A Qualitative Look at Serious Legal Problems Faced by Immigrants in Greater Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia


Listening to the experiences of 20 immigrants in Vancouver and Greater Victoria, a picture emerges of people who often feel that they are not heard. One participant spelled it out:

Being a woman, being a person of a different culture, being a person who speaks a different language, being a person who does not speak fluent English…I never thought that they were that important…But now having gone through these legal proceedings, I have witnessed what it means to be that person…I felt nobody really believed me, I felt voiceless, I felt not heard and not seen or not valued. Because I’m not a white man. I’m just a woman from a foreign country.

This notion that one’s voice does not matter is a recurrent theme in many of the interviews and exacerbates feelings of isolation, of being undervalued, and of vulnerability and powerlessness. More than half of the interviewees commented on this and sometimes shared that they participated in this research for the express purpose of finally being able to tell their story:

I think, to me, it’s healing that I get to speak the truth. Like the truth, exactly how I felt, how I saw it as a violence. So it’s really healing.

Though it is certainly important that this research project started a process of healing for some participants, there is also an implication that the legal process by itself was not able to provide healing or in some cases aggravated the hurt. If a new or established immigrant faces a legal system in which they feel they have no voice, this system can end up hurting where its aim is to assist.

Hearing immigrants’ voices and listening to their stories of navigating though legal problems they have faced, is what this study was designed to do. It is hoped that a small qualitative study like this can begin to open up an awareness of the legal needs of immigrants and start a conversation about how to develop effective civil justice policies, models, and financing, in order to reduce the legal barriers that immigrants may face.