BlogOn Thursday, March 8, 2018, Catherine Sas will be speaking for International Women’s Day at the rotary club in West Vancouver, BC. Read her speech.

7 March 2018

About the Author

West Vancouver Sunrise Rotary Club

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you all at the West Vancouver Sunrise Rotary Club. While I have never actually been a Rotary member myself, I feel very close to your organization as during my university days I served many Rotary lunches and dinners while working as waitress to put myself through school. Fortunately for me, I never had to serve breakfasts as I am not an early bird- so this is my very first Rotary breakfast. You truly have a wonderful organization and I feel very honoured to be here.

I would like to tell you a bit about myself to provide some context to the things I am going to speak about with you today.

As Matt has mentioned, Iam an immigration lawyer practicing in Vancouver for what will be 28 years this June. For the majority of my career, I have been in sole practice. I articled with a small litigation firm in downtown Vancouver and after being called to the Bar, I took a year off to work in Japan teaching English to private businessmen. I returned to Vancouver and established my own firm working as a sole practitioner for twenty years. I joined a national firm for five years and three years ago I returned to private practice. So, Ihave always been a small­ business woman and I understand the trials, tribulations and rewards of being your own boss.

Throughout my professional career, I have been single, married, divorced – more than once, and re-married – again, more than once. I have also been the sole or main provider for my family and, for many years, a single mother. There was no such thing as maternity leave when my children were born and I took off 8 days from work when my first son Louis was born and 4 days off when my second son William was born. I have been married for the past 15 years to my wonderful husband Paul and we live in Parksville on Vancouver Island. For the past 16 years I have been commuting by Seaplane to come to work. I should have had the foresight to invest in a plane, or at least the seaplane companies, years ago.

People often ask me why I became a lawyer and they are generally surprised to hear the reason: because my Father told me to. I have been very fortunate to have been born in Canada but more importantly I am fortunate to have been born into the family that I have. My family is of Russian and Polish heritage and my father was brought up in a traditional Slavic family where he expected his first child to be a son. He himself was the eldest of four children – three of whom were boys. I was his first born child – a daughter. And then came another daughter, my sister Anna. And then another daughter, Paula. Somewhere in this progression my father resigned himself to the fact that he was never going to have a son and started to raise me, his eldest, as his son. Of course once he resigned himself to this fate, then my brother John was born. But by then the die was cast.

What do I mean by that – the die was cast? Well, simply that my father stopped thinking in his traditional, Slavic chauvinistic manner and started to raise his eldest child as his eldest child and not as a daughter rather than a son. And that has been very significant for me because I have never felt that there was any limitation on what I could do or what I could achieve. And that is the spirit that I want to share with you today, on International Women ‘s Day, to invoke the spirit of capability to all girls and boys, women and men, and especially to our new immigrant community, many of whom arrive in Canada sharing the patriarchal views of my father.

So being an immigration lawyer, it will not come as any surprise that I would like to speak to you today about the challenges of immigrant women in their journey to Canada and establishing themselves here. I am in awe of each and every immigrant ‘s journey to Canada. I am struck every day by the sheer bravery, courage and tenacity of the immigrant experience which is frequently far more challenging for women. In many countries women don’t do things without the consent of their father, brother, uncle or husband. For many immigrant women, coming to Canada is the first independence that they have known which often is marked with fear and uncertainty. They are often coming alone, leaving behind their families for many years while they start their new lives and establish themselves in Canada. I would like to share with you the stories of three immigrant women to give you some perspective of what it is like for immigrant women to come to Canada and start a new life.

Simona – The Refugee

In the aftermath of the Cold War and the ensuing fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980’s, Canada had a policy of accepting political refugees from former Soviet and Eastern block countries. Canada’s Self Exiled Class provided that persons arriving from these countries and claiming asylum were automatically recognized as refugees. So it was with this backdrop that 18 year old Simona departed from Prague, Czechoslovakia, en route to Havana, Cuba leaving behind her mother, father and elder brother.

At the time, Cuba was the tropical destination for persons from Communist Europe. It was also a preferred escape route. Given the distance, it was necessary for planes to make a fuelling stop in Canada – usually in Gander, Newfoundland or Montreal, Quebec – and it was often at this point that passengers defected. Her plane landed on September 5, 1988 at 3am at Mirabel Airport for refuelling and passengers were allowed to disembark to a transit hall. Simona was returning from the washroom to the transit hall when a friendly Commissionaire asked her if she wanted to stay in Canada. She immediately seized upon the opportunity and said “yes”. She was completely alone and had only $50 hidden in her shoe. After a night at the Salvation Army and then a week at the YMCA, Simona was ultimately placed with another immigrant family while she waited for her immigration papers and work permit to be processed. In addition to shelter, she was provided with French lessons to assist her with assimilation in Quebec. Her first job was as a waitress in Montreal until she landed a coveted position as a hostess at the Montreal Forum – the home of the Montreal Canadians hockey team.

A couple of years later her elder brother made the same journey to Canada and together they made their way across Canada to Vancouver. She worked her way from being a Sales Agent at a national car rental agency to a flight attendant at one of Canada’s national airlines. While working as a flight attendant she put herself through university. Soon thereafter she relocated to Ottawa and joined the Canadian government as a customs officer and worked her way up through the various government positions. Today Simona is a Sr. Manger in the Canadian Transportation agency and a single mother to her teenage daughter. Her brother and Mother have since joined her in Canada.

Raman – The Student

Raman grew up in a traditional close-knit Punjabi family in India’s capital city – New Delhi. By the time that she was seventeen, her parents and other family members were already discussing marriage plans for her. In a country where arranged marriage is still common, Raman’s family were entering into discussions with families in India, Canada and the US. Raman had always dreamed of pursing higher education. In the midst of these marriage talks, Raman convinced her parents that rather than send her abroad through marriage, that she would go as an international student. At a time when there was no access to the Internet, she researched and applied for Canadian schools and ultimately was accepted at and received a 75% scholarship to attend a Vancouver based university. Raman was 18 years old when she arrived in Vancouver in December 2009 to purse her studies in Canada. Her father, mother and brother remained behind in New Delhi. To this day, they have never visited Raman in Canada.

The path for any student is not an easy one, but for an international student there are significant challenges. Generally, there is loneliness and isolation. Raman was luckier than most in that she had an aunt in Vancouver that she was able to live with for her first year and a half of studies. Then there is the cost – international students pay significantly higher tuition fees than Canadian students. Raman ‘s four year Bachelor ‘s degree would cost $75,000 over four years of which her parents covered $27,000. Raman was accepted as a Global Scholar – entitling her to unique learning and travel opportunities including work-study options at the United Nations which gave her the opportunity to travel to New York twice. While her BA degree was a four year program Raman completed her studies in 2.5 years by way of special approval from her Director. She maintained a 3.5 grade point average and became President of her class. Raman graduated with a BBA degree in December 2012 on the Dean’s List.

Since graduating, Raman has worked for nearly six years as an immigration paralegal helping other students and prospective immigrants achieve their goals of coming to Canada. In January of 2015 she became a permanent resident. It is Raman ‘s dream to continue her education and to attend law school. This year her brother will be coming to study in Canada. Raman will be covering the costs of her brother ‘s education in Canada. Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of her parents, she remains unmarried.

Mabel – The Caregiver

Mabel came to Canada from the Philippines as a Live-in Caregiver in February of 2007. She left behind her husband and three young daughters, ages 12, 10 and 6, with the ultimate goal of obtaining permanent residence for herself and her family. It may interest you to know that Canada has been welcoming Caregivers, Nannies and Nursemaids for over 100 years providing them with a path to permanent residence. Up until recently, Canada has been welcoming annually over 10,000 Caregivers and their dependent families members under our Caregiver program.

Prior to coming to Canada, Mabel was a registered nurse in the Philippines however, as is common for most immigrants, her foreign credentials were not recognized in Canada. After two years of working for a family at minimum wage, she applied for Canadian permanent residence in August of 2009 including her husband and three daughters. In 2012 Canada Immigration interviewed her husband in the Philippines regarding his former military service. He was ultimately found inadmissible to Canada, not for anything he had ever done, but for things that his superiors had done without his knowledge nor consent. As a result, Mabel ‘s application for permanent residence was refused. This started Mabel on a journey of Federal Court applications and pleas to government officials all of which were denied. In December of 2015 Mabel ‘s application for permanent residence was formally refused.

At the same time that all of this was unfolding, Mabel was pursing her nursing career in Canada. Over a period of three years from 2011 to 2014 Mabel completed language assessments, had her educational credentials evaluated and completed a skills assessment and written examinations by the Registered Nurses Association of BC all while maintaining her employment as a Care Aide. In 2014 Mabel was formally licensed as a Registered Nurse in British Columbia.

Since that time, Mabel has been fully employed as a nurse, often working two jobs simultaneously to both send funds overseas for her family while at the same time saving in the hopes that she would one day be able to bring them to be with her in Canada. As a result of her hard work in Canada, two of her daughters are now nurses in the Philippines.

Since 2016 Mabel has been working as the Director of Wellness for a Senior Living Centre here in West Vancouver. Her position as Director of Wellness is a management role which allows Mabel to work on a daily basis training and supervising the next generation
of young Registered Nurses to care for our seniors.

In October of 2016 Mabel filed an application for permanent residence on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds for herself alone accepting the difficult reality that she is no longer able to include her family in this application process. This past February, Mabel became a permanent resident of Canada. It is Mabel ‘s dream to one day assist her daughters to become permanent residents in their own right to be able to join her in Canada.

All three of these women came to Canada on their own and made their lives here in the face of considerable adversity. They have achieved tremendous accomplishments by any standards. Their stories are all very dear to me – Mabel is my client, Raman is my paralegal and Simona is my former sister-in­ law.

Today, on International Women ‘s Day, I would ask you to celebrate the accomplishments of all Canadian immigrant women. When you see immigrant women working in our communities, think of these stories and the likely struggles that they have endured in order to make Canada their new home. When you think of the immigrant women that you employ, think also of the Canadian men that you employ or your aspirations and expectations for your own Canadian sons, and ask yourselves – do you treat them the same? Do they work the same hours, earn a similar wage, gamer the same respect and have the same opportunities for advancement?

Growing up, I never considered that there was anything I couldn’t do simply because I was a girl, because I was never taught to think that way. I was always taught that with hard work, I could do anything. For me, this is how we have to raise the sons and daughters of today – that they are capable of anything that they put their minds and efforts to regardless of their gender. And this is how we have to treat and empower our immigrant men and women, and their sons and daughters, and treat them with the respect, dignity and equality that all people deserve so that they can reach their full potential for themselves, and for Canada. Just like Mabel, Raman and Simona.

About the Author

Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

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About the Author