By Maddy Pauchet
Bashir A. Khan takes occasional sips from his cranberry juice, lime wedge, no ice. He pulls out a dozen business cards. “I want to be of service,” he says. “If you have any questions, please contact me.”
We do have questions—many, in fact, that he fields tirelessly, weaving in history lessons and anecdotes about his work. Khan is a lawyer who works in Winnipeg, Manitoba practicing immigration and refugee law.
Khan explains that Manitoba sees much more crossover of its border than its neighboring province, Saskatchewan. Though both are flat, open prairies that could easily be breached by asylum seekers, there exists one difference that explains why Manitoba is a much more desired location: Saskatchewan offers no legal aid to asylum seekers, while Manitoba provides up to thirteen hours of legal counsel. Khan says that thirteen hours is shortsighted. “I’ll usually work on a single case anywhere between twenty-eight to thirty-five hours.” While Khan does not receive compensation for these hours of work, he explains that he finds it fulfilling. “There are no incentives to do pro bono work,” Khan says of Canada’s legal system. In contrast, in the United States, the American Bar Association recommends that lawyers do fifty hours of pro bono service each year.
One of Khan’s more controversial opinions has to do with the Trump administration’s responsibility for the exodus of asylum-seekers from the United States to Canada. “Trump has nothing to do with the exodus,” he affirms. While he does not see the United States political administrations as the driving force pushing refugees toward Canada, he does take issue with some of the existing American policies. “The United States does not provide refugees with any legal counsel. Trump has not altered the system—it was already broken.”
Khan owns up to what he terms “cultural arrogance.” Laughing, he says that he looks at the United States, at its gun problems and problematic policies, and thinks to himself, “We’re a better country.” But in recent years, after trips to Southeast Asia, Khan says he has become more compassionate. “People don’t want to leave their home, uproot themselves and come here to an uncertain future.”
He describes Canadian nationalistic thought as defined in contrast to the United States. He quotes Lenny Kravitz’s song: “American women, stay away from me.”
“That’s the key to the Canadian identity!” says Khan, though he owns up to a history of poor race relations, nine years of a conservative government that undid many progressive immigrations policies, and existing anti-immigration and anti-refugee political factions that are gaining ground.
Khan, though jovial, is not optimistic about Canada’s political future, which he predicts will turn conservative. “Canada has lost its place in the world.”