Explaining how they have been shaped by their experiences


When Gary tries to put himself in a claimant’s shoes, he asks himself how he would have felt, rather than trying to imagine how the claimant might have felt. Often, he asks himself how a “reasonable person” would have acted – and to Gary, this “reasonable person” looks a lot like Gary himself.

Sometimes claimants have been able to help Gary to see that they, like he, have been shaped by their experiences. Because their experiences have been very different from his, they felt and thought and acted differently than how he thinks that he, or his idea of a “reasonable person,” would have felt, thought or acted.

If Gary was threatened by the guerilla, he would be terrified. But that kind of threat would be new to him. He has lived his whole life in safety. Sonia helped Gary to understand that for her, over time, the guerrilla’s threats had become a kind of unsettling background noise. Whenever she thought about the danger, it made her uneasy. Sometimes fear hit her in the pit of her stomach. But most of the time, she just tried not to think about it. She explained that it was like smoking cigarettes or driving a car; she knew that the risk was real, but she pushed the thought to the back of her mind and carried on.

Gary imagines that a reasonable person in Hee-Young’s shoes would have asked for help. But Hee-Young described for Gary what it was like to live for many years without being allowed to make any decisions. Her husband decided what she wore, what she ate, where she went, to whom she could speak. She never imagined that she could leave her husband and ask for help in a strange city in a foreign country any more than she imagined that she could run for president or become an astronaut. It simply never crossed her mind.

Boris explained that when he first arrived in Canada, his priorities were finding an apartment and finding a job. After that, he needed time to adjust. He still finds it very hard to trust people, and for now he just wants to be alone. He helped Gary to understand that he is not yet ready to date or to be part of a community.

Marjani told Gary that she had heard rumours in her community that some interpreters do talk about what they have heard in immigration interviews. She did not know whether these rumours were true, but she explained that at the time they were weighing heavily on her mind. She also helped Gary to understand how devastating it would have been for her if this information had become known. She was simply not willing to take that risk.

Gary has never had any reason to distrust Canadian authorities. Police officers, border agents, and security guards have always treated him with respect. But Barrington told Gary about the kinds of experiences that had led him to conclude that he could not trust the Canadian system. He told Gary about being mistreated by Canadian police officers and security guards, as well as by his employer and by strangers who assaulted him and called him racist names. This helped Gary to understand why Barrington did not feel that he could trust Canadians.