A memory is like a video recording


Gary believes that our memories are like video recordings. To remind ourselves of our experiences, we can simply push the ‘play’ button and watch the scene play back inside our heads. Gary believes that memories of upsetting experiences are especially clear and durable because they are ‘burned into our minds.’

As a result, Gary has trouble imagining why a truthful person would describe the same experience differently on two occasions, or why a truthful person would not be able to remember the details of an event that they have experienced. And he is even more skeptical when the event that they are describing was upsetting.

Suspicious Gary
Gary is very suspicious when he thinks that a claimant’s story has changed or if a claimant misremembers or cannot remember certain kinds of details.
Red Flag

Trouble because of the BOC narrative

At the hearing, Gary has a copy of the claimant’s BOC form in front of him. Often, he also has the notes that the IRCC officer took at the claimant’s interview. Claimants are not allowed to have their BOC form or the officer’s notes in front of them at the hearing or to use any notes to help them to testify.

In Boniface’s BOC narrative, he described how one of the officers who arrested him hit him in the face, then spat on the ground and insulted him. In the hearing, Boniface explained that the officer insulted him, then spat on the ground and hit him in the face. Gary is suspicious because he thinks that if Boniface’s story was true, Boniface would remember clearly whether the officer hit him first or insulted him first.

What might have helped Boniface?

Annie wrote in her BOC narrative that her kidnappers had held her captive for “a day and a night.” In the hearing, she described how she had been kidnapped in the late afternoon and released the next morning. Gary is suspicious because he thinks that Annie’s story has changed: he does not accept that the event as she described it at the hearing took place over “a day and a night.” Annie does not remember writing “a day and a night” in her BOC narrative. She insists that there must be some mistake, that she never used this phrase. Gary, becoming frustrated, shows her the words in the BOC narrative.

Gary has found a serious problem with Graciela’s story. In her testimony, she explained that she had witnessed a shooting during the morning rush hour. But in her BOC narrative she wrote that she saw the shooting “on my way home from school.” Graciela confirmed that her school let out in the late afternoon. Gary thinks that he has uncovered a lie.

What might have helped Annie and Graciela?

Yvonne wrote in her BOC narrative that “three men in a van” came to the market where she was working. At the hearing, she explained that there were “three or four men” and when Gary asked her what they were driving she answered, “maybe it was a Jeep?” Gary thinks that if this story was true, Yvonne would know how many men there were and what kind of vehicle they were driving.

What might have helped Yvonne?

Red Flag

Trouble because of the officer’s notes

Mustafa told the officer who interviewed him when he arrived in Canada that in his country he often went to political party meetings. The officer’s notes say that Mustafa said that over the last year he had gone to meetings “once or twice a month.” When Gary asked him how many meetings he had attended in the last year, he said “probably about ten, maybe a dozen.” Gary thinks that Mustafa’s story has changed.

What might have helped Mustafa?

In her notes, the IRCC officer wrote that Tanzim claimed to be a “member” of an opposition political party. At the hearing, when Gary asked for proof of his membership, Tanzim explained that he was not a member, just a supporter. When Gary asked Tanzim to explain why the officer would have written that he was a member if he was only a supporter, Tanzim said that the officer must have misunderstood. Gary thinks that the officer would not have made this mistake. He thinks that Tanzim changed his story when he realized that he would need to provide proof of his membership.

What might have helped Tanzim?

Red Flag

Trouble because of changes in the claimant’s testimony

Early in the hearing, Gary asked Lupe how much time had passed between the first two threatening phone calls that she had received. She answered that the second call had come “a couple of weeks” after the first. Later in the hearing, Lupe said that she had received this second call “about a month” after the first one. Gary thinks that Lupe is lying and cannot keep her story straight.

What might have helped Lupe?

Gary asked Samuel to describe the kinds of things that he had done to help support his political party. Samuel told Gary how he had organized a student chapter at his university, had written an article in his university’s newspaper, and had encouraged his classmates to attend rallies. Later on, Gary asked Samuel again about his political activities and this time Samuel also mentioned that he had handed out flyers on campus. Since Samuel had not mentioned handing out pamphlets earlier, Gary thinks that his story has changed.

Kamala’s refugee hearing stretched over two days. On the first day, Gary asked her to explain why she had not gone to the police after she was assaulted. Kamala explained that she was too ashamed and that she did not want her family or friends to know what had happened to her. On the second day, when Gary again asked Kamala why she did not go to the police, she explained that she was ashamed and that the police do not help women like her. Gary is suspicious. He thinks that between the two hearings someone told Kamala to add this new information.

What might have helped Samuel and Kamala?

Red Flag

Trouble because the claimant does not know something that Gary thinks that they should know

Jean-René explained that he had participated in a big demonstration in his country’s capital city “in the spring” several years earlier. Gary asked him when exactly the demonstration had happened. Jean-René answered that “it would have been at the end of April.” The Board’s country reports show that this demonstration in fact happened at the beginning of June. Gary thinks that this shows that Jean-René is lying about having taken part in the demonstration.

What might have helped Jean-René?

Shani came to Canada on a ship. Gary asked her if she could remember the name of the ship. She could not. As a result, Gary suspects that Shani used a different route to come to Canada.

Marco explained that he had been standing behind the counter in his shop when a truck full of armed men arrived to threaten him. Gary asked Marco about the lay-out of his shop. He then asked Marco to describe the men’s truck. Marco could not remember anything about the truck. Gary thinks that this is very suspicious, because from where Marco was standing, the truck would have been in view the whole time that the men were inside the store.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Bijan was visited repeatedly by government officials. Gary asked Bijan to describe in detail the first time that the officials came to his home: What time of day did they arrive? How long did they stay? What questions did they ask? In Bijan’s mind, the details of that first visit have become blurred together with the details of the many visits that followed. When he tries to describe that first visit, he ends up talking in general terms about the kinds of things that the officials said and did whenever they would come by. Gary finds Bijan’s inability to describe the first visit in detail suspicious.

Asmaan was questioned by soldiers at the border. When Gary asks her to describe the soldiers’ uniforms, she cannot remember them clearly. She thinks that their uniforms may have been blue. Gary has evidence that shows that the uniforms would have been grey. He suspects that she was never questioned at the border.

Je-Tsun worked for many years at a local newspaper. Gary asked her to describe the newspaper’s logo. Je-Tsun described a crest with an eagle on it, she but could not remember whether the eagle’s head was facing to the left or to the right. Gary thinks that if she had really seen this logo every day at work, she would remember clearly what it looked like.

What might have helped these claimants?

Huan converted to Christianity. He wrote in his BOC form that he has been going to church regularly for several years. Gary asked Huan questions about Bible passages that Huan could not answer. Gary suspects that Huan has not really converted to Christianity.

Sunny joined an opposition political party along with many of the young people from his region. He attended rallies and handed out pamphlets. When Gary asked Sunny to explain his party’s political philosophy, Sunny answered that the party was opposed to corruption and that it supported the rights of his ethnic minority community. Gary suspects that Sunny is not really an opposition party member. If he had been attending rallies regularly, he would have a more detailed understanding of the party’s platform.

What might have helped Huan and Sunny?

Read about Gary’s other Big Ideas: