“Our lives have no meaning, no depth without the white gaze. And I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books.”
– the late, honoured, Toni Morrison
I read a lot of stories and news reports involving migrants and newcomers. A lot.
I also am very conscious of those who are writing those stories and are not immigrants or the direct descendants of immigrants themselves. I’m speaking particularly about white people. If this makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable, I have a recommended read before you continue on here.
Whether sub-consciously or not, white people write about the coloured bodied or immigrants in a different manner than those lives are experienced by those who share their stories. There are different variations of how this looks. For some it is in condescension, others exoticism, others in a sympathetic-leaning white knight or virtue signal. There are other writers who ostracize, criticize, and expose colour and migrant lives in a way that they would never dare do to a leading business person, politician, or celebrity. Perhaps it is the fear of lawyers or the open vulnerability of migrants, yet this is a growing concern and one that needs to be addressed on a more systemic level. From the U.S. cheating scandal where there was a clear difference in treatment shown between writing about the celebrity actresses and the wealthy daughter of Chinese migrants, to the overwhelmingly graphic details of her life and upbringing to the constant stories of migrant and coloured wrong-doings that splatter across front pages in this countries – I notice it as a visceral reality.
This week I have been looking a bit at the way Courts want to open document transparency and how media is taking an active role in trying to open up migration cases to the public’s attention. Indeed, a local journalist recently tried to open up a refugee hearing, a private proceeding meant to protect the identity of a claimant, in order to try and get the details of a gory crime to the public. These migrant scoops serve a public appetite for those who are not us, here with us, doing things we would like to admonish them for doing. They are a white Canadian gaze on a increasingly changing definition of Canada, and a fear of losing it’s historic ‘whiteness’ particularly in mainstream media. I can’t blame the authors and I am not blameless. I too actively do work that profit off migrant mistakes, a stark reality of the colonial work that pays my bills and rent. Media, as an institution, unfortunately also does the same.
Why Migrants Should Be Careful Giving Media Interviews
In the past, I have provided my perspective on why Media Must be Cautious Covering Individual Immigration Cases
Today, I will change this to the migrant perspective. I have deep concern that migrants, in attempting to feed the narratives of journalists, are exposing themselves to not only personal risk but also compromising their own immigration status in Canada. I have a few pieces of advice for migrants, newcomers, refugee claimants and others who might be facing this double vulnerability.
TIP #1: Recognize Journalists are (Generally) Not Your Friend – They Are There to Make News and Gain Views
This is the starting point. I am able to provide interviews now (including some I openly regret giving) to try and provide a voice for migrant communities. However, I am not a migrant myself and am not at risk when I speak and share experiences. When you are an international student, when you are on a work permit, when you are making a refugee claim – your voice is tied innately to your immigration status. Your published name alongside your transgressions is enough to have attention drawn to your immigration file from authorities.
Part of the work journalists are increasingly engaged in is advocacy. Their primary goal (other than sales and readership) is to try and gain market share of a topic. Several local journalists have gained notoriety by exposing wrongdoing and having their work lead to changes in Government policies. While much of this may have great long-term implications, the short-term implication may be use of you as a poster-person for a problem.
Remember, not all exposure in the context of vulnerable persons – is good exposure.In some cases, journalists may be in fact looking for a migrant voice to express disdain/anger towards other members of one’s own community. Particularly in this day and age where expressing one’s own non-popular views comes under heavy scrutiny (particularly around issue of race/status), it is a common journalist trick to get someone else to say it or better yet – someone within the same target community.
It is not all negative. There are several cases where the media have been able to put external pressure on the Government and encourage them to stop removals and grant extraordinary relief. In most those cases, there was some active litigation or strategy incorporating the media. These cases did not come from the mouths of individuals being interviews as part of some pending investigation.
I know saying no is difficult. Many of us are enthralled by the opportunity to be on TV – but think twice before agreeing to be in the media and expose your life to the media’s gaze.
TIP #2: Misrepresentation Doesn’t End at PR
One of the things I have seen recently is several immigrants, with their published legal names, admitting to having paid for their jobs or to working excessive hours in order to qualify for permanent residence. In some of these cases, it appears that the individuals have now obtained permanent residence and possibly even citizenship.
An individual admitting that he or she may have paid for part of their qualifying work experience can have major impacts on permanent residents and even citizens who obtained permanent residence on the basis of this information. Paying for one’s job or receiving support from an employer to falsify duties would be considered material misrepresentations that have a direct impact on the assessment of a permanent residence application. Many of the large scale frauds in which permanent residents are finding themselves Immigration Appeal Division involved third-party/employer wrongdoing.
Remember that s.40 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act covers both foreign nationals and permanent residents:
40 (1) A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible for misrepresentation
(a) for directly or indirectly misrepresenting or withholding material facts relating to a relevant matter that induces or could induce an error in the administration of this Act;
(b) for being or having been sponsored by a person who is determined to be inadmissible for misrepresentation;
(c) on a final determination to vacate a decision to allow their claim for refugee protection or application for protection; or
(d) on ceasing to be a citizen under
(i) paragraph 10(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act, as it read immediately before the coming into force of section 8 of the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, in the circumstances set out in subsection 10(2) of the Citizenship Act, as it read immediately before that coming into force,
(ii) subsection 10(1) of the Citizenship Act, in the circumstances set out in section 10.2 of that Act, or
(iii) subsection 10.1(3) of the Citizenship Act, in the circumstances set out in section 10.2 of that Act.
Marginal note: Application
(2) The following provisions govern subsection (1):
(a) the permanent resident or the foreign national continues to be inadmissible for misrepresentation for a period of five years following, in the case of a determination outside Canada, a final determination of inadmissibility under subsection (1) or, in the case of a determination in Canada, the date the removal order is enforced; and
(b) paragraph (1)(b) does not apply unless the Minister is satisfied that the facts of the case justify the inadmissibility.
Marginal note: Inadmissible
(3) A foreign national who is inadmissible under this section may not apply for permanent resident status during the period referred to in paragraph (2)(a).
2001, c. 27, s. 40
2012, c. 17, s. 17
2013, c. 16, s. 16
2014, c. 22, s. 42
2017, c. 14, s. 25
For citizens too, when an individual obtains permanent residence and later citizenship by virtue of this fraud, revocation proceedings that be initiated. It is a little difficult to trace with all the Citizenship Act amendments but a good summary is below:
Status of a person post-revocation
If the person’s citizenship was revoked due to false representation or fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances during the citizenship process only (e.g., lying about residence in Canada during the relevant period), the person becomes a permanent resident as per subsection 46(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Revocation in such situations does not itself jeopardize the right of the person to remain in Canada; however, the person must meet all obligations under the IRPA. For the residency obligation under the IRPA, the five-year period begins on the date the person becomes a permanent resident. If the person’s citizenship was revoked on the grounds they became a permanent resident by false representation or fraud or knowingly concealed material circumstances, the person will revert to foreign national status. If the false representation or fraud or concealing of material circumstances was with respect to a fact described in sections 34, 35 or 37 of the IRPA, the Federal Court, in certain cases, may also declare the person inadmissible and issue a removal order.
If the person is a dual citizen and the person’s Canadian citizenship was revoked due to convictions for terrorism, high treason, treason, or spying offences, depending on the sentence received, or for serving as a member of an armed force of a country or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, the person becomes a foreign national.
If the person, who is a foreign national, is in Canada once citizenship has been revoked, the person is in Canada without status. The person may be reportable under subsection 44(1) of the IRPA and may be subject to removal from Canada.
In short, there are major implications of disclosing something so seemingly innocent as confirming a history of having been exploited. It is a double-edge sword that applicants face which makes it pertinent that proper advice is obtained before publicly speaking on these types of issues.
TIP #3: Know about the Process of Contacting CBSA Criminal Investigations and Applying for Work Permits for Vulnerable Persons
There are many options for workers and other individuals who have been abused and taken advantage of. This includes work permits for vulnerable workers and for victims of family violence.
Many individuals also unaware that Canada Border Services Agency has a Criminal Investigations program that operates as an arms length investigation where there is fraud, criminal activity, and other sensitive situations that may require further investigations. While they cannot provide immigration relief – they may be much more sensitive than the media may be around your personal situation. Of course, adequate legal advice should be sought before approaching CBSA Criminal Investigations – which may involve a more holistic review of your immigration status in Canada, weighing pros and cons of approaching Criminal Investigations. There may be some benefit to making a written affidavit statement before approaching authorities to set out the material facts. See also Tip 5 below.
TIP #4: Know that IRCC/CBSA Tracks the News
Immigration (IRCC) reads the news. Indeed, that is how much of their programming responds to changes – through gathering feedback from social media (Twitter), reading news stories, and meeting to discuss them. If your name is part of an expose, you can best believe you are on IRCC’s radar. From my perspective, until you understand the legal ramifications.
I still remember one time I was outside CBSA (unable to enter the detention center because it was full) and tweeting about it. Before I could even enter, the Senior Manager came out and said he recognized the problem and saw my tweets.
I have been able to leverage social media somewhat successfully to push change but I can tell you that the analysis, the criticism, and the choosing what to say and what not say is an art. When your name is provided to a journalist for the front page – that control is now out of your hands.
In admissibility hearings, the filing of newspaper articles as evidence before the Immigration Division and Immigration Appeal Division is very common. Your own words and actions could create challenges for you down the road, particularly when you try to introduce new evidence and sworn testimony.
TIP #5: Seek Independent Legal Advice
I recommend that every migrant asked to speak to the media about their personal situation and in doing so disclose sensitive personal information take adequate steps to seek independent legal advice. This advice can guide you as to whether there can be some advocacy benefits to media. A legal advisor can also help you determine whether your personal immigration matter requires steps such as confidentiality motions in Federal Court, simplified procedures for anonymity, or applications for private proceedings (among other steps).
I do hope that more institutions exist on both sides – not only to try and push more nuanced journalism and train on some of these ethical issues for journalists, but also to utilize some of that knowledge to provide media training for newcomers and migrants. It would also be beneficial for more established organizations, unions, and support networks to consider helping shield individual migrants where necessary or provide media spokespeople/translators to assist.
I am a friend of the media and consider many journalists friends, supporters, and colleagues. I support open transparency and generally am glad that our democracy is one where we can talk about the crevasses. Ultimately, I think the more we talk about rather than ignore issues of migrants, the better our collective understanding will be and the barriers that exist between us will be broken down.
I also know that much of what journalists do may not be conscious. It may not be a product of their own ill-beliefs or fantasization about migrants but rather the economics of the newsroom or the culture of seeking the strange or exotic. I expect (and hope) many of my journalist friends will be taken aback by my words, start justifying by stating they have a spouse who is a POC or that they are a POC themselves, and they would never do that. I’m going to say that we all do this – and this is the norm. We do not offer newcomers, migrants, and marginalized community the same expectations of privacy, representation, and voice that we do those we work with, befriend, and hold to higher authority. This is a historical and naturalized human response.
Whether we can unlearn it and choose – on occasion – to put our own careers and scoops on the side to allow an interviewee to seek legal advice or community support before speaking to us – is how we will demonstrate how far we can go to changing the role of journalism as projecting society’s white gaze.