabi Market, where I met incredible femme activists and enjoyed the brotherhood of Ajay, Gulzar, and Pall among others.

This course was life-giving, perspective altering, a striking wake up call to my colonized mind. I met so many incredible community organizers and brave souls. I also that Brother Aslam Bulbulia has entered my life as a model, and the two Men of Colour groups that have taken space in my social life/healing work.

Returning, was able to present with Tina again to BCIT and work with her on a few D&I initiatives. Watching her and her South Asian Legal Clinic of BC (along with other colleagues of mine, Krisha, Guida, Rana, etc.) come together was a great joy of 2019. Through this work I also met and started collaborating with Parker Johnson who has assumed a Big Brother/Uncle figure in my life already and a relationship I hope to hone more in 2020. If Parker is the Big Brother, I’d appoint Minelle Mahtani the Bigger Sister for everything she has done for UBC and increasing the race equity focus within institutions and in the community. Her book is incredible and I am working through it with love and care.

Link:

Article We Co-Wrote: “At the Intersection: A Conversation with Three Lawyers About Legal Practice, Purpose, and Their Pursuit of Passion”, The Advocate, May 2019At the Intersection – TP, LG, and WT piece

I think that my writing of this piece in a more vulnerable space helped inspired other pieces including I recently wrote in December 2019. For an audience of mostly decision-makers and Government lawyers, I presented a piece titled “On Safety Nets and Sped Up Processes.” It wasn’t a perfect paper by any means but moving from blog writing (with the specific A2J/public/quick read audience) to something a little more substantive had been on my radar for a while.

Link: On Safety Nets and Sped Up Processes – Will Tao

 

3. Writing a piece in the Vancouver Star-Metro Just Before the Federal Election

It was definitely weird seeing my face plastered across Vancouver and even more so having to have my mom tell me it looked like a prison shot. However, I remember most colleagues who said they sent it to their younger relatives or families reading about when together and sharing inspiration was fantastic.

I have to thank my brothers Gulzar Nanda and Davinder Sethi for their work on “South Van Should Vote” and starting the conversation of re-engaging residents in the community we live in.

I also want to thank my mentor Kevin Huang at Hua and the entire Hua Board and Staff for welcoming me on board. I’ve found a family there and I am grateful for it.

Link to Op-Ed: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2019/10/18/will-tao-voter-exclusion-altered-the-lives-of-people-of-colour-this-election-we-need-to-show-up.html

Link to Wanyee Li’s fantastic (and raw) interview with me: https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2019/10/18/we-want-to-speak-up-will-tao-on-the-need-for-more-people-of-colour-to-take-their-seats-at-the-political-table.html

 

4. Consulting on the Vulnerable Persons Work Permit and the IAD Rules

This year I was part of two government consultations in my role as a private lawyer.

The Vulnerable Persons Work Permit occurred as a last invite (Thank to Alison at SWAN!). Going there both as a SWAN rep but also wearing the hat of the CBA who were in the process of writing submissions. I was able to provide feedback and ultimately assist in reviewing the submissions.

The best part of the consultation for me (other than being in appreciation of the vast number of stakeholders involved in the process) was meeting Leanne Dixon Perera – someone who works for Government but bringing such a wonderfully rich and human perspective to it. Her research and the research of others (Sarah Marsden, etc.) has

I frankly showed up a little unarmed and under-prepared for the IAD Rules consultation but to be at the table to witness great minds from Government and Private Practice come together to improve processes was incredible. I was also able to share concerns about ensuring the Alternative Dispute resolutions process remained intact and that self-represented litigants would not be prejudiced by the speed of disclosure processes. I have also seen my IAD practice really pick up and I think that having a greater insight into the structure and processes has helped a lot.

 

5. Presenting to the CBIE and Developing My International Student Advocacy Lens

Working with a brilliant mentee  (Lily) to curate two workshops took a good portion of a month but I was able to look into international student issues across a vary wide range of topics. This has formed the underpinning of my current research on international students. Next year will involve me speaking on international students at Metropolis, CBA National Immigration Conference,  and again for the brilliant students of Cornell University.

On the point of mentees, I cannot give enough praise my mentee Tamara Yang who is an incredible future leader, academic, writer, and just someone I am super pumped on. She held up part of the CBA Twitter Days and as well was a big part of editing my many pieces alongside Lily, who I already predict will do incredible things in law.

Looking Forward to 2020

sans-Edelmann and Co.

Peter, as many of you know, is leaving to become a BC Supreme Court Judge.  His departure from our Firm is a huge loss to immigration law but a subsequent win for justice. I forsee him writing some of the best curated and thought out decisions on his way to a long career in the judiciary. I have much to learn from the way he practiced and thought out the law and also regret not learning more from my time here.

That being said “the safety net is gone,” and Erin and Erica the matriarchs of our Firm will certainly hold their own. We have a great team and to have us all back in the office again, in good health will be an incredible blessing and something I look forward to.

 

Family

There’s been ups and downs in the past few years but I am seeing the potential of a very strong family unit around my mother who is definitely Queen Bee. I look forward to spending more time with her and my sister as we all grow older and age.

 

Writing

I always have to end the year on a mea culpa. I haven’t written enough recently and I need to. Not only because of those who read this but writing is healing, learning, and growing for me. I was very surprised and happy to wake up this morning to a Best Law Blog and Commentary #Clawbies2019 Award.

I also cannot wait to continue reading incredible books. 2019 blessed me with some incredible reads/catch-up reads – Jenny Heijun Wills, David Chariandy, Minelle Mahtani, Arundhati Roy, bell hooks, to just name a few.

 

Final Two Thank You’s for 2019

Edris –  I have an assistant who is also a friend. It’s a dream. Today we pulled a 30 dollar couch from Craigslist together and then submitted a study permit application that he played a huge role in preparing. He’s an incredible human and I have learned so much from him. I will do everything in my power to support him in 2020 and have the world (and himself) recognize his brilliance and potential.

My Olivia – You are my rock. I can’t wait to explore the world with you in 2020 and then breath life to this world. Thanks for always being supportive and always being very clear and frank in your ask (polite word) for my support.

I have written more personal resolutions (shared with my sister Afsoun, a tradition we’ve kept now since law school) but we’ll have to see how those pan out.

Have a safe and happy New Year! See you on the other side of 2019-2020 :).

Thank You – #Clawbies2019

I have decided I want to write a longer (more substantive piece) about where I see Canadian immigration 1, 5, and 10 years (next decade!) from now. I will keep it short and sweet by re-posting in public a more private thank you that I posted on Facebook.

Again – my gratitude and thanks

Go check out the other amazing award-winning blogs! https://www.clawbies.ca/

Happy New Year!

Law Student Legal Advice Program – Assistance for Low-Income Immigration/Refugee/Citizenship Applicants

Many of you may already know or have recently heard that I found a new home for providing legal services and mentorship. I am humbled to join a list of my respected professional mentors such as Tim Bailey (currently at the Law Foundation of BC) and Sarah Marsden (current Clinic Director/Professor at Thompson Rivers University Law) in becoming a part-time Supervising Immigration Lawyer here at the Law Student Legal Advice Program (“LSLAP”), a non-profit legal clinic which operates through UBC’s Allard Law School.

I work alongside incredible practitioners Chris Heslinga (Supervising Civil Lawyer) and Andrew Bonfield (Criminal Law) and am able to come UBC/Allard once a week to meet with students and prepare resources/strategies to assist more low-income and vulnerable clients. I try and stretch the five hours I have where I can 🙂

LSLAP offers summary legal advice and representation for low-income clients in a variety of legal areas (see: https://www.lslap.bc.ca/). There are income thresholds which those that operate phones and run summary advice clinics will screen for.

Specific to immigration, I supervise law student clinicians who are taking on cases ranging from refugee files to temporary residence, permanent residence, enforcement, appeals, and citizenship matters. We don’t currently do judicial reviews but I am working on some resources that may help self-represented litigants in this regard.

The benefit of LSLAP  is that our clinicians can take on cases that other agencies may not be able to. We take on a lot of student matters, assist on temporary work issues, and in particular specialize in some of the roadmapping that help low-income individuals avoid legal problems that could come at high costs. Another area where we do a lot of work is with humanitarian and compassionate grounds applications and those requiring relief on temporary policies. I suspect that with increased emphasis on enforcement, we will also be assisting more individuals with guiding them on restoration.

We also rely heavily on a strong referral network to ensure our clients are matched up with other legal service providers and are aware of their ability to apply for legal aid, or to seek representation in complex refugee matters.

I personally review every immigration matter that goes out the door to make sure the advice is accurate and that we’re providing timely assistance (although with students, we may not be able to step in on emergencies – stays, pending removals, etc!)

Other practitioners may also find some benefit in the manuals LSLAP produces. See the Immigration and Refugee Law Manual here and the Citizenship manual here.

In short, this short blog is to let you all know about this resource for your clients and get in touch with me at immigration.sl@lslap.bc.ca if you would like to refer a client directly. You can also call the switch board at the info below:

​Please call (604) 822-5791 to schedule an appointment.
Please call (604) 684-1628 to set up a Chinese language appointment at our Chinatown clinic.
如果你需要中文服務的話,請撥打(604) 684-1628 將會有人幫您預約時間.

Please note that LSLAP cannot give legal advice over the telephone. Also, please remember to bring a piece of ID. 
Our office hours are Monday to Friday from 10AM – 4PM. We are closed on all public holidays.​

​See you and your clients soon!

Guest Post: Randall Cohn on Volunteering for the Dilley Pro Bono Project for Detained Migrant Women/Children in South Texas

As many of you know, Vancouver Immigration Blog likes to highlight the experiences and perspectives of other migrants and migrant-supporting organizations/individuals. Today’s guest post, is a piece from Randall Cohn, a colleague of mine who I have a great deal of respect for. He recently came from a week working the front lines in Dilley, Texas at the South Texas Family Residential Center where he assisted in providing services to women and children in immigration detention. He shares a harrowing read and asks those who are interested in helping to contact him to get involved – please email him: randall@edelmann.ca

I spent the last week in Dilley, TX, volunteering for the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which provides legal services to the women and children currently in immigration detention at the South Texas Family Residential Center.

Here are some reflections from my experience:

1) I volunteered for this project once before, in the summer of 2015. Following a steep rise in the number of asylum-seekers from Central America, and under pressure to show that they were protecting the border after expanding the DACA program, the Obama administration had recently implemented a policy of detaining families seeking asylum until they could be fully screened for admissibility concerns and complete a ‘credible fear interview’, which is the first-level administrative process in which an ‘asylum officer’ working for USCIS determined whether they had a prima facie claim. The major controversy at the time had to with the length of detention before claimants got their interviews, and the conditions at the facility (and at the CBP processing centers where they spent a few days prior to being transferred to Dilley) that many perceived to be designed to create a disincentive to seeking asylum in the US. Significantly, however — and I liked to think, in part because of the counsel that the detainees received from the volunteer lawyers — more than 90% of the detainees ultimately passed their interviews, and were released with a temporary protection from deportation that would allow them to apply for permission to work and build lives in the US while they waited for the opportunity to have their claims substantively evaluated in immigration court.

During the last few years, as public awareness of family detention increased and people directed their anger at the Trump administration’s cruelty, I have made occasional attempts to remind people that family detention began under Obama’s watch. I remembered the outrage that I felt in 2015 while I listened to these amazing and courageous women describe the reasons they fled Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, as they clutched their young children, almost all of whom were sick from the days they had spent in the uncomfortably cold processing rooms known among claimants and their advocates as ‘hieleras’ (iceboxes). It seemed important to remind people that both cruel treatment of refugee families at the southern border and US culpability for the refugee crisis itself are rooted in US policies that preceded Trump, and have had more or less unbroken continuity between Democratic and Republican administrations for at least 40 years.

I expected that things would be worse this time around — that the whole situation would be more institutionalized, that the stories about treatment by CBP and ICE would be more offensive, and that the detainees’ prospects for eventual release would be reduced.

I was, however, not prepared for just how much worse things have gotten.

2) After months of litigation that led to contradictory opinions in different federal jurisdictions, and a toggling on and off of injunctions, USCIS is now fully implementing Trump’s ‘safe third country’ policy (not to be confused by my Canadian comrades with the controversial safe third country agreement between the US and Canada — there is no irregular entry loophole in this version). Under that policy, applicants are not eligible for asylum under the standards set out in the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees unless they first sought and were denied protection in at least one country that they passed through on their way to the United States. For most, that means that they would have first had to apply for asylum in Mexico, where refugees are routinely targeted for kidnapping and extortion. Both of the women I worked closely with this week talked casually about being kidnapped on their way to the US border and paying ransom as though this was just an expected leg on their itinerary.

Because most families fleeing from Central America do not believe that they will be safe in Mexico, this means that almost every person seeking asylum at the southern border from any country other than Mexico itself is barred, at the outset, from refugee protection under the convention. Instead, they must either seek asylum under the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, which has much narrower requirements, or receive a ‘withholding of removal’ under a statute that restricts the US from refoulement (or returning people to places where they are at risk of harm) where it is ‘more likely than not’ that they will be persecuted for the reasons established in the 1951 refugee convention. In essence, this amounts to what lawyers call a ‘burden shift’. Instead of presuming that people are telling the truth and erring on the side of avoiding refoulement where there is a reasonable possibility that a person would face danger if returned to their home country (i.e. does their claim qualify on a prima facie basis), the US government is now requiring that asylum-seekers convince asylum officers that the danger constitutes a 51% or greater chance of persecution.

How is such a chance measured? What is the methodology? What counts as evidence of risk? Are there considerations for the obvious obstacles to people having such evidence, even if it exists, with them when they cross the border? Nobody knows. But the effect is that, just in the last few weeks, the success rate for credible fear interviews has plummeted from 90+% to less than half. To be clear: that means that the US is now, as a matter of policy, sending more than half of the women and children who have fled, at great peril and expense, from violence in Central American countries that is, arguably, the direct result of persistent US intervention in those countries’ domestic affairs, back to where they came from, and where many of them are very likely (say, 49% likely) to be abused, raped, tortured, trafficked, and/or killed.

3) One of the women with whom I spent the most time this last week is from Honduras, where she was raped and abused by both her domestic partner and his brother (who works for a local cartel), and held captive and forced to work as a domestic servant. When things started to get worse and she began to fear for the safety of her young daughter, she took her daughter and headed north.

When she arrived at the US border, she and her daughter — like almost all asylum-seekers — were held for several days in the hielara for processing. When she was having her fingerprints taken, the CBP agent told her that the US had just passed a policy ending asylum, that she would be returned to Honduras, and that they were just taking her fingerprints for records to make sure they could identify her if she ever tried to come back. He pointed to a group of women being led out of the processing center and said “Do you see that group there? That’s the last group who will ever be allowed into the US. You just missed it.” When they were transferred to Dilley, she thought she was being taken to the airport. She was scheduled for a credible fear interview only days after arriving, and was not able to meet with a lawyer before she found herself answering a series of aggressive questions about her experiences in Honduras, believing the whole time that the decision to send her back had already been made. She chose not to provide key details of her story — which she had never shared with anyone, and about which she was deeply ashamed — and she was quickly found ineligible.

My amazing interpreter Zoe and I spent most of two days with her after she got that decision, during which we finally explained the process to her and she realized what had happened. We took a detailed statement from her that described both her actual situation in Honduras and the reasons that she did not tell the whole story at her interview, which will be submitted to the immigration court along with a request for reconsideration of her decision. Even if the judge recognizes the cruelty of her treatment by CBP and accepts that as a basis for the contradictions between her new statement and what she told the asylum officer, the most likely outcome is that, because she did not apply for asylum in Mexico and has no documentary proof of her circumstances in Honduras, she will be sent back there within a couple of weeks.

No single part of this woman’s story is in any way unusual.

4) There are currently approximately 1700 people in detention in Dilley, composed entirely of women and their children. Many of them are heartbreakingly young — the women themselves are in their late teens and early 20s, and their children are infants and toddlers. There is a day care and a school on site where the kids can go during the day, but kids between 2 and 4 years old seem to be in a gap of services, where the mothers are most likely to bring their kids with them to the visitation trailer where legal services are provided. There is a small room in the trailer, its walls covered with colorful posters about personal hygiene, where Disney movies play, sometimes dubbed in Spanish, on a big screen. The kids frequently come wondering out, tears welling up, looking for their mothers.

Volunteers and employees of the Dilley Pro-Bono Project sign agreements, before being allowed into the detention center, that — among other things — they will not hug or otherwise comfort the children. If they are inconsolable, volunteers are allowed to lead them by one hand to go find their moms. I have been told that people who have violated this agreement have been permanently barred from the center.

Obviously, this was very hard for me. Much harder than it was in 2015, before the birth of my own son, whom I feel certain I would do absolutely anything necessary to protect from harm. Every single woman in detention in Dilley, TX feels that as deeply as I do. That’s why they are there.

5) The Dilley Pro-Bono Project is unbelievable. Every single week, a new group of lawyers, interpreters, mental health workers, and legal volunteers arrive in Dilley to staff the project, guided by a small on-the-ground staff who live in Dilley, and work 6 and 7 day weeks full of 14 hour days. In addition to training, supervising, and managing a new group every week, they coordinate with off-site pro bono counsel to bring litigation on behalf of the Dilley residents that has been and will continue to be directly responsible for slowing the Trump administration’s rollout of its cruelest and most obviously illegal policy directives.

When I volunteered in 2015, I left thinking that I had never seen as impressive an example of what effectively organized direct action can do. It remains so, but on a much larger scale, and with much higher stakes. There is no time or space for any bullshit, and everyone knows it. Everyone works incredibly hard. It’s a logistical nightmare full of constant crises and adjustments, and everyone just adapts. It’s a ridiculous model, but nobody can think of anything better, and the crisis isn’t going away, so it just keeps on going.

Those of you who know me well know that I am ambivalent about just about everything I do, but I am not ambivalent about this. In the midst of a historical disaster, this project is a model of determination, humility, mutual-aid, and resilience. If anyone reading this has even the slightest urge to join this project, please do it. Or send them money, or send money to support someone who is trying to go (thank you to those who supported me). Talk to me if you want my help making it happen.

Solidarity and love.

 

 

 

Her Steps – A Poem

The structured systems that serve to silence our sisters in their seven point five and subsume them with stress in their remaining seven.

Is this our so-called societal success? She spends, no suffers, another sleepless night spent sobbing for six hours in straight darkness and solitude.

I see you tell her to smile more, see the sun, see past the shade. To be more serene, put away that sass – but only some of the time so she still entertains your senses.

“You have to be situational – be more strategic – be selfish – slow down – but don’t forget to call out the sexism!”

Self-rationalization becomes overly-simplified through surface level schemes from bullshit self-help gurus who have nothing at stake.

To the point where actual solution-finding becomes entirely suspect and sloppy like the sauce in an alphabet spaghetti – trying to find an I and a C and a U.

But here’s a suggestion – maybe you could share that your soul struggles too and tell her she ain’t flying solo from here on in.

Maybe you could also just shut up and listen to her saga for a second without subverting her narratives in what you want to see and hear.

You ain’t her savior, Prince you the Problem. Stop trynna sanctify the situation and show up to be in support.

They are her steps.

A Reflection on My FACLBC Speech – Where It Came From and Where I’m Going

Reflecting on My FACLBC Intro Speech – Two Days Later

I am writing two days after delivering a speech at the FACLBC Gala that raised some questions and controversy. I have heard feedback from a few individuals (Asian lawyers that I respect) that I came off a little ‘inflammatory’ and ‘strong.’ I have also heard from others that I ‘spoke my truth’ and ‘said what needed to be said.’ I have taken all this feedback in stride.

In this piece, I wanted to provide both a contextual background but also give you an insight into my recent journey. One key thing, as my mentor Kevin Huang (E.D. Hua Foundation) has continuously reminded me is that we’re all in different stages. I by no means wish to write this a way to impose my views onto others. At the same time, I had a truth, one that Tina and I had shared – and a story I will tell below of how we got there. I am aware that this may vary from processes others are going through in finding meaning and understanding in their work. We may all end up in different spaces and places – and being Asian does not mean we are all one and the same.

Some will be stuck in feelings of survival while others will reap benefits from the current system that will boost our individuality, award/reward us, and lay foundations for happy families that grow up in different financial/social circumstances. It is isn’t my place to tell you that you should or shouldn’t aim for that. Indeed, my past few years has been a direct struggle in trying to question the own path I was on, discussing these issues with family, and finding allyship within community.

Indeed, I feel more uncomfortable now in my legal work than I ever have as a result of this process of think through it.

The Speech and the Inspiration Behind It

Tina and I decided to step up to do this talk on Gabriola Island where we both attended a week-long workshop called Conscious Use of Power (https://www.inneractivist.com/conscious_use_of_power).  We had both found out that we were appointed to the Awards committee and after a week of learning about our identities as both agents of oppression and targets of marginalization, decided this would be one way we could contribute. Tina and I had written a piece together in The Advocate trying to examine the challenges of being racialized lawyers and dissecting the intersecting marginalization and untold challenges we find ourselves subject to.

We were both reflecting on a series of challenges we were having/had in trying to advocate for social justice issues as Asian lawyers. We also thought that maybe acknowledging the fact that in many ways Asian lawyers have become privileged by the system and thus should do more to help address social justice issues might serve some good. We were fresh off conversations with Black women, Muslim women, and other individuals who called us in to do more in our respective fields.

Personally speaking, I had also gone through a lot of change. For those that know I made a major change in the spring of 2018, leaving a Firm that was more focused on the business of law and primarily served high net worth clients and corporations. I also saw myself head towards a toxic masculinity and relationship with power and money.

Transitioning into a progressive Firm (where I currently am at) has been hard on the mind and the soul. I have had to unlearn and rethink many things. I have also had to struggle with engaging in conflict, realizing the double-edged sword that is “stepping into my client’s shoes” in these new (more difficult settings), and the realization that progressive spaces can often be less coloured than corporate spaces. I have struggled with trying to understand the meaning behind pursuing these administrative tasks of law – researching the background and thought processes of mostly white judges, learning how technical rules work, and trying to understand administrative law functions/principles. At the same time, I’ve decided to invest more time into community where I am able to consult, volunteer, speak, and assist – but still not feeling I’m doing enough utilizing my role as a lawyer. Recently, I’ve spent my spare time reading critical race theorists, memoirs from racialized writers, trying to learn more about Indigenous communities that I had too often ignored both in my legal studies and in my lived reality.

Ultimately, I have questioned the very root of the work that pays my bills. I am a racialized settler on stolen land, a product of immigrants, that is using my privileges to help other settlers come here. I am a gatekeeper for a colonialist system that I have bought into. I profit off people’s mistakes. I hold up a system that refuses applicants from Africa at the same rates that many Western European applicants get approved at. I realized that I have avoided refugee work possibly because of the way the system is so confused on credibility and my struggle with trying to break down that concept with respect to racialized bodies.  When litigating complex administrative law issues or being on the front lines of working in detention centres, I feel overwhelmed by the emotional gravity/unfamiliarity of the spaces or disconnected with the legal tests being applied/debated.

All of these factored into the speech below:

As I discussed below, generally Tina and I received good feedback (including one white man who came to us right after we spoke thanking us for ‘including the Indigenous piece’ but I did have the interaction I documented below.

There were many reasons I did not stay for the after-party social (the amount of time I have spent away from my spouse doing community engagements, primary among them) but honestly I was also tired. I have felt tired as a result of the weight of trying to break down and understand my complex relationship with my work.

Since posting my experiences, I heard from some attendees that my comment that the land was ‘stolen’ and then naming ‘white supremacy’ caused some uncomfortability at the tables. I faintly remember seeing Chief Justice Hinkson from the corner of my eye looking a bit uncomfortable as well.

I don’t want to get into the legalities raised by this colleague in our profession. Indigenous communities never ceded the land that I am on and for me that means it was stolen from them. Whether it was taken in other circumstances and areas with some sort of contract, the terra nulius and racial animus that underlined it, makes those transactions problematic. I don’t own these lands, nor do I believe I do when I buy a house. I do so on paper but not in reality.

On the point of white supremacy, I want to clarify to my Asian brothers and sisters that this term does not mean I am comparing white judges and lawyers to the KKK. White supremacy exists on individual animus/hate levels but my comments were addressed at systemic white supremacy, for which I will adopt the definition from Erika Wilson, UNC Chapel Hill in her excellent paper “The Legal Foundations of White Supremacy”:

I think Winston Sayson, QC in his speech highlighting the comments of the judiciary in the Komagatu Maru case, or if you look into the wording of earlier immigration acts, makes it clear that this was ingrained into the law and did not just ‘disappear’ along with racism. The explicit removal of these phrases and barriers has not meant they do not exist in other spheres, ones I am still working to unpack, write, and consult about.

I have been reflecting a little bit on whether it was the right time and place. While Tina and I had predicted the uncomfortability, there were other things I personally did not foresee. The one thing I regret was perhaps not seeing how our speech may have taken the limelight away from the winner of the award – a woman of colour. Tina and I discussed how we could use the words as a transition into lifting her work up and showing her off as an example.

I also was honestly not prepared for our speech to serve as a such a sharp contrast to the speech of Madam Justice Shergill. We had not known that her speech was about the very real ways in which we often create artificial barriers and how we have to have the mentality and mindset to push through. We also did not expect to go before the award honouring Winston Sayson, Q.C. who spoke about meritocracy and our need to work harder and to fight so one day we cease to exist as an organization. Again, those used to be the ways I felt as well, arguably even when I was serving as a Board member as FACLBC just a few years back.

Another moment also resonated with me. I had a mentor I highly respect come up to me and ask me at the FACLBC Gala if i was “still doing immigration work” after having seen likely my recent written pieces and advocacy,

I feel like this dichotomy doesn’t necessarily exist but when you are Asian it does and it is limiting. The reality is today, by virtue of the way we work, we have to run business ventures while serving community and family in our own ways.  Yet, I will be honest in sharing that for this very reason I have disconnected with close friends and struggled (in some circumstances) to enjoy new relationships – feeling often times neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’ in trying to grapple with how much I am a business and an advocate at the same time.

These days I constantly feel guilty about the work I choose to do or do not do. I feel too privileged in social justice spaces to be sharing my perspectives and the same uncomfortability in privileged spaces, where I often disengage from conversation. It is a journey many of us are having; how we create our own spaces to talk about this, heal, and balance work and social lives will be determinative of our ability to be both happy and motivated to keep doing this work.

This morning as well another friend/mentor posted something on Facebook that resonated with me. Do we do our work in “love” or “anger”? Should our goal to do work that eliminates the need for affinity and move beyond our differences to a world where we are all one. This was likely how I saw diversity and a future a few years back but today I can’t say I see it in the same lens. I think capitalist societies will have to operate where someone is doing the labour and someone is making the profits. There will always be those on the outside and the bottom, they will more than likely be darker-skinned and visibly different (be it many persons with physical disablities or trans-community members), and I feel it is the role of Government, social services, and human goodness to hold them up.  I also think we need to tackle this notion that people of colour cannot be ‘angry,’ that we have to ‘smile’ through our oppression, keep our head down and work, and ignore systems that need changing. I have really resonated with the teaching of Dr. Ken Hardy when he talks about trying to turn anger (enrage) into productive outrage which is to be embraced (see his piece: here) . I do see a real fear in destructive rage where we do not give space for individuals to be angry or speak truth to the inequities they see.

“That’s the Problem with You People” – A Note on Self-Care

These days I have been reflecting on how much of  a burden I am taking on in my own mind trying to work through these issues. I need to give it time to be free and breathe.

I had an example of this. Just earlier today Olivia and I were crossing the road. A woman was walking ahead of us with her dog in tow. The dog was falling behind. As much as we tried to get it to move. The lights were about to change. I was worried about the dog and turned around trying to hold it and bring it to it’s owner. The dog ended up avoiding me and almost swerving into the road. Thankfully, it didn’t get hit and returned on it’s path.

The woman turned around and looked at me with her tired eyes. “Why did you turn around to grab my dog?” I stammered, I was worried. I didn’t want it go get hit. She answered “that’s the problem with you people. Save yourself first”

The idea that everyone’s problem and every social problem is now my problem has been a burden that I need to eventually shed. A mentor showed me his cup recently which said “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.” I told him I wish I could do that, but I cannot at this stage.

I am not a politician (nor do I inspire to be one at this stage). I simply am taking up too much head space worrying about things and issues I cannot control. I have also ignore my own health through this process, putting on weight, forgetting to disconnect, and frankly it’s become a problem. I’m going to start going back to therapy to discuss this as I sprint into my 31st year on this planet later this week.

I likely will need time ENTIRELY away from work in December but I have taken enough time this year. Olivia (my spouse) and I are also living like many in this city paycheck to paycheck and when you factor in the financial impact breaks have for contractors, there is no incentive to take extended time off. Even when we are on vacation, our work and clients follow us. It’s rare for Olivia and I to take a full day these days where we are not talking about work or our obligations – the realities of survival as racialized persons in an increasing tough town).

I am trying new ways to engage myself in this work. I need to. I may also have to jump into spaces to start doing the work that I would love to and start proactively saying ‘no’ to other work. If I am interested in policy, writing, looking at race equity, trying to litigate – I cannot continue to dabble in these spaces in order to make meaningful change. I have to commit time to writing, try and jump into human rights and race equity more substantively, and perhaps determine that there are groups I cannot help even if that work may be financially profitable or routine. This will truly be a test of values and I hope to have some of your encouragement, feedback, and mentorship through this process. I am grateful that in one of my new roles I mentor law students – and this work has given me the ability to mentor and work on my commitment to accessible justice and education.

Starting to Bring Together Asian Justice Advocates in Conversation

Going through the internal struggles I am going through and having conversations with others (particularly women of colour, junior lawyers, and recent law school graduates) who are experiencing the same thing I have decided we need to start organizing. One of our first plans is to create a safe and regular space to meet to talk about this. We do not intend to replace any current affinity group but also recognize that we need to have conversations within select small circles that do not encompass outside influence. We also need to widen the circle so it is not just lawyers talking, that we include other professionals, legal assistants, non-profit representatives, in better understanding our role and identity within the law.

I am looking forward to this as a healing journey and I invite those that are interested to reach out to myself, Tina, or Justin Choi so we can begin building and growing these ideas together in the coming months and into the new year.

I hope you enjoyed reading through this piece. My apologies for the lack of brevity (as usual).

Perhaps I can focus on breaking down this administrative law argument now that I have gotten this off my chest.

Speaking Notes – BCIT Diversity Circles – Immigration, Systemic Racism and Barriers to Student Success

My name is Will Tao. My Chinese name is Tao Wei. I wrote a post recently where I talked about being named after Victoria where I was born.  I am a Canadian immigration and refugee lawyer and a racialized settler on these unceded Coast Salish lands. 

I want to begin my remarks thanking Elder Alf Dumont, Ocean, Splash for their welcome and to reiterate that we’re having this discussion on stolen land and that as we talk about systems such as immigration we are talking about historical systems that were created to populate these lands with people who do not look like most of us in this room and that it was done, and continues to be done, with little to no consultation or input with the original stewards of the land, the Indigenous communities. I also want to thank Justin for being brave in sharing his remarks and for speaking for many silenced students. I could not have done what you have done when I was a student. 

I have been asked to address the context of immigration as it relates to status, belonging, and talk about my role as an immigration lawyer who works extensively with students like yourselves. Can I get a show of hands of how many of you are or were international students in the room?  [there was one]. I ask you to keep your hands up if you can. How many of you are friends with or have loved ones who are international students? [almost everyone]. 

I want to start by also acknowledging that immigration law and policy is steeped in colonialism and white supremacy. It is steeped in ableism and discrimination against those with mental health illnesses. It has created systemic barriers for women and those from other marginalized communities who do not fit the traditional check boxes of immigration. Both then and now. It is a reality that keeps me up at night and often leads me to both “seize up” and struggle to “speak up” to borrow the words of Canadian author, David Chariandy

It begins with history. Two remaining minutes is not enough to track the whole history of our immigration system but up front we need to name these things and giving light to some of these events.

  • 1906 immigration to open gates to British Subjects/Europeans – 96% European;
  • In the late 1800’s early 1900’s – Anti-Race Riots/Head Tax/use of domestic legal policy/foreign policy to exclude people of colour – 
  • Black Canadians in 1911 were excluded and climate suitability was used as an excuse;
  • Asians were excluded in 1923- beginning a long period of family separation and closure of the borders to a majority of Asiatic migrants until 1947. 
  • Immigration was once the Office of Immigration and Colonization in 1917 before being transitioned into the Department of Mines and Resources in 1936. That is the historical underpinning of where you are at – as colonized bodies, mines, and resources for the European settlers who assumed this would be “White Canada Forever.”

My historical argument is that we’ve moved from front end barriers that were explicitly enforced in law to now back-end barriers or dissuading factors that are more implicit. This is done largely through a process of assimilation that unfortunately by virtue of your immigration statuses you are all subject to and must master to obtain the status, permanent residency, and later, citizen.

Today, you continue to see an area of law and policy develop mostly off the backs of coloured migrant bodies and lives, yet with little attention paid to the role of race and a reticence to actually addressing. 

You will notice the lack of Black students in the room. You have African colleagues with 80-90 percent refusal rates where in many European Countries you have those as acceptance rates. For you in this room, you have an Express Entry system that sorts you into pathways and gives you points based on your, age, and language – possibly assimilating you and separating you from the work you want to do and the community you want to work within. You face challenges as a student with a two-tiered system that examines your attendance, your transcripts,and your border entries in a way it never did mine. 

The amount of stress these outside systems provide, don’t begin to address the inner challenges many of you face as migrants with temporary status. Through my own family’s lived experience, I know the effect it has on your internal family lives, financial challenges, emotional challenges.  I know it is in your interactions on transit, your interactions in the classroom, within diaspora with those think they can speak over you because they have been here longer than you, and so much of this is due to ignorance or assumptions that we must work to displace. I know as someone who works in these spaces I can say “I hear you, I see you, and I feel for you.” I will do what I can to share stories and hold your truth to their power.” 

My final advice, particularly for the men of colour in this room and with the additional layer of migration status and all the culture and history it brings with us, is to do your own healing and form stronger bond with each other but listen carefully and honour the experiences of Indigenous matriarchs and women of colour in your lives. It is a process that will change your world view and ground you. I know it has for me. Thank you. Gan Xie.

Rethinking the Metaphoric Roxham Road – Why I’m Voting Strategically in Van South with Migrants and the Marginalized in Mind

In this piece I am going to talk about strategic voting or at least my own strategic vote this election. I also will touch on issues of anti-immigration sentiment/misunderstanding as it results from a shift towards populism.

There’s been a lot of good writing in this area. This isn’t my attempt to try and match that. I won’t be linking to articles, talking about statistics, or even going into the theory. These are my views and my views only.  There are experts that are far more learned than I am on these topics. Competency takes time and I am on the beginning stages of that journey. I am still (to be fully transparent) trying to ground and negotiate my own identity as  Chinese Canadian Han male on these unceded and stolen lands.

What I want to meditate on in this piece is to speak from my experiences and one I hope will influence other voters, particularly those who may share progressive values.  Even for those who maybe socially indifferent or fiscally conservative, I think there may be something worth discussing here.

Thinking Beyond “Me” and the Problem of Voter Apathy

I know that in capitalist economic systems the focus is always on the ‘you.’ In fact I noticed it I believe in one of the campaigns is aiming to think about this. The reality is, however, empowering the ‘you’ often comes at the need to oppress the ‘other.’ Or to reframe it this way – in order vote for what I want, I need to vote against what I do not want or that does not benefit me. I find this perspective deeply problematic.

If I am voting for myself only, I would likely be a fiscal conservative, socially neutral voter. I am a CIS-gendered, heterosexual male, who in the past has taken full advantage of the ‘model minority’ label often attached to those in my community. I run my own corporation now, so lower taxes would likely help me. Making more money, and paying less taxes would help me put a larger roof over my head – fulfilling Maslow’s hierarchy in the process. I could probably have kids earlier and put my family’s financial security first and foremost.

In short, I know that this system itself helps me. Whether or not I try and squeeze myself into the ‘Middle Class Canadian’ label the reality is I am okay with any Government. I would do fine.

But…. if I take a broader lens on the ‘us’ – understanding that my own financial career has been built off a legal system and off clients who do not have these privileges, I cannot simply vote without thinking of those impacted most by Government. Other than in my legal work (where I profit OFF government processes), I can largely avoid Government in my day-to-day life. Those who are lower income, homeless, people (esp. women) of colour, Indigenous, persons with disabilities, and the trans-community (among many other marginalized communities) who cannot. Their lives can not be detached from reliance and the active role Government plays in them.

One of the reasons I am so much in support of political advocacy to drive more voters (and hopefully in the future, candidates) from these communities to step up – is that they need to voice out their concerns – even when the larger majority holding power may not be listening. The primary concern right now, is that a very dangerous force of white supremacist, nationalist, populist thought leaders are threatening to rid our political system of those on the margins or use their mere existence to perpetuate their own power.

These groups include refugees, religious minorities, those with different sexual and gender orientations. This force sees as a threat, not an opportunity, the difference among us. The reality is, in some of these communities, the other is simply not present. They have grown up in homogeneity and cannot fathom the mosaic that so many of us champion and celebrate as ours. They hold much of the voting power of Canada and – similar to the U.S. and the last election- can not be underestimated. However, I am hopeful that our nation and the ideals we have built around can shed a positive light rather than a negative darkness around these issues of who belongs and what belonging entails.

Immigration and Refugee – Largely Misunderstood Through Exploitative Lenses

Immigration is being and has been misunderstood. Our current national discourse shows it.

  • On mass immigration –  the levels have shown very little movement over the past decade. We’re really talking about minor percentages.
  • On illegal refugee ‘crisis’  – as a country we are not even among the Top 10 refugee welcoming countries, nor are those seeking entry illegal by any legal definition. Much of what is going on is reflective of a United States system/global unrest outside of our direct control or created a result of our historical actions/inactions.
  • On birth tourism – where it would take a huge logical leap to consider
  • On jobs – where Canada has a low unemployment rate, no one wishes to do the jobs that migrants do, yet we still blame them for our challenges and abusing our systems.

Roxham Road, itself, on the immigration front is a perfect example of how we have forgotten our sense of humanity in the midst.

Our discussion of immigration, refugees, and newcomers – a large variant topic that encapsulates everyone from asylum seekers to new citizens – has been dominated by concerns over a small border crossing in the United States.

I have difficulty fathoming how individuals can feel personally threatened by the fact others want to seek safety and security – given all of us, somewhere down the ancestral line, did the same. I cannot balance the fact we blame them for doing harm on our societies while ignoring our own settler roles in harming Indigenous communities in ways much more deep-roited then the fact Nigerians and Haitians in some cases may be seeking refuge from ‘hardship’ instead of ‘persecution.’

Why do some Canadians believe that this land is only for themselves and not for the coloured, for the migrant, and the marginalized? We have gone a step beyond the indifference to an act of differencing them down to a level below us in order to raise our collective outrage.

It isn’t just by chance that these surveys have found Canadians are concerned primarily with non-white immigrants. I see this as further indication that we have replaced our overt racism with one through attempted justifications of policy over a system that itself inherently racist and upholds systemic racist systems. Those who study migration will know that the big tent that was initially created to populate indigenous lands was narrowed through law and policy when too many coloured and dark faces began to show up to complicate the intended narratives of “White Canada Forever.” If one looks at our economic immigration system today (the one always ‘touted’ by those pro-immigration) – these too are built on the privileging of young, able-bodied, English-speaking, migrants over the ‘other’ who will never meet the criteria. Many of these others are my clients.

Immigration – and this is something you will only truly experience once you work in the margins or have recent experiences yourself –  is more than just what we think of our borders, what we want workers to do for our businesses. Immigration is a deeply human act of moving, separating, integrating, and conflicting systems and identities. it is about assimilating, without understanding our colonizing actions. Refugees and other marginalized groups have taken the hit as a result of our system of trying to pick ‘good’ migrants and alienate ‘bad’ ones.

I find that it is the absolute low of lows of gutter politics to use refugees and other newcomers (who do not have a vote or political power) to drive one’s political agenda against them.  If my own accumulation of power requires other humans harm – psychologically, physically – I need to rethink my use of power.

I urge some Canadian politicians to deeply have this conversation of their privileges, who they serve, and who they are excluding in upholding dangerous rhetoric.

Voting Strategically for a Candidate I Believe In

This election I was facing a difficult choice. Why? Politics over the past decades has not welcomed people like me but instead distanced us into background, single-issue advocates. We (and the big tent I am using I am very well aware are marginalized communities of which I do not belong and may show indifference/harm to in my work) are stuck fighting each other and our own differences and not the collective systems that oppress us.

Yet, in the ways that populism has taken over, I have also seen a lot of light and potential. That some leaders are actively seeking to change the ways they lead and/or address negative change. One of those gems of light is in my riding of Vancouver South.

Ultimately, these past few days/weeks I  have looked at my neighbourhood of Vancouver South I looked at the coloured faces, the new businesses such as the amazing Filipinx restaurant I visited yesterday, and I asked myself – how can my vote help them. However can I foster their inclusion. What would I want if I were them?

In that light, I am going to be voting for a candidate that has demonstrated their commitment to equity and diversity, who is willing to stand up (and not look down) upon our values as Canadians. I want someone who will keep their constituent office open for newcomers and migrants to seek access, who is open/accountable, and who wants to widen the big tent of Canadian politics and ensure it isn’t one built on an “us” not “them” mentality. I want a leader who won’t accept the 30 years of model minority that I grew up in as a pathway to personal success but rather show concern to those who are seeking a voice and defend those voices. I want to vote for someone who when incidents of hate occur (as they will) or when we are forgotten in the political process, to remember their roots in Vancouver South. I want an individual who will have their eyes open to changing demographics, future challenges, respectful of our history, and willing to change the way we do politics.

I hope (and dream) of a Canadian politics that is able to serve as a balance to support marginalized communities in the same way corporate/economic forces hold up the majority (including myself). I’ll keep dreaming but until then keep on keeping on. I made to cede power, spend my billable time seeking justice rather than profit, but I believe we owe it to Our Creator to do this work.

Happy to chat with any of you offline about where I am leaning but I encourage all of you to look into the issues, where we’re going, and make a strategic vote for our collective future.

 

Learning to Take the L – Loss, Grief, and the Law

This piece has been simmering and marinating in the back of my mind for awhile now. Meeting a mentor last week who had at a crucial juncture shared with me his story of loss and this time shared his current work to reframe challenges as opportunities inspired me to finally put this down in writing.

So too did this piece where Stephen Colbert, who lost his father and his two brothers at the age of 10 shared some lessons on loss and grief with Anderson Cooper, who similarly lost his father at the age of 10, a brother to suicide, and at the timing of this filming, just recently his mother.

Cooper talks about a letter that Colbert wrote to him following the death of Cooper’s mother wishing him ‘peace and grief’ and Cooper talking about how how he is coping with the help of others and how death has changed the trajectory of his life.

Both Cooper and Colbert also shared their experiences of life pre-loss and post-loss. Colbert talks about this ‘big break at the cable of my memory.’

Before I get into my experiences I want to define ‘loss.’ I know loss – to it’s extreme meaning is death but there is certainly more than that. For others, loss can be as simple as failing a course or dropping the ball on a big assignment. I don’t think comparing losses does any good nor does such a process take into account the fact we all have different relationships with loss. Some of us are used to it through our life experiences; stories of lives started in refugee camps, foreign lands, or with an early chapter of loss of family member. Some of us suffer from PTSD from traumatic experiences and violence. Others have had loss through breakdown of relationships with close partners or other family that continue to linger in day-to-day life today.

However, and to certainly generalize but with some basis, I don’t think lawyers handle ‘loss’ as well as the general public. We are a group who tend to represent a pathway of some past privilege, in worlds where loss (losing) can seem so foreign. We come places where ‘things just don’t go wrong’ – a pathway we drew up and executed to a T. Our perfectionism as a profession and ways we address problems (usually through ‘covering our own ass’, or ‘risk mitigation’) doesn’t allow us to comprehend and understand loss in a way we need to grow and move forward.

Personally, I haven’t talked too much about the time I dealt with loss and almost purposely so.  I tried to give a talk at the Federation of  after it happened (probably too prematurely) fumbling around without having prepared any proper notes. I lost my train of thought and likely rambled something incoherent – the wounds being still so fresh. I can tell you that the Law was incredible during my most difficult times. Not the actual content itself but the people and the experiences from it. I was able to chat with countless colleagues, like the mentor I met this week, who were able to open up to me on their own experiences of losing a parent. From the unspoken and the feared, it became counselling. In fact, it was my introduction to the power of counselling before even seeking professional help to tackle it. I also was grateful to have the love of my partner, my best friend, my mother and sister. There were certainly a lot of moments that tested those relationships but we’ve become stronger through it. Again, some gratitude (of the type Colbert discusses) through grief. I remember reading ‘When Breath Becomes Air‘ and several blogs/podcasts to prepare myself mentally for that moment. I still was terrible unprepared but I think somewhere it added some foundation. It was the first time (in awhile) I remember being able to read non-work materials because it turned into words that were that important.

I went back to work two days after my pops passed. My pops was always someone who never celebrated successes, nor wanted a big deal made of things. I thought about his ‘business as usual’ and ‘never take a day off’ approach to things and followed his lead. Did I go back to work too early? Probably. Did I go through a proper grieving process? Probably not.  In hindsight, I would have taken more time. Yet, for me work gave me an escape. Today, I need an escape from work on some occasions to handle the effects of loss.

The biggest and most negative effect of loss and how it may affected me – and it was shared by Colbert and Cooper – has been the breakdown of memory, the compartmentalization of the past. My memories pre-2016 are nowhere as vivid as my memories since. I cannot piece together some of those moments. Much of my three years of law school have been blurred into probably a 60-second clip of 5-second memories. Truly the shards of glass and flashes that Colbert speaks to. I can barely remember my pops as an unsick bastion of strength and confidence and that grasping of fleeting memories is scary. It (has) worsened year by year.

On the flipside, it has given me a short-term loss cycle. I think it has allowed me to work through daily losses or mistakes quicker. I recognize, forgive, blame myself, but move forward in a very short period. I still have trouble grasping loss or mistake (a trait since I was a kid) but I am trying to breakdown my walls and let others in to help. One thing I recognize (and something I am working on) is not burdening the femmes in my life (including my mom, spouse, sister, and various colleagues) with these but to seek more comradery within men’s circles to chat about this as well and put aside our usual ego-dominate conversation.

It is ironic, as in my legal work, I push and press my clients to discuss their trauma, to open up, to try and detail moments and feelings in ways I cannot do myself. I still straddle that line of experience of being able to say ‘I know what you are going through’ but realizing that grief and loss is so different for each of us that I truly cannot, nor should, carbon copy my experiences on others. The gratitude I do have from grief is that it has opened me to be able to listen to the grief of others and spot it or the roots of it. I have not a psychologist but I have been able to understand the psyche behind unspoken words, reading between the lines, and some of the ways anxiety, stress, despair, depression, and fear can affect us. I don’t know if I would have seen it without my own personal experiences.

At the same time, because of how sensitive I can be to grief and suffering I partner with more senior practitioners and others who may be better at driving the legal analysis and are less on the client-facing side. I take short-term financial L’s (co-work with a senior colleague or work with an assistant) so we can have space to discuss how to separate law and emotion, prepare strategy and help address the burden (and responsibilities) of representation.

A lot of my work moving forward, through this early-mid stage of my career, is about ‘going on,’ not avoiding suffering but embracing it (paraphrasing Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air). Recognizing and appreciating the double-edged sword that is being more sensitive to the negative emotions and feelings of suffering (never being able to become ‘indifferent to it’ as some have tried) but that this is motivating for one’s work. That through tough days we should as Genia Ginzburg writes in Journey Into the Whirlwind (which I read in high school and re-read after my pop’s passing) still live and find someone each day to be grateful for.

I can truly say that I have found gratitude, through grief. Gratitude that the power of our profession that it is one that allows us to address the grief of others, of our clients. Moving forward that my work will always encompass an honest approach towards that grief and a vulnerability that I will share with my clients to create an environment where we can grow through our challenges together.

To close, I also want to offer myself and my time to anybody who is grieving or going through loss. I know I will be but a mere stranger. I don’t hold a psychology degree nor will I inundate you will self-help material. I can just assure you that I will be a listening ear to your hardship and struggle. Law is built off of confidentiality, privacy, but the search for resolution and understanding – platforms that too much of our world today cannot co-exist.

Meanwhile, personally, I will still move forward to learn to take more Ls. Holding the hands through someone you care about into the fire is hard – but ultimately it is our job and a resiliency, we need to build up and learn. Mistakes, losses, and grieving from those mistakes and loses (those we can control and those we can’t) is part of our job description.

I thank you all for reading through this and jumping into my world. I’ve show you a lot (some would say too much) but I do so with the hopes of de-stigmatizing the conversation around loss, grief, and the law.

With love through gratitude,

Will