Vancouver lawyer Will Tao encourages stronger Indigenous voice in Canada's immigration system

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      How do we keep from forcing Eurocentric, patriarchal, and assimilative perspectives on migrant women of colour?

      It’s a question that Vancouver lawyer Will Tao asked in a thoughtful paper exploring the potential of intersectionality and Indigenous approaches to immigration appeals.

      The 32-page paper, submitted to the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Law Section, told the story of a Chinese grandmother and permanent resident. She spoke no English after being in Canada for 15 years and the government wanted her deported.

      The grandmother was providing valuable care for her granddaughter, whose single mother was busy generating an income to support them, according to the paper.

      The lawyer representing the Crown bluntly asked Tao if he was saying that the mother couldn’t take care of her own child. Tao argued that if the grandmother was deported, it would expose the granddaughter to financial hardship, as well as remove the girl’s primary caregiver.

      “As much as I tried to step into the white athletic shoes of the Appellant’s daughter, they were not mine,” Tao wrote. “I could not relate directly to her worsening financial situation, her role as a mother, her navigation through immigration challenges, and most of all, the physical and emotional abuse. Even though I also lost a father to illness and spoke her mother-tongue, I was not her.”

      This statement reflects Tao’s high awareness of his own privileged position in society, even though he’s the son of immigrants who faced discrimination after they moved from Shanghai to Victoria in the 1980s. His father was a graduate student at UVic who arrived in Canada with just $60.

      In his paper, Tao expressed that he still has a great deal to learn about Canada’s history of genocide on stolen land. After the paper resulted in him winning the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Law Section’s Founders’ Award, Tao posted it on his blog.

      He noted that it represented his “first major (academic/creative) deep dive into the issues of intersectionality, racism, and Indigenous approaches to Canadian immigration law”.

      In his conclusion, Tao argued that a better appreciation of these areas in the immigration system would “go beyond pathologizing Indigenous women and girls” and acknowledge that “a migrant women’s resilience and resistance have not been given adequate space for consideration”.

      Tao, a former chair of the City of Vancouver cultural communities advisory committee, founded Heron Law Offices. He told the Straight by phone that he’s hoping to develop the firm into a leader in exploring how Indigenous perspectives can be incorporated into Canada’s immigration system.

      “We’re still in the very, very beginning stages of this,” Tao said. “We’re excited about the possibility. We’re talking to some major thought leaders in the Indigenous communities to get their input and to build it.”

      He feels that it’s essential that resources go to Indigenous communities and that their perspectives be sought on “what could be continued colonization” through immigration processes.

      “How can we give sovereignty of immigration back to the Indigenous communities?” Tao asked. “It was taken from them, essentially, through the process of colonization. How do we move toward that step of what we believe is reconciliation?”

      Tao told the Straight by phone that his thinking has been influenced by UBC history professor Henry Yu, who recently testified about anti-Chinese racism at the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C.

      Yu has previously argued that Canada was on its way to becoming a diverse society in the mid–19th century, even as though there was still intense discrimination. But a racist clampdown in the form of exclusionary immigration laws, head taxes, restrictive land grants, and the Indian Act were all a product of a sharper turn toward white supremacy in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century.

      “There are a lot of Indigenous law aspects that can be inputted into Canadian immigration law—and, frankly, should be,” Tao said. “Because the way Canadian immigration law tests are right now, [they] are very assimilative, patriarchal, and don’t move forward the conversations we need to have on reconciliation.”