Gawad shares thoughts on Canada’s current immigration system
Sylvia Gawad has more than a decade of first-hand experience with becoming a Canadian citizen, including her time here on a student permit and right up to securing her citizenship.
She prides herself on remaining positive, persevering, and pushing through, but she says with her personal experience, many areas for improvement in the immigration system jump out.
“The system found a way to bring me down to my knees and then break my knees to make sure I never got back up,” she says. “Is this system designed to make you beg, make you cry, to bring you to your knees?
“This is my experience, as someone with networks, with privilege, with experience. Imagine everyone else that doesn’t have that network, the experience.”
Gawad is quick to reiterate she doesn’t speak for everyone going through the immigration process, but does say many, many people have similar stories.
“I’m not saying this experience is representative of every person going through the immigration system, but the majority of people going through the system have some form of issue, concern, or a period of just not knowing what the heck is going on.
“I don’t speak for all immigrants and I don’t speak for the system. This is my perspective.”
While Gawad tries to focus on the positives, and her suggestions are to try to bring awareness to the system, she says she would be remiss not to mention that even at its infancy, the system was an exclusionary one.
“If you look at the history of the immigration system in Canada, you will see the history of immigration in Canada is actually a colonial, racist system. In its infancy there was the one boat policy, which meant individuals looking to come to Canada in the 1800s could only take one boat from their departure place to arrival,” she says. “That meant it would exclude everyone from Asia and the Pacific. This was essentially just [a place] for people from Europe.
“As a person from China, you would have to pay a tax on the head of every person coming to immigrate from China.”
She says people should know the past, to make the present system better.
“The history of the Canadian immigration system is one that’s based on excluding people from certain backgrounds,” Gawad says. “There are some challenges and barriers placed in the system that make it more challenging for certain people over others.
“I don’t like to tag on racism. I want to point out the gaps in the system, because I think people want to do better.”
So, what can our system approve upon? For Gawad, it always starts with education and communication.
“People are always looking to do better, they just don’t know how,” she says. “But I believe people are good.” However, she says doing things as they’ve always been done isn’t good enough anymore.
“Systems are created by people, but these systems also carry legacies and sometimes these legacies are hard to dismantle. But you know what? These legacies are eventually going to fade because there will always be new people and we just have to make sure these new people are educated and aware of the challenges in the system,” she says. “They have to look through the eye of knowing, not the eye of this is how things have been done and then continue to do it because it works.
“We don’t know what we don’t know.”
So how do we move forward? Gawad says keeping the conversation front and centre is paramount.
“Maybe if there was education (for the general public), maybe if it was talked about and these conversations were normalized,” she says. “People are done having the conversations around what the issues are. How can we look at this to be more solution driven, rather than have conversations that truly just piss people off?”
In saying that, Gawad says her experienced absolutely shaped who she is as a person.
I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for (my experience),” she says. “That doesn’t mean it’s all good and everything is hip hip hooray. I’ve had to miss out on some important moments of life I’ll never be able to get back.
“I have this trauma around the immigration system. [It created in me] an inability to be at peace with things, and a burden that has been a part of me for 14 years. It’s not easy to just dismantle that burden.”
But something Gawad is thankful for is that people are talking about these experiences more and more.
“It gives space where future generations may not have to have these conversations, and maybe they can have more meaningful conversations.”
To read more about Sylvia Gawad’s experience with Canadian immigration, please check out the rest of her story by visiting myeastcoastexperience.com and clicking on Stories. Then look under the Online Exclusive tab.