Meet Will Tao (J.D. 2014), Vancouver-based social justice advocate.

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Will Tao (J.D. 2014) was recently awarded a CLawbies for his blog, Vancouver Immigration Blog, for the second time. In 2015 it was as the Best New Canadian Law Blog and in 2019, he earned the Best Canadian Law Blog and Commentary award. We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his blog, his time as a student and his passion for Canadian Immigration and Refugee Law.

 

  What made you start your blog ?

Vancouver Immigration Blog was started during my articling year between 2014-2015. A fellow mentor, Steven Meurrens, who was about a five-year call at the time had his own successful blog Meurrens on Immigration. His blog generated a lot of client inquiries but more importantly created opportunities for him to participate in important policy and legal debates. He also mentioned to me that blogging was like writing memos to himself and helped him learn the law.

For all those reasons, I was inspired to start my own blog but certainly at that time had no clue that my blog would transform into more than just an immigration blog but also space for dialogue on migration, race equity, and ultimately a creative arena for me to express myself free of the constraints I often felt as a junior lawyer trying to establish a voice in the field. I was also grateful that the strategy of combining my blogging with the use of Twitter – allowed for conversations on issues such as spousal sponsorship, birth tourism, and international students. The attention, garnered readers, which led to a greater platform for me to share my policy perspectives and legal analysis.

 

  Why did you chose to go back to live and work in your hometown of Vancouver ?

Returning to Vancouver was not for me about escaping the Ottawa cold. I loved the warmth of the people of Ottawa (that time a stranger drove me home when I bought too many groceries). I still reminisce on my days spent studying out of a Korean coffee shop in Chinatown (now closed), exploring. I returned because I needed to be closer to family and as well felt that the city that I was raised in had migrant populations that needed serving. We have a large Asian-Canadian diaspora here that were the focus of my undergraduate studies in Migration History. Returning to my roots with a University of Ottawa Law Degree has both been humbling and rewarding. The system often differences me up now, but I am growing increasingly aware of my positionality and to ensure I try to always remain on the side of serving and increasing access to justice as a primary focus on my practice.

Even since I graduated, other cities have now seen increases in migrant populations in cities all across Canada. While I am enjoying my practice right now, at this stage I am flexible to move wherever the work and my spouse’s career ambitions take me. I have joked with her that she will end up studying her J.D. at the University of Ottawa and I will take an LLM studying under Professor Jamie Liew (who I have so much respect for) and working with fellow uOttawa graduate Ronalee Carey at her incredible firm and helping intervenors in SCC immigration cases. It would not be a surprise if I eventually came back to Ottawa for a period of time.

 

  Any anecdote you would like to share about your time at uOttawa ?

Two of my closest colleagues from law school (who I still consider brothers) are getting married this year (one to a fellow classmate). I still do New Year’s Resolutions with another classmate (who I consider a sister). Just this month, another classmate surprised me with a visit to my office out of the blue. Every day, I see the incredible work our colleagues are doing and the academic work/change our professors are putting out.

uOttawa also was the first time I really began to think about access to justice and equity issues. Having strong feminist professors such as Professor Joanne St. Lewis, Professor Jena McGill, and Professor Angela Cameron opened my eyes to how my own life experiences were previously so narrow and patriarchal.

My hope is that uOttawa continues to support the hiring and promotion of racialized faculty so those perspectives can be shared more widely by graduates and implemented into the various areas of law we work in.

I am so grateful for those relationships I built with fellow students and professors and I encourage potential law students to choose uOttawa Law for the relationships you will build there.

 

  Why did you chose to study and work in law ?

I actually wrote in my Grade 7 yearbook I wanted to be a lawyer. That ambition probably came from watching Law and Order, following the OJ Simpson trial, and ultimately with this romanticized version of what a lawyer does. I think my first ambition to really become a community-based lawyer was when I worked with Access Pro Bono during my undergraduate studies and helped brief cases with lawyers and was able to interact with clients in difficult situations.

My commitment to access to justice waned a lot during law school, and if there is anything I would tell the past me, it would have been to think more critically and challenge the curriculum more. I was a bit too passive as a law student and saw it primarily as a gateway to employment, something I heavily, heavily regret now.

Today I find working in the law to be incredible enriching. There are not many professions you can do where you literally have a platform to both learn and work at the same time, while getting paid for it. I heard this quote from a Department of Justice Lawyer recently that we are always constantly learning. That is why it is called the ‘practice of law.’ Every day I get up and practice new ways of doing and thinking, while serving clients to the best of my abilities. As cliché as it sounds, this truly is a dream job.

 

  Why Immigration law?

I have to first, of all, recognize uOttawa for providing that environment to make the choice to pursue this as a career. I was admittedly not the greatest student but to have Laura Setzer as a first-year mentor, Laila Demirdache, Michael Bossin (both through the legal clinic), Lorne Waldman, Jackie Swaisland, and Howard Greenberg (through class) as instructors in my second-year, and Professors Jamie Liew and Jennifer Bond doing amazing research and advocacy throughout the three years I was there created a truly inspirational environment.

When I was initially thinking about jobs in immigration, I remember senior practitioners telling me that to think of doing this within the first five-years of practice would be impossible. Heading into my fifth year of practice this May, I count my blessings that the educational foundation I received at uOttawa helped me prove that adage wrong.

Today, I think of immigration law as the perfect all encompassing practice. I am a classic ‘solicitigator.’ I do solicitors work (applications) informed by my litigation (reconsideration/judicial reviews/appeals) work and vice-versa. Immigration law is very administrative in nature so I believe my ability to navigate bureaucracies and the humans behind the process also comes in handy. I get to interact on a daily basis with so many beautiful and flawed human beings and listen to so many different stories and process them. It’s an incredible way to go through life and I honestly foresee myself doing this work for a long time.

I also like that immigration is a platform that allows me to rethink traditional processes. Immigration law is steeped in colonialism, Eurocentric thinking, systemic racism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. From the construct of these artificial borders to the labelling of certain groups as vulnerable, every corner leaves something to be deconstructed and better understood. It awakens my desire to always change and improve the things around me, as well acknowledge how imperfectly flawed we all are.

In my work, I utilize my lens as a racialized person but also a person who is an oppressor - a privileged settler on stolen Indigenous land. I try and look at immigration processes beyond the surface, on the periphery, and try and provide alternative perspectives or talk about issues others aren’t being discussed, because they can be missed by those without lived experience, is something I love to bring to my work. I like to delve deep and provide nuanced assessments, stay on top of changes, and always look forward to what might be happening. It requires a lot of reading and catching up, but it makes my practice very dynamic.

Finally, my work is transferable to the community I live in. I am able to advise media on immigration stories, volunteer by sharing best practices with community groups, and participate in political dialogue. Immigration law is political and as someone who has no ambition to actually do politics, it allows me a space to practice my own form, largely on my own terms.

 Every day doing immigration law is an adventure and I am beginning to embrace uncertainty and grey areas where in the past I would have avoided them.

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