Category Archives: PFO Collective

This is a collective founded in 2019 to explore issues of racism, anti-oppression, and decolonization on a deeper, substantive, yet applicable level.

“Too Often Silent and Therefore Complicit” – A Poem on Anti-Blackness

Dear M:

I still call you my first Black friend. But having a Black friend ain’t never enough but an excuse to divert from the reality of anti-Blackness in my own life.

I can’t just give you daps while denying the fact that:

  • When I was a kid, I never pushed back against those who told me not to hang out with you or that your background would be a negative influence on me – based only on human bias and a lack of understanding;
  • When I was in high school,  took your music and turned it into my hobby, without initial acknowledgment of the music’s roots in the struggle;
  • When I was in college, I tried to tune out but said nothing when a friend of mine, also darker skinned but with light-skin passing privilege within his community, thought it appropriate to drop the words that has caused generations of pain – making it a point to sing out the word in every song we played cards;
  • To this day, I often stand idly by continuing to watch television shows where you are expropriated for comedic purposes or to illustrate flaws, wrongdoing, crime as if who you were did not matter. Characters in Blackface and constantly stating “I don’t want to be Black, I don’t want my skin to be Black.”
  • In my work, when I operate so blatantly in a system of Anti-Black racism that barred you from coming to Canada, and is still systemically ensuring you are kept outside of our borders and our detention facilities. Trying to always play saviour;
  • In my community, when I come into your circle as an other and speak as though my experiences trump yours, and it is my place to share my academic knowledge of our condition to demonstrate I should have a seat at the table – it’s not making a difference to the seat that you don’t have;
  • When I have privilege and voice and see Black sisters in the game, but I spend my time seeking approval from the white man and forgetting your existence;
  • When I can speak out, but when elders and loved ones in my community who do not know better nor and who I have not taken time to educate, demean your history and existence, and I say nothing. Once someone said your community should only have an alley and I just swallowed my disagreement. That’s not what allies do.
  • That I have benefitted from writing about Race and bringing a critical lens into my work, while Black sisters are doing the unpaid emotional labour, and both Black sisters and brothers are dying just on the basis of existing.
  • That I am often too-silent in the face of authority and whiteness.

I’m too often silent and therefore complicit.

My words and performative work mean nothing if I do not acknowledge past shortcomings and change them. Stumbling and all.

I cannot absolve my own responsiblities simply through #hashtags and rallies, quotes from Black scholars unreflected in my own very (in)actions.

I need to change my very approach, my brother, and I ask for your forgiveness as I find my way to better support your liberation.

Written in honour of the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and in acknowledgment of the anti-Blackness in my life and the outer and inner work I need to do.

CBA Immigration Section Founder’s Award Paper and Some Sharing of Gratitude

Hi Readers:

I have been relatively quiet of late, grappling, as many are with the  deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore and thinking about how my own work and positionality as a lawyer requires me to do more and say more with respect to Anti-Black and Anti-Indigenous racism. I have been working on drafting a response for an organization but even those words seem like they fall short, as I have.

It is with these complex feelings that I wish to share an award I received today, but I hope to divert attention from the award itself more to the paper I wrote, before drawing on a few Thank You’s.

 

Paper – Re-Centering the Resilience and Resistance of Migrant Women of Colour: Exploring the Potential of Intersectionality and Indigenous Approaches to Immigration Appeals

I have shared the paper below. It is shared with the permission of the Canadian Bar Association and I am grateful for their support.

WT – Founders Award Paper – FINAL

The reason I wanted to share this paper is that it represents for me a first major (academic/creative) deep dive into the issues of intersectionality, racism, and Indigenous approaches to Canadian immigration law. I have been thinking about these topics for some time, tweeting and blogging, but in this piece I tried to mold it into something more prescriptive. I also wanted to take a critical lens, something we often fail to do when we simply celebrate diversity and multiculturalism without seeing how it is working below the surface and in white spaces.

With organizations considering how they can respond to recent events, particularly in taking anti-Racist approaches, I do hope we can begin through looking at long-standing institutions/laws and how they may not be creating space for resilience, resistance, nor recognizing the experiences of migrants of colour.

I ask you to spend some time with my paper, particularly if you are a decision-maker or a Government official (particularly from the Immigration Appeal Division, for the purposes of this piece) with the ability to implement change. I do feel that this is an area where Canadians can demonstrate anti-racism is more than just a current rhetoric and to work towards past reparations by resourcing (read: paying/investing) for Indigenous advisors to help rethink our Immigration system. This is just a start, but I hope it sparks something or some ideas for needed reform.

I also wanted to specifically highlight that I was influenced by writer Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, The New Mestiza’ for the way she mixes literature and prose.

 

Thank You’s

I want to start by thanking the CBA (the Award’s Committee, Exec/Table Officers/Staff) for this award and the below generous write up. I do not do this work for the accolades, but to know others are watching is great.

I am continuously cautious of the effects of when organization’s difference you up and how that could impact your work and what you say. I am being very careful to not compromise for me the core value of living/practicing with authenticity and transparency at all times.

I would like to my mentors/colleagues at Edelmann and Co., including now-Justice Edelmann and my former mentor/colleagues at Larlee Rosenberg and Heenan Blaikie prior to that – as well as the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law for being such a beautiful place to learn the law and for supporting my work.

I would also like to thank my mentees who assisted on helping me review my paper and give me feedback. Specifically, Karen Jantzen, Tamara Yang, and Astitwa Thapa were instrumental for this particular piece. Chats with the exceptional Partner at my firm Erica Olmstead and the ideas of the brilliant researcher/thinker Leanne Dixon Perera helped shaped this piece as well.

I also wanted to thank those at the UBC’s Allard School of Law where I serve as a Supervising Lawyer for the LSLAP Clinic for inspiring me to look beyond the sometimes too-safe practice I do as part of my regular work.

Finally my best friend Davinder,  my Assistant Edris, my spouse, Olivia who supporting me through thick and thin, and my mother and sister. I did not dedicate the paper to my late father (he hated public attention), but I want to recognize his influence in raising me the right way.

I am taking most of today off to write (although some of it is for my case work). I hope to publish the piece on anti-Black racism and experiences in my circles shortly as I think that is the conversation we need to have today.

I hope you do not mind this short interlude.

Dear Anxiety – A Letter

Dear Anxiety:

I have a hearing in less than two hours. I am writing you to spill my heart and in hopes that I put you to a resting space in the very back of my head. You have occupied a place at the very front for too long. The only reason I have not talked about you is that this profession that I am doing and that I work in doesn’t embrace you, silences you, works through you. I have worked through you for five years now and done well. Why expose you? Well – because I see you in so many others. We’ve been in this together for too long, but talked too little.

By long, I mean probably since I was born. I would not have known it then. No tell tale signs other than a father who was an overworrier but that’s what good fathers do. He probably had anxiety too but never told me and we will never be able to discuss it anymore.

I probably noticed you first when I was in those math for exceptional students realizing how unexceptional I was. Struggling to solve problems, with the tutor and the rest of the class near finished. Heart racing, sweaty, stumbling and mumbling my way through being asked to explain my reasoning.

I noticed you again with piano. I had dreams one day of being a great pianist but one day (and wasn’t half bad), as I was heading to the last grade of my studies, my teacher told my father – he’s got skill, but he’s got an issue handling pressure. Perhaps that comment (or pressure) led me to quit. Escape always on the mind.

I noticed you in high school. Every time I was to recite a poem or perform Shakespeare in front of an audience, you would kick in. Stage fright. Lines, what is the next line. I thought about all the classmates judging me for my failures, my less than stellar grades (a result of exam anxiety) also leading my parents to judge me. Trapped. 

I remember in University, when I was to deliver an important part of a Fraternity ritual, I choked. I forgot my lines, in the darkness, my brothers in the room. I noticed you too when I was taking my driving test (one that took a few times to pass) I would sweat for days on in. In the back of my mind, this hearing, this case.  I avoided you. I took on paper-based classes, courses that allowed me to organize things and work with my hands, because I knew if there was an exam or some sort of ‘test’ I would be hooped. The power of prediction let me somehow pass and move forward.

You kicked in with the LSAT. I have not told people this but the reasons I had to take the exam three times and still only scored a 66th percentile is you were always holding me down. I cancelled my result the first exam. The second time, I left half-way through after a panic attack mid-way through where I ended up mis-aligning my scantron. I remember googling a career in the military that evening, giving up. I am grateful that I never did.

And law school – I put my hands up only a handful of times because of you. My swallowed saliva still hurting from the things I have never said. I almost failed a PLTC assignment because I stuttered introducing my name and lost track of what I was saying while saying it. It’s like an out of body experience I cannot explain.

Everytime I present I have to hold a piece a paper, or some notes, because without the blanket I feel like I’m without a cable suspending me, a seat belt holding me in place. When I speak, I often go too fast, mind whizzing faster than the words can catch up. With the words I have I could be an amazing orator, but the pressure usually failst he performance.

I remember you this morning, telling me again that today’s another big day. Lives are at stake. Don’t fail.

Whatever I do as a parent, in this next life, I will present failure in a different light than I was taught. Failure is beauty waiting to happen. Success’s first step.

It was not easy to put this on paper. I am more public than most about my life because I read each of the emails and messages I get from readers finding a piece of what I am experiencing in what they do. I do overpost accomplishments likely to veil the moments in between where I feel in constant flux.

For example, I have been trying to write and start a novel for a year, but the fear of investing time into something I do not feel accomplished enough to write, holds me back. Reading the work of others and admiring their brilliance has been my coping mechanism. Coping is everything.

You are also a beautiful feeling because you open doors to empathy. I see you in the clients I advise, who struggle with anxiety due to their pending hearings, their lives at the whim of Government decision-makers, the effects of separation. It takes one to no one.

Yes – maybe I have let my guard down. Maybe some future client, employer, political, or judicial hiring committee looks at this tomorrow or twenty years from now and goes – I don’t want to take on the risk and imperfection.

Today I declare my imperfect self. Behind all of that perceived success, happy clients, speeches, and talks there is an anxious kid. The same anxious kid that has occupied this body for 31 years.

He will never be calm. His anxiousness leads to amazing spurts of creativity and brilliance. But he suffers every day for it too.

I accept you.

WT

 

On the Philippines and the Canadian Filipinx Migrant Community – Lou Dangzalan, Canadian Immigration Lawyer

Q&A with Canadian Immigration Lawyer, Lou Dangzalan 

In today’s special blog, I am chatting with my friend and fellow immigration lawyer in Toronto, Lou Dangzalan. Lou and I went to the University of Ottawa Law School together and I was glad to find out a few years later that he also joined the practice of Immigration and Refugee Law. We reconnected in Winnipeg last year during the CBA Immigration Conference over Jollibees and shared stories of our respective diasporic communities.

I want to tell you a bit about my own love for the Philippines. It doesn’t come with the depth and foundations that I hope it will one day (when I immerse myself more in the culture and history) but it is built out of my own time there as a tourist. In 2010, I went to Manila, Angeles City, and Palawan (Puerto Princesa and El Nido). Spending time there and reflecting back on the diasporic community here in Canada, I realized that many of us really do not understand nor appreciate the complexities and the beauty.

We may recognize the tastes of adobo, but we do not understand the layers of colonial history, the effects migration has had on communities and families, and the often invisible stories of both struggle and resiliency. 

Lou, a native of the Philippines who was also a former journalist, has spent an increasing amount of time in the Philippines. He spent time answering questions (not easy at all) that I posed to him as we unpack some  of the issues of the Filipinx identity, local, and broader community.

 

Q1: I know many Canadians really do not understand the Philippines, the Filipinx diaspora. I know it is impossible for one person to represent an entire community but what kind of things can you share about the community to better educate the Canadian public? What misconceptions are out there?

The Filipinx diaspora is no stranger to a plethora of scholarly and investigative work. In Canada, I would tip my hat off to Phil Kelly at York University who has studied the Filipinx-Canadian community in detail.

Let’s start with the numbers: what I can tell you is that at any given moment, 10 percent of the Philippines’ population is outside the country’s boundaries. That amounts to about 10 million, and about 840,000 of them are in Canada as of 2016. 

I will confess a feeling of discomfort in responding to this question as the Filipinx diaspora is chimeric and varies by geographic spread. For example, in East and Southeast Asia, the face of the Filipinx diaspora is deeply gendered as women are overrepresented as a lot of those who work in Hong Kong and Singapore for example migrate as domestic workers. 

However, a grand majority of seafarers working in the maritime industry around the world are Filipino men. Contrast that to Filipinx migration to the United States after the Second World War: Filipina nurses comprised the majority and some of these nurses even ended up in Winnipeg, Manitoba on a visa run! As the story goes, they liked Canada and Canadians so much that they decided to stay. 

That is unfortunately where the story of Filipinx-Americans and Filipinx-Canadians part ways: Filipinx-Americans are deeply entrenched and secure in the healthcare system in the US as reflected by the average median income of $84,620 USD, versus in Canada wherein the average Filipinx-Canadian median income is at $32,508 CAD. Filipinx-Canadians love to compare themselves to Filipinx-Americans, but at least in terms of median household income, the difference is staggering. 

One thing that is a uniting thread in the disparate diasporic communities is that they are a reflection of the diversity and the complexity of the Philippines as a society. When people think about the Philippines, it’s easy to dismiss it as an inconsequential economy and that everyone in the country is poor. I’m sure that in your trip in 2010, you noticed the immoral levels of inequality in the chaos that is Manila, and in America’s Angeles City; and then you probably asked yourself why the working class have not revolted against the elites yet. Then you understand how it all works when you find equilibrium through the locals in El Nido – they surprise you by showing you a new level of humanity with a simple smile. 

The Philippines is a country of multiple layers of contradictions largely owing to its (colonial) history, political economy, and demography. For example, it is hardly thought of as a multicultural country even if English and “Filipino” are official languages, while Spanish and Arabic are “auxiliary languages.” It isn’t so long ago when people from different parts of the Philippines wouldn’t understand each other owing to their different ethnolinguistic background and would only be able to communicate in English. My great-grandparents’ household spoke English as their common language.

Adding to that is how the Philippines’ demography has changed immensely in the last 20 years: there is now a sizable Korean community in the Philippines taking advantage of cheaper education in English, and hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese nationals are now working in various sectors there. Of course, Manila has become North America’s preferred call centre and operates in lockstep with eastern standard time. This results into a bizarre chaotic melange of east and west. 

This circles back to my point about my discomfort in describing the Filipinx diaspora as there are many vantage points from which you can interrogate it. I say that with pain as well given the heinous human rights situation under Rodrigo Duterte who has led the Philippines into a rabbit hole of catastrophe. Whenever I am asked about it, of course, there is a feeling of shame and anger, but above all, a feeling of resistance to be defined by a maniac who happened to win with an army of internet trolls. I left the Philippines in 2008 and while I do visit more often these days when work takes me there, I hardly recognize it from what I remember growing up, which is terrifying and fascinating at the same time.

 

Q2: I know that the exclusion of family members (undisclosed spouses and children) have been a historical issue that have provided major immigration challenges. Can you give a little background on why these challenges seemed to be so entrenched in the Filipinx context?

I suspect that there are a variety of reasons and absent a methodical social scientific study, I will rely on anecdotal evidence and conjecture. What I have encountered in cases of sponsorship bars relating to failure to disclose family members is that they range from receiving faulty advice from ghost consultants, inadequately trained consultants, and foreign trained lawyers who operate in a community silo, amplifying a feeling of professional alienation from the immigration bar, for example, along with socio-cultural predispositions.

I’m sure you’ve heard of harrowing stories wherein representatives would advise their client to drop a member of a family in an application. The colloquial term is “laglag,” which literally translates to drop. I dealt with a case where a client who came in for a consultation revealed that her immigration consultant had advised her to drop her son because he supposedly had a criminal record. According to the representative, the “criminal” inadmissibility would result in the refusal of the PR application. The offence, it turns out, was a municipal ordinance (by-law) offence – smoking in a public theatre. I spoke to a lawyer in the Philippines and we were able to confirm that the offence was not criminal in nature and should not appear in the police certificate since it was such a minor offence. The fact that criminal legal equivalence was not even contemplated by the immigration consultant blew me away.

There is also an element of conservative social upbringing and shame. It is not a secret that a lot of Filipinxs are devout Catholics or evangelicals. Some Filipinxs are very hesitant to reveal that they have children out of wedlock. In another matter, a client sought my help to sponsor her son. She was an accompanying dependent to her parents, who were in turn sponsored by their daughter. My client’s conservative social background attached a lot of shame to her out of wedlock son. I should note that the prejudice and shame is entrenched in the Philippines’ legal system, deeming these children as “illegitimate.” Most of our colleagues in the bar are aware that there is no divorce in the Philippines. She was afraid of the consequences of her elder sister, the sponsor, finding out about her son as the latter had constantly supported her financially by paying for her education. My client was drenched in shame and guilt and as a result, she did not disclose her son to immigration authorities for fear of her sister disowning her. As it turns out, she was right: my client’s sister had resisted all my attempts to obtain documents pertaining to the original PR application in order to know the context and establish a roadmap for sponsoring my client’s son even after almost a decade.

 

Q3: Another issue we hear a lot about here in Canada is that there are challenges for migrant workers to seek adequate legal representation in the Philippines and that often times ‘agents’ or ‘middle-men’ take advantage of migrant workers. Can you give an example of why this is the case and your understanding of some of these challenges?

Filipinxs are almost always obliged to use an agent in the Philippines to secure a job and a work permit in Canada. This is a case of applicants being targeted aggressively by labour recruiters and because of institutional requirements. Since the 1970s, Filipinxs leaving the country for work were regulated by the government through the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency. In addition, since early 2019, workers leaving the country are required to have insurance for health, death and repatriation through a labour recruiter, adding another bureaucratic layer. There exists a culture of using agents and middle-men. It is so entrenched that the first question that Filipinxs ask immigration professionals – both consultants and lawyers – is whether they are an agent. 

The latest iteration that appears to be problematic is when Canadian registered education agents who are in the Philippines recruit international students and provide legal advice in their immigration process. 

In Canada, lots of Filipinxs self-represent in immigration matters due to lack of financial resources, and sometimes through the egging of online communities where negative stereotypes of lawyers are abundant. This is where access to justice becomes very real for Filipinx-Canadians. I am acutely aware of this and have assumed a lot of risks by dramatically lowering my rates when I started practising law. I have made the conscious choice of not joining a law firm, even though it would be in my financial interest, so I can control my rates and provide more flexibility through payment deferral schemes, and by providing very long payment terms. 

Language barriers can also feed into the problem. While most members of the Filipinx community speak English, applicants tend to engage representatives, or worse: agents/middle-men within the community as they prefer to speak comfortably in Tagalog, Visayan or Ilocano. Even here in Canada, there is an alarming number of unlicensed representatives who present themselves as immigration consultants. This then becomes a challenge for the ICCRC and the various law societies as the language barrier is two-way: the problem becomes very opaque for regulators. In my experience in law school up to practice, I have never once met an agent of an immigration professional regulatory body who speaks Tagalog. Should a Canadian regulator one day wake up understanding Tagalog, they will realize how it’s like the wild west out there. 

Upon searching various law societies, lawyers who self-declare that they speak Tagalog are close to non-existent. I did a quick search on various law society lawyer directories limiting the parameters to immigration and city. For the City of Toronto. There are only two lawyers listed who self-declare as Tagalog speakers practising immigration law, including yours truly. Montreal shows zero; so does Calgary. The Law Society of British Columbia’s Lawyer Directory does not even allow you to find a lawyer who speaks your language on their website.

The intersection of access to justice, language rights, and trust issues create a negative feedback loop where Filipinx clients would take the word of a “middle-man” or who may not know what they are doing as absolute truth. In my humble view, this is a huge blindspot for the various law societies and the ICCRC. It however presents an opportunity to represent the public interest through introspection and by being more proactive in engaging with immigrant communities and not just through platitudes.

 

Q4: With COVID-19, we have been hearing about many TFWs and other Personal Support Workers (“PSWs) and Caregivers who are risking their lives to save Canadian lives and put food on the table? From what you have seen who are these individuals and what challenges are they facing?

Who: these are PSWs, Registered Practical Nurses (“RPNs”) and support staff at long-term care facilities, among others. Their main challenge: precarity of immigration status and employment. 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there was an almost universally accepted knowledge that the elderly will be some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Now, faced with the reality that most deaths so far have been in long-term care facilities, the sudden realization that an invisibilized workforce exists, much like seasonal agricultural workers, is deflating. From an immigration law perspective, I find the absence of a conversation on the disconnect between status and how grateful we are to these frontline workers morally disturbing.

In Ontario, one of the findings has been that the transmission of COVID-19 can be mitigated by banning long-term care facility workers from working at multiple locations. What everyone fails to ask is why these workers hold multiple positions in the first place. In dealing with my client’s employment histories, what I have noticed is that they hold on to multiple positions at multiple locations in order to cobble together a decent salary because they are mostly hired on a permanent-part-time basis. They rarely have job and income security.

Let’s be honest: even without COVID-19, working as a PSW is not easy. Between changing adult diapers and treating bedsores, these workers are exposed to some of the most harrowing mental health stressors. With the current pandemic, it’s even worse. I have a client who decided to stop working as a PSW because of her son – she fears that she may herself become a vector of transmission and infect him. As a result, her pathway to PR, as limited as it is to begin with, is in limbo. 

 

Q5: At the same time, I think many individuals do not appreciate how the Philippines is creating very educated individuals who are seeking to genuinely visit and study in Canada? Unfortunately, there are still high incidents of refusals arising from the Manila Visa Office. We see this again for individuals seeking to connect with partners (boyfriends and girlfriends) abroad. Can you shed some light into this?

What most Canadians do not realize is that the Philippines, prior to COVID-19, is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, even surpassing China’s growth rates in some quarters in the last 10 years. This has resulted in better incomes and an uplifting of the quality of life for most Filipinxs.

As a result, the appetite for travel as a social status symbol, for better or for worse, has grown. It stands to reason that Canada could gain from this through tourism and education spending dollars. Unfortunately, the recent rise in socio-economic standing trickles down ever so slowly through the machineries of bureaucracy, including visa offices whose institutional biases are still very much entrenched. 

I did an ATIP request last year to see what the statistics were like for the 2018 cycle. The refusal rate for the Philippines was 36% for study permits, largely the same compared to the global average refusal rate of 34%. This however masks the point that you made — that there are a lot of people who are genuinely seeking to visit and study in Canada.

I am due to request another ATIP report for 2019 to do a year-on-year analysis. 2019 is important because Canada announced then that it wants to diversify its source of international students from India and China to other countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and France. I will be monitoring this and I hope to have another conversation with you about the statistics and main reasons for refusals.

With regards to the partners who are seeking to reconnect, I will note that the threshold where convincing a visa officer that the applicant would return back to the Philippines due to strong pull ties is almost always a losing proposition. What I have noticed instead is that because meeting this onus is almost always a fool’s errand, most people would rather omit an important reason as to why the applicant is seeking a visa in the first place. 

 

Q6: What types of policy solutions do you think would benefit the first-generation Filipinx migrant communities? 

An overhaul of licensing and degree equivalencies. 

It puzzles me that a Filipinx nurse would have an easier time obtaining a licence in California or New York than in Ontario. To add insult to injury, the starting salaries for nurses in New York and in California would be much higher than in Ontario. I should note that there are historical reasons for this: the US did after all build the education system in the Philippines during the American colonial period under Governor-General William Howard Taft (yes, the late US President was a colonial governor in the Philippines). 

Much can be said about regulatory checks and ensuring standards, but when Filipino nurses have easier access to the profession in the US or in the UK’s National Health Service, one begins to question why bother with Canada.

I have some clients who are even asking me for help in obtaining a treaty visa under the then NAFTA as nurses in the US. Another one related that after having gone through hell and back to obtain an Ontario nurse’s licence, she felt that the process diminished her allegiance and belief in “Canada’s propaganda” (her words) of inclusion. The College of Nurses of Ontario’s process has left her jaded and very salty. 

 

Q7: We have been talking a lot, in our conversation, about racism, class, and gender-based prejudices as an issue with all clients, but specifically affecting the intersections of communities such as ours. To the extent you are comfortable sharing, how do you see these factors affect the Filipinx community today?

The Filipinx community is what I like to call an invisible visible minority group. In a way, this translates to a strategic avoidance of public ire when things are bad. However, invisibility is in its own way a form of institutional and social violence. 

I’d like to think of myself as a half-glass full kind of person. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement, but I am starting to see more effort from some long standing institutions in acknowledging the contributions of both our communities to the mosaic that is Canada. 

In dealing with the issue of invisibility, the only logical countermove is to promote visibility through advocacy and inter-cultural dialogue.

 

Q8: I have also heard in various community organizing efforts that the Filipinx community continues to go often unheard or underrepresented at the top echelons of business, politics, and the judiciary? I know recently a Filipinx judge was elevated to the Court of Appeal in Ontario. How do you think the community can push for this change and how do institutions themselves need to open up to the diaspora?

I believe you’re referring to now Justice of Appeal of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Steve Coroza. I first met him in 2013 during a Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers conference in Toronto. I was fortunate to have received valuable advice and mentorship from him over the years when I was unsure about my career trajectory while I was still in law school, and as a first generation immigrant.

I think that in this case, visibility, continued engagement, and mentorship are key strategies. At least for the Filipinx-Canadian community, the problem is invisibility and as a result, the community is largely ignored. I defer to the wisdom imparted by Justice Sandra Nishikawa who said at one FACL event that senior lawyers in racialized communities need to step up and serve as role models. I think that this applies across all professions and trades. It will be hard for institutions to ignore us if we speak up more and more. 

Finally, one of my former professors in law school gave me a valuable piece of advice that I would like to impart to my fellow young lawyers and advocates: we should not shy away from providing mentorship ourselves as even young lawyers, we do have something to offer. For example, a fresh perspective. This is critical as it allows us to consolidate our gains in transforming our institutions to be more attuned to the realities of our society by welcoming the various perspectives from Canada’s diasporic communities.

 

Thank you Lou!

I want to thank Lou for taking so much time out of his day to share with us a bit about his practice and his community. Lou has already been turning heads in Toronto, running his own Firm as a Sole Practitioner, and is bilingual in both English and French. Lou will be a social justice advocate and lawyer to watch for and I look forward to litigating with him down the road.

To find out more about Lou, follow him on Twitter @ljansdan

OPINION – The E-Race-d Migrant Workers of COVID-19: Why Canada’s Colourblind Approach to COVID and Immigration Needs a Major Rethink

枫彩 / CC BY 2.5 CN (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/cn/deed.en)

COVID and Migrant Workers as a Starting Point

While we rush to seal our loosely-defined borders and legal exceptions, let us not lose sight of the reality of who it is ‘doing the work‘ as low-paid essential service workers in Canada – temporary foreign workers (TFWs). Accordingly to a Government of Canada official, over 60,000 temporary foreign workers have come to Canada to work in our agriculture and agri-food sector.

I begin this piece by rejecting the term, ‘low-skilled.’ Anyone who at times like these is contributing putting food on to our table and taking care of immunocompromised seniors at senior’s home and care facilities,  I hold to the highest esteem.

From 2019 Open Data, we know Canada and British Columbia’s are coming from five countries – Mexico, India, Jamaica, Philippines, and Guatemala. Asides from the correlation that they are all from the Global South, they also all represent countries where racialized folk – brown and black – are primarily entering Canada to do the work Canadians are not doing. While I understand some are floating around the idea of a national work program to get Canadians into these positions over TFWs, we must admit the reality that the exposure of risk to COVID-19 of this work (not to mention the low pay) would drive most away.  This reality also creates a contradiction that Chris Selley questions in the subheading for his recent National Post article titled, ‘Ottawa’s plan for quarantining temporary foreign workers is more bizarre than comforting,’ where he writes:

If we can identify a group of people without whose labour we literally wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves, why are we denying them a path to citizenship?

I share the same question. Through this pandemic we have already had one TFW outbreak at a Kelowna greenhouse/nursery and countless stories of senior home outbreaks which make up half of Canada’s confirmed deaths from COVID-19. We have not said so much of a thank you, other than discussion of how to quarantine them effectively upon entry and pay back employers for lost wages.

However, worse yet, we’ve been left an invisible image of who these workers are, what their races are, and their migration histories that have led them to heed the call into action. While we are all in this as Canadians, I am eager to know who these individuals are and eventually reward them with pathways to permanent residence or at the very least create new pathways that honour that work.

Indeed, if we are putting racialized migrant workers on the front lines of COVID-19, I argue we should putting these same migrant workers in the front line of new immigration programs to facilitate their transition as permanent residents.

 

The Invisibility of Canadian Racism and the Misapplication of Intersectionality

However, there appears to be preferred invisibility – something that runs deep when it comes to issues of immigration and race in this country.

The Canadian Government approach to immigration continues to be one that on the outside adopts a Gender Based Analysis (“GBA”)+ framework that states an intention to take into account intersectionality, but a reality that race is the unspoken, untouched, undelved into dark space – a Pandora’s Box.

IRCC does not collect data on religion or race.

Zoomed in, in case the footnote is hard to see:

We know only what countries applicants are coming from, not who they are by way of their race, ethnicity, and colour, and how discrimination  factors into visa refusals and availability of pathways to permanent residence. We know anecdotally from client experience and those cases that end up published as case law that visa officers discriminate against individuals from minority racial/ethnic groups, particularly when the visa office responsible for processing the applications is not located in the same country.

How are we purportedly taking into GBA+ if we have not looked further at what the + entails. How can we claim to even be applying an intersectional lens?

The GBA+ touts itself as applying an intersectional lens in various Government training materials, but one questions how Kimberlé Crenshaw would view this given her conception of intersectionality was focused on the intersections of gender (yes), but very and just as importantly class, and race.

When you go back to the foundations of Crenshaw’s underlying work, the research was centred heavily on race and migration status. She examined how immigrant women’s vulnerability to spousal violence and the fear of undocumented women were exacerbated by legislation aimed at subordinating the sponsor, creating ‘double subordination.’ (See: Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color)

Much of intersectionality has unfortunately become what has become what sociologist Sirma Bilge calls “ornamental intersectionality,” a neoliberal approach that “allows institutions and individuals to accumulate value through good public relations and ‘rebranding’ without the need to actually address the underlying structures that produce and sustain injustice.”

Currently, proposed regulatory and legislative amendments do go through a GBA+ lens through Part 1 of the Gazette Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (“RIAS”) stakeholder feedback process but this process is primarily based only on Gender, which itself is a primarily a supplement to other economic and resource considerations. No one asks in these pieces how racialized communities of women or non-binary folk will be affected, nor are most organizations who will provide feedback putting racialized or non-binary gendered migrant communities at the centre of their analytical lens. The centred lens on immigration continues to be white and able-bodied, from it’s legal practitioners to the immigrants held in the highest demand and sought after.

Furthermore, the very idea of intersectionality has been to view the different social categorizations as separate and distinct boxes for us to parse ourselves into, rather layers and true intersections – a mistake we continue to repeat in our misclassification and misapplication of the term.

 

Colourblindness as a Racist Policy

Ultimately, without identifying race as an important social stratification, that centres other discrimination – which could include language, migration status, and gender – we remain stuck in colourblindness.

You may have heard about colourblindness recently with respect to COVID-19. In the context of COVID-19, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, recently stated:

“Right now we consider our main risk groups (to be) the elderly, those with other co-morbidities, regardless of what race they are,” he said. “Regardless of race, ethnic or other backgrounds, they’re all equally important to us.”

But what got us to this colourblind (regardless of race) approach? What got us to normalize the one human race (we’re all the same) theory?

Writer Ibram X. Kendi explores the foundation of racism as a mode for power holding, and writes poignantly in his book, How to Be in An Anti-Racist at page 10:

“The common idea of claiming “colorblindness” is akin to the notion of being “not racist” – as with the “not racist” the colorblind individual, by ostensibly failing to see race, fails to see racism and falls into racial passivity. The language of colorblindness – like the language of “not racist” is a mask to hide our racism”

Constance Backhouse, whose seminal work, Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950,  on the history of racism and the law in Canada, similarly examines how immigration help served to help aggrandize white power. She writes:

“Immigration laws shaped the  very contours of Canadian society in ways that aggrandized the centrality of white power.” (Backhouse, at page 15)

She provides example in her book many instances where the lines between races were either purposely blurred, combined, or in some cases written out, to achieve this power. In my perspective, colorblind is not only a neoliberal feel-good strategy, but a tool that has been used historically to justify racist policies.

For example, Canadian Immigration laws led to the closure of borders for Asian and Black immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, while anti-immigrant sentiment and racist legislation severely policed and controlled communities from being able to operate businesses (for example laws preventing the hiring of white women) and adding restricted covenants preventing them from owning property (just to name a few examples):

Laws such as B.C.’s above An Act for the Protection of Women and Girls in certain Cases (which was in place until 1968) were indeed purposely amended as a result of criticism that it was too critically aimed at the Chinese community, and replaced with more universal language with the same intentions and substantive effect.

The law was colourblind, and by today’s Charter standards, a claimant would therefore need to ‘do more’ to prove it was indeed racist, but we know from the history it most definitely was. I would argue that the assumption that we have stepped out of racism due to legal reform is a dangerous myth and one we must continue to breka down.

True s.15 of the Charter, formally added equality rights that were supposed to apply regardless of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour,” language mirrored by other employment and human rights legislation. There were historical apologies and reparations, but I would argue there has never been a race equity lens applied to immigration law – to study, if you so well, of whether and how laws continue to discriminate against racialized marginalized communities.

 

Built Off the Back of Coloured Bodies

Applicants who have tried to bring racism up in Courts (environments that bluntly speaking do not at all reflect Canada’s racial diversity), have faced significant evidentiary hurdles. One thinks of the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Begum v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2018 FCA 181 (CanLII), [2019] 2 FCR 488, which upholds the higher burden on claimants where the a law applies neutrally on its face, and simultaneously criticizes a lack of specific evidence on race, where as we have seen none is being collected from official sources, leaving case studies and academic formulations the only current pathway forward (both of which the Court criticized).

At the same time we have seen our case law build up various areas off the backs of racialized individuals. Using humanitarian and compassionate grounds as just one example, the leadings cases in this area involve Black Jamaican woman, Ms. Mavis Baker, where the visa officer wrote blatant racist marks into the applicant’s file [Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 1999 CanLII 699 (SCC), [1999] 2 SCR 817], a Black Jamaican woman, Ms. Daphney Hawthorne [Hawthorne v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2002 FCA 475 (CanLII) that helped define the scope of the Best interest of the Child (“BIOTC”), [2003] 2 FC 555,],  and a former Sri Lankan child, Mr. Jeyakannan Kanthasamy, [Kanthasamy v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 SCC 61 (CanLII), [2015] 3 SCR 909 which has become the leading case of BIOTC.

Unfortunately with the framework for humanitarian and compassionate grounds as it stands, little can be done other than to criticize the structures within countries of citizenship and former habitual residence. We will continue to see Brown and Black applicants held down by Canadian system with no recourse other than to blame foreign systems in order to seek discretionary relief. These same blames are then perpetuated on other visa applicants and refugee claimants from those countries in what becomes a very problematic cycle. Canadian racism or the intersectional challenges of migrants, particularly those with precarious status, again gets whitewashed through forced positive explanations of ‘establishment’ and ‘ties to Canada’

I know racialized migrants are the ones struggling most because I viscerally see them. I constantly receive migrant workers in my office, whom facing their first work permit extension, visitor record extension (in order to facilitate their on-going status in Canada). They are the ones who ultimately end up in admissibility hearings and that we must run detention reviews for.

Returning back to the COVID reality, it is a real shame that the temporary foreign workers coming from around the world or who are here and finding themselves suddenly unemployed are receiving little in the way of Government-funded legal support. The minute the employer lifeline is removed for many workers, the void is filled only by good willed non-profit organizations, many with limited capacity to take on individual cases let alone try and advocate on a more systemic basis. Access to services itself is often marred by racist interactions, preconception, and barriers. Many organizations do not even have materials translated into key languages such as Spanish, Hindi/Punjabi, and Tagalog. With limited funding and now a limited staff as a result of their own COVID consequences, they have had no choice but to turn many people away.

The reality is most of these foreign workers affected are Brown, Black, and from countries in the Global South, with major linguistic barriers. Many talk about difficulties there, difficulties here, but generally have ended up in the whirlwind of challenges of identity, hopes of assimilation, and experiences of harm-causing racism.

 

Centering Race Post-COVID

Taking race into account when we look at these cases will allow us to examine processes in a more systems-driven way rather than simply focusing on individuals. For example, we can look at Personal Service Worker (PSWs) and caregivers right now as a collective community rather than individuals who have suffered negative consequences or come from complicated pasts.

Until Canada can prove it is taking anti-racist (not just non-racist) steps to tackle immigration and COVID, we’re stuck in invisibility. The same invisibility women of colour feel when they are under recognized and first to be blamed at their workplaces (Dr. Tam, comes to mind). COVID and the migrant workers who were part of helping us get through these times will fade to collective memory as a large part of the fault, a small part of solution, a consequence of their failures, and the results of our success. Our only ‘thank you’s’ will be in the form of temporary extensions and expiring permits, a few Canadian dollars to bring back to homes already ravaged as a result of western colonialism and imperialism. The mental health and trauma being experienced by workers being shepherded into the fields to work at increased  productive capacity or migrant personal service workers having to watch individuals take their last breaths and expose them to illness, a distant memory.

I really hope this is a good opportunity to rethink our way of moving forward post-COVID. As another Indian writer Arundhati Roy so eloquently put it, we can break with the past and imagine the world anew, taking anti-racist (not just not racist and colourblind) steps to eliminate the historical and present day prejudices of anti-blackness, racist immigration policies, and barriers for darker-skinned migrants from the Global South. We can re-examine why we refuse so many Black African visitors and students, and why our rush to Artificial Intelligence has not adequately taken into account factors such as inherent racial bias. We can start building ties with migrant communities and Canada’s Indigenous communities creating solidarity, rather than let the State divide and conquer us into separate groups  fighting over scarce resources that neither of us control.

I have submitted for approval a conference paper where I discuss how intersectionality can be rethought of in the Immigration Appeal Division (“IAD”) context. Much of this expands on what I talked about in this piece.  I hope that when this paper is published I can begin expanding this conversation to other areas so that once we are prepared to re-engage with each other and our systems, we can make sure to keep racism at the front, not back, or our collective societal consciousness.

My Friend Miranda is an Amazing Facilitator: Reflections from a Week on Virtual Calls

Today’s post is dedicated to a friend and mentor of mine. I’ve seen a lot of good facilitators (half my network are or have experience as professional facilitators) but this week, and in the context of the new online COVID reality, I saw another display of the best.

In this piece I want to walk through what made Miranda such an amazing facilitator. She does this for her professional work but only one of a million hats she wears. I want to break down how she facilitated and what made it so effective.

As a background I have been a part of a few conversations on creating equitable online space this week. Below are some strategies that Miranda employed that I highly recommend all of you to consider to do the same, particularly when working in diverse

Giving Adequate Space and Time to Settle In

Online spaces tend to put pressure on individuals who not only have to speak but watch themselves speak or appear in real time. Giving space and time for individuals to settle in and feel comfortable is crucial. Not everyone will be sitting formally at a desk, some may be on the floor, others in tight corners of quiet. Miranda led us in an exercise to take a few breaths and shake out the tension at the beginning. We all looked silly but we settled quickly into our true online selves.

Making Participation and Mode of Participation (Camera) Voluntary

During this time, many individuals may not be able to find an entirely private space, may not be able to use laptops (having to call in from cell phone) or calling from small private spaces that they are uncomfortable sharing. Family homes are innately private. The requirement to show one’s face at all times or look a certain way can creates pressure and stress in a space that should be stress free. Family members and children may need to enter the space, while doing their own calls, chores, and play activities.

While everyone at this meeting turned on their camera, it was made clear from the beginning through Miranda’s facilitation that eating and child-rearing while meeting would be completely acceptable. That level of comfortability and understanding was very facilitative of the different personal backgrounds and situations of attendees.

Check-Ins (But Not Forcing It)

The provision of alternative ways to share, such as using the chat box (for those who prefer to write) and as well share documents (which allow for anonymous participation). Many chats or verbal communication options require individuals to assign their name to comments, which makes it difficult for individuals to ask the difficult questions that often need to be asked. Creating a parallel anonymous document is a very effective tool, one that I saw implemented a few times in effective Zoom meetings this week.

Miranda’s check-in process of assuring again that there was no pressure and that there were alternative venues was very effective. No one was put on the spot. The silence of a minute of no one sharing was embraced not frowned upon. Eventually everything one did share and it was a very moving and important process of re-connecting after so much time apart.

Recognizing the Power Structures and Structural Imbalances of Virtual Space

Many times Zoom meetings can recreate the skewed power dynamics within organizations. For example, one person or a few persons could ‘hijack’ Zoom (as the online wording goes). On the other hand, too strict controls on muting participants and requiring raised hands in order to speak can also stifle participation.

It is very effective to introduce a few shared ground rules on muting mics when an individual is not speaking and also facilitating feedback from those members who may feel as though their contribution is less welcome. Where individuals are speaking too much, as demonstrated by their face/icon showing up too often on the brady bunch screen. I actually prefer putting my screen in a mode where I can see all participants at once instead of a rotating line up in the top.

Those who do facilitate and speak should be cognisant as well of dynamics such as accessibility. I was part of a few zoom calls that addressed that – one with real time closed captioning, and another with a transcript to be made available after the presentation. Facilitation becomes all the more additionally important because  with computer lag times and perhaps a less clear ‘order’ of participants, talking over each other or interrupting become all the more common-place.

Miranda was fantastic in giving space, soliciting broader feedback, but also giving time for us to think through questions virtually. Miranda also held us very accountable to time and to our other commitments as well. As someone newer to the team, I felt very much heard.

I have been part of other Zoom calls this week where that was not the case and those facilitating could have done a better job of inserting their ability to solicit broader feedback. We should also recognize that online space can re-produce power dynamics of one or two leaders speaking and everyone not being engaged.

Utilizing surveys or even just acknowledging the space as being different and possibly oppressive and uncomfortable helps facilitate the feeling out process of utilizing these apps.

Using Breakout Room Function or Hosting Separate Session

There are some incredible tech functions that allow for the use of breakout room functions to separate participants into different groups and to return back for a larger conversation. This is particularly good to increase participant interaction and work through problems in the similar way in-person breakout sessions or one-on-ones.

During our particular meeting we did not break out but, we had a portion where it was important to have decisions and discussions without certain attendees there. Miranda did a great job of facilitating the transparency of the transition between the larger team meeting and the departure of the members for that portion. It is important when doing actions such as this that it does not turn into a point of concern and tension but rather facilitated.

Closing – Thank You’s and Action Items

Closing of these meetings are important. Of all the Zoom meetings I’ve attended almost all of them have gone over time. Individuals will need to transition from these meetings into actions, actions which may they be less motivated to engage on without the in-person collaboration.

Miranda was again fantastic at thanking people (and their families) broadly and specifically. I left feeling truly part of a tight knit POC family.

I hope this piece was useful for some of you! TTFN and Happy Zoom, Skype, WebEx, NextCloud, Canvas-ing!

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!