Queer Limbo Life in Canada’s Waiting Room
Is This Enough Proof?
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the waiting room in the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board office at 74 Victoria Street in downtown Toronto is how unremarkable it is. In rows of drab off-white chairs, people sit. They may tense up. They may appear bored, blasé. Some haven’t slept the night before their hearings. Some haven’t slept well for days, months, maybe years. Some come dressed in what might be their finest clothing. Others look more business casual. The most formally dressed in the room, accompanied by rolling briefcases and large file folders, are the immigration lawyers.
Any two people in this room could share a geopolitical conflict that indelibly shaped their lives, a relationship to empire, a last name, a religious faith, or a favorite colour – or next to nothing. Incommensurable histories, differences, trajectories cross, collide and combine in unpredictable but stratified permutations. Perhaps the only thing these people most certainly share is that they must wait.
People sit in families, in couples, in groups. Babies scream. To my Anglophone-Francophone ears, people seem to be chattering in Farsi, Jamaican patois, Russian, Somali. They could be talking about something urgent, or rehearsing the most salient, straightforward renditions of their stories in their heads – or not. In any case, it passes the time, something the refugee claimants I’ve interviewed described experiencing as both a dearth and surplus.
Too much time. Refugee hearings endlessly deferred for already backlogged adjudicators who’ve fallen ill or gone on vacation. Endless time in the waiting room, at the whim of the banal rhythm of one little corner of the nation-state immigration machine. Formidable commutes from suburban and exurban rooming-houses to downtown lawyer’s offices and social service institutions – expensive journeys straddling two or even three regional transit systems. Long gaps between appointments, religious services, job interviews downtown, with few options for where to pass the in-between-time safely, cheaply, warmly.
Not enough time. Sped-up hearings. Work permits threatening to expire. Thirty to sixty days to acquire all the requisite documents from impenetrable and often hostile bureaucracies back home. Late warnings at second and third shift jobs after those lengthy, unpredictable commutes. Working all the time, but not enough to pay for rent, transit fare, remittances, groceries.
The waiting room is a site where these distorted timelines, at once stretched out and compressed, the “too much” and the “not enough,” converge.