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My Rocky Relationship with Being Racialized
In advance of a talk (as I like to do) I spend time reflecting on the questions the panel far more esteemed than I am tackling the underlying question of what it means to be a racialized lawyer. Truth be told, until very recently, I spent my entire life avoiding trying to be defined as racialized, never realizing that the racialization wasn’t something I was responsible for rather what was being imposed on me.
Sometimes I still catch myself believing– that I am a reformed victim of childhood racism. That I have come to terms with my past and that today is different. That I can be a role model now for racial change and a post-racial world. That I’ve stopped caring what they think – or I say. All, while I still sign every letter carefully with my colonial name, trying to erase all signs that I may be seen as the perpetual foreigner in their eyes thereby forever letting what they think continue to be the clip-ons to my much tormented glasses. I was always the Asian kid with glasses. Still am today.
I am ashamed that I ask those I meet if they are from here (around town?), as my entirely happenstance birth on these stolen lands, make me any less settler than them. This hides the reality I am a product of taking advantage of my positive racialization as a second-generation immigrant, off the backs of those – often Brown and Black – not are not afforded that same luxury and have been racialized differently, and many times much more negatively. This approach flies in the face of both the adultered history of these stolen lands but also my parents generation (and the earlier Chinese settlers before them) who took the blows, the taunts, the sleepless nights, the unfair application of law and policy in their general belief that our eventual assimilation and acceptance (through tolerance) would make us happy and content. “Be like them.” “Mom, Dad…. why can’t I, be like them.”
What has allowed me to claim today this wokeness, to claim some sort of 2.0 social justice Asian Warrior. Nothing. The short answer is nothing – these I have constructed as shields and defence mechanisms for our own (read: my own) complicity and benefit. It has made me popular in progressive White circles, as the pendulum has it, just another group we have to please: the rock to our professional hard place.
Recognizing that you too can be an oppressor and that, even further, you too have oppressed is a humbling reality. Just last week I took a close racialized friend and colleagues concerns with sexual harassment at the workplace, the wrong way – asking instead how he could do it when he was married, rather than asking how she was doing, by way of the trauma he imposed through her. It took me several days to realize I sided with the White man again. Just like I did when I was a Frat boy. Just like I did when I was interviewing for that job on Bay Street. Just like I did when I was making the most money in my life doing this work and upholding this system.
Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been: The Harms of Racialization
Let me tell you of this time when I had Christian pop phase. Many of us did. You remember when ‘A Walk to Remember’ was in theatres, Switchfoot and Lifehouse produced anthems like “Only Hope” and “Hanging By a Moment,” and a band called Reliant K played a concert in Vancouver. I went alone. Asian kids with glasses had trouble making friends in my highschool.
Stop right there, that’s exactly where I lost it
See that line, well I never should have crossed it
Stop right there, well I never should have said
That it’s the very moment that I wish that I could take back
I wish I could take back the countless times I participated in whiteness and the maintenance of white supremacy. Laughing with senior practitioners on their jokes about China money. Listening and standing proud when being told, you are a tall, confident Chinese-Canadian man – you will do fine in this work. “Look at all these women here who will soon have babies and their careers will be over.” I nodded, perhaps even gave him a resounding ‘you are right! Thanks for this”
Why did I so accept this as just normal? Why did I try to sympathize rather than emphasize, centre myself in trying to draw a parallel rather than using my voice earlier. Maybe because those who use their voices are seen as trouble-makers, activists, not impartial, not judicial material. Forever on the periphery. Even judges have written decisions and giving guidance telling us be neutral, stay our ground, do nothing to compromise our future.
Each tweet I tweet, each blog I write, someone/somewhere dragging the name into the ‘do not hire’, ‘could be a problem’, ‘not good for Firm culture’, a ‘liability’ folder. Where we racialized folks tend to share space – one drag away from the recycle bin, two steps away from being deleted.
Why do I always live with regret….
I talk to absolutely no one
Couldn’t keep to myself enough
And the things bottled inside have finally begun
To create so much pressure that I’ll soon blow up and…
I cannot stand social media but I simultaneously thrive off of it. The pressure. This guy looks like me, how does he already drive a Tesla, buying his second house, starting own podcast, and was named Top 40 under 40. Their kids look beautiful. The in-laws are holding happy kids on the beaches of Hawaii. I was told growing up that he would be the next one. And I would amount to nothingness, or a shadow of him. Those words sting but what stings more is that constant urge to compare, outdo, and show up to other racialized folks. We forget who actually has it all and it’s not this brother.
Just then, I am sitting in a small restaurant, a racialized colleague telling me her parents are unemployed, her brother is medically ill, her partner is considering leaving and…… wishes she had my life. She asks me how my non-profit is going. I forgot I also founded one. She asks me how I like my new home. I’ve almost forgotten I bought one.
I’m considered now the go-to Asian in my area of the law. They call me for interviews when they need a soundbite or some rationalization. Apparently I’ve become a safe quote and welcoming face. It’s a façade that’s difficult to upkeep.
In two weeks, I’m a diversity invite on a panel of an area of law where everyone is white, the topic is white, the case law is white, and they want my insight, my input, me to validate them. I’ll probably end up doing it just as I have always done. They wrote the textbooks, they fought the cases in the SCC, they were part of the consultative committees on changing the law. Me, I’ve tried to explain to my client in my second-language how the law works on a discounted consult and they say it makes no sense. They have no legal experience and background. And, to be honest, I actually agree with them.
So sorry for the person I became
So sorry that it took so long for me to change
I’m ready to be sure to become that way again
‘Cause who I am hates who I’ve been
Who I am hates who I’ve been
Finding Liberation in Law: Embracing My Race But Rejecting Their Racialization
Perhaps it took me taking a hall pass away from Whiteness. Starting my own Firm alongside a racialized colleague (who happens to be a lawyer himself, struggling to build a family in a Society that has racialized him to his financial limitation). I am developing a hiring strategy of Racialized and Indigenous folks only. It only took writing out my struggle and pain, plus 30 odd years of lived experience, before realizing that I am together because I have finally embraced my Chineseness, that I love my culture. I love those things I used to want to destroy in me and that they still want to stamp out of me in the guise it will make me a ‘better lawyer.’
I’ll hold onto these principles and core values – perhaps more privately than I would like to start, but slowly we will talk in our circles, and these circles will become crowds, these crowds will become movements, and soon we will not allow ourselves to be labelled simply as minorities, visible or invisible of no importance. We are not small and we will not play that part for you. We are not simply wallpapers for your next client pitch, sushi advisors for when you go to your local restaurants, the 5pm Friday work dump guy, because you assume we have no family, no life, and no ambition and that we are here for you in ways you’ve never showed up for us.
I’ve hated the way I’ve played into your system, facilitated your oppression, contributed myself often times for my own gain. I’ve hated the way I’ve ignored my own history, this land’s history, ignored misery, avoided conflict, simply to keep you happy and your pockets filled. My happiness is no longer in receiving your good graces but finding my own and dreaming for that greater liberation for others – being part of their journey. On their own terms. In their own birth name. With their own embraced culture and identity.
See You Tomorrow – Putting Writing Into Words
That’s it folks. I’ve written this. It’s on paper. I might speak on it tomorrow. I might not, and one day, some student thinking about our shared career path will accidentally Google it and tell me she thinks the same way. I might be 50 years old one day nervous (as I’ve been my entire life) at a judicial or political interview and asked about this. Remind me […]
Dear IRCC: Requesting Uploaded Non-Refundable Plane Tickets for Refused Extension Applications Is Not The Way To Go
I apologize folks. I’m in the middle of a transition (starting my own Firm in February – more details about this later). I’ve also engaged an entire revamp of this blog, which will be releasing as well. I’m supposed to be on hiatus. However, something shared by one of my colleagues has had me spring into action. IRCC: this move is wrong, not procedurally fair, and has disasterous consequences for access to justice.
What am I talking about? Check out the screen shot below.
While it is clear the Government has been pushing to make the restoration process more difficult (trying to limit it to only statuses previously held), it behooves procedural fairness that rather than informing applicants of their statutory option to pursue restoration within 90 days they are telling applicants to leave and provide proof that they are leaving.
There is also no transparency on how to challenge a decision like this. What if an individually legitimately was refused due to missing documentation or a technical issue and has a strong argument for restoration? Do they apply for restoration? What happens if they ignore this request to upload proof. Does CBSA show up before they are able to confirm their restoration has been approved? [The fact we are removing individuals during a pandemic is another bone – but I’ll pick it some other time].
I would argue that this has the most immediate and harmful impacts on those who are unrepresented. As counsel, at least I can seek clarification and know how to navigate restoration to immediately submit an application and perhaps inform IRCC. A self-represented applicant, with no public facing knowledge of the process having provided by IRCC, will not know what to do. I fear that for the international students who I’ve seen this sent to, this can lead to harmful decisions. I’ve been in too many cases where international students were afraid to tell their parents, going so far as trying to leave to a third country to avoid letting their major educational funder parents know.
Importantly, this action breaches procedural fairness. Indeed, I think the Government needs to be enjoined from prematurely requesting something and shielding the fact an alternative remedy is not on available but statutorily provided. This type of action utilizes policy to try and shield the protections provided by law and is inconsistent with the rule of law and due process.
I call on the Government to stop issuing these letters to applicants who receive temporary resident extension refusals and in fact all refusal letters. Go back to informing these individuals that they have the ability to apply for restoration within 90 days. Suspend removals, especially now that there are programs being rolled out to help restore those who have lost status and given them an extended time to do so. This type of letter contracts the generosity through policy that has been provided (see: here).
In the interim, we need transparency:
- Who is this being sent to?
- Is it just for citizens of certain countries?
- Why is it not being limited to cases where individuals are truly out of status without access to restoration?
- Where are the public instructions on how to respond to something like this?
To most individuals, even those familiar with immigration, the words ‘risk’ and ‘discrimination’ will likely conjure up immediate thoughts of refugee claims under s. 96 and s.97 of the IRPA.
Indeed, if one were to follow IRCC’s own instructions on factors to consider in an humanitarian and compassionate assessment, risk and determination are not obvious on the face , as per the online instructions captured below.
Factors to consider in a humanitarian and compassionate assessment
Applicants may base their requests for H&C consideration on any relevant factors including, but not limited to
establishment in Canada for in-Canada applications;
ties to Canada;
the best interests of any children directly affected by the H&C decision;
factors in their country of origin including adverse country conditions;
health considerations including inability of a country to provide medical treatment;
family violence considerations;
consequences of the separation of relatives;
inability to leave Canada has led to establishment (in the case of applicants in Canada);
ability to establish in Canada for overseas applications;
any unique or exceptional circumstances that might merit relief.
Certainly, adverse country conditions include discrimination and indeed there is clarification that membership of a group being discriminated against is a s.25(1) IRPA consideration as per this excerpt below.
Assessment of discrimination
In assessing whether an applicant will be affected by discrimination, discrimination can be inferred where an applicant shows that they are a member of a group that is discriminated against. Evidence of discrimination experienced by others who share the applicant’s profile is relevant under subsection 25(1), whether or not the applicant has evidence that they have been personally targeted.
On risk, it was always a word I utilized with some caution in an H&C application. Indeed, IRCC’s instructions provide explicitly that s.96 and s.97(1) IRPA factors are not be considered, but must consider these elements related to hardship.
Many new readers and fans of our blog ask why we have an Indigenous logo and make Indigenous issues, decolonization, and indigenizing a huge part of our mandate and our writing.
We believe that immigration, as part of a settler colonialist system, has facilitate the loss of Indigenous lands, the historically correct approach is to try and both return Indigenous sovereignty to immigration decisions and as well build deeper relations between Settlers and Indigenous communities and promote understanding, pay reparations to the harm.
This year, we contributed financially (through the proceeds of an award) to the Urban Native Youth Association. UNYA does incredible work connecting Indigenous mentees with community mentors.
We also wrote on how to better reflect Indigenous ways of thinking into the IAD process.
My Value Proposition
My Canadian immigration/refugee legal practice is based on trust, honesty, hard-work, and communication. I don’t work for you. I work with you.
You know your story best, I help frame it and deal with the deeper workings of the system that you may not understand. I hope to educate you as we work together and empower you.
I aim for that moment in every matter, big or small, when a client tells me that I have become like family to them. This is why I do what I do.
I am a social justice advocate and a BIPOC. I stand with brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ2+ and Indigenous communities. I don’t discriminate based on the income-level of my clients – and open my doors to all. I understand the positions of relative privilege I come from and wish to never impose them on you. At the same time, I also come from vulnerability and can relate to your vulnerable experiences.
I am a fierce proponent of diversity and equality. I want to challenge the racist/prejudiced institutions that still underlie our Canadian democracy and still simmer in deep-ceded mistrusts between cultural communities. I want to shatter those barriers for the next generation – our kids.
I come from humble roots, the product of immigrant parents with an immigrant spouse. I know that my birth in this country does not entitle me to anything here. I am a settler on First Nations land. Reconciliation is not something we can stick on our chests but something we need to open our hearts to. It involves acknowledging wrongdoing for the past but an optimistic hope for the future.
I love my job! I get to help people for a living through some of their most difficult and life-altering times. I am grateful for my work and for my every client.