Queer settlers: questioning settler colonialism in LGBT asylum processes in Canada.

Author:Fobear, Katherine


Refugee and forced migration studies have focused primarily on the refugees' countries of origin and the causes for migration. Yet it is also important to also critically investigate the processes, discourses, and structures of settlement in the places they migrate to. This has particular significance in settler states like Canada in which research on refugee and forced migration largely ignores the presence of Indigenous peoples, the history of colonization that has made settlement possible, and ways the nation has shaped its borders through inflicting control and violence on Indigenous persons. What does it mean, then, to file a refugee claim in a state like Canada in which there is ongoing colonial violence against First Nations communities? In this article, we will explore what it means to make a refugee claim based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a settler-state like Canada. For sexual and gender minority refugees in Canada, interconnected structures of colonial discourse and regulation come into force through the Canadian asylum and resettlement process. It is through this exploration that ideas surrounding migration, asylum, and settlement become unsettled.


Les etudes sur les refugies et les migrations forcees ont porte principalement sur les pays des refugies d'origine et les causes de la migration. Pourtant, il est egalement important d'aussi etudier de maniere critique les processus, les discours et les structures de peuplement dans les endroits vers lesquels ils migrent. Cela a une signification particuliere dans les etats coloniaux comme le Canada oil la recherche sur les refugies et la migration forcee ignore en grande partie la presence des peuples autochtones, Fhistoire de la colonisation qui a rendu le peuplement possible et les moyens par lesquels la nation a faconne ses frontieres en usant de pouvoir et de violence sur les populations autochtones. Quel est le sens, alors, de deposer une demande d'asile dans un etat comme le Canada oil persiste la violence coloniale contre les communautes des Premieres Nations? Dans cet article, nous allons explorer ce que cela signifie defaire une demande d'asile fondee sur Forientation sexuelle et 1'identite de genre dans un etat colonial comme le Canada. Pour les refugies d'orientation sexuelle et d'identite de genre minoritaires au Canada, les structures interconnectees du discours colonial et de la reglementation entrent en vigueur dans le cadre de processus d'asile et de reinstallation. C'est grace a cette etude que les idees entourant la migration, Vasile et le peuplement sont destabilisees.


Political and media attention on sexual and gender minority refugees has risen within Canada in the past ten years. This attention has focused primarily on anti-queer violence and the particularly oppressive conditions that push sexual and gender minority persons to seek asylum in Canada. While there has been some work of significance done by researchers on hetero-normativity and the Canadian asylum process, less work has been done on the historical and ongoing colonial structures that sexual and gender minority persons must navigate as they make a refugee claim in Canada. A guiding question in this article is to explore what it means to make a refugee claim based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a settler state like Canada, where there is ongoing colonial violence against First Nations communities and other racialized bodies. What are the implications? For sexual and gender minority refugees in Canada, all of these different but interconnected structures of settler-colonial discourse and regulation take effect through the Canadian asylum and resettlement process.

In this article, I approach in-state sexual and gender minority refugee asylum in Canada using a post-colonial theoretical lens. It is through this exploration that I hope to unsettle notions of migration, asylum, and settlement to critically investigate the refugee asylum process for sexual and gender minority refugees. (1) This article is not a complete review of the field of refugee and forced migration studies, queer migration studies, or post-colonial studies, but instead highlights significant literature and arguments. Because asylum encompasses a large range of legal, political, and social processes, much too broad to fully analyze for the scope of this article, this literature review focuses only on the level of the in-state refugee process, especially as it relates to sexual and gender minority refugee claims in Canada. The literature selected ranges from qualitative and legal studies on the in-state refugee process in Canada to cultural critiques of in-state asylum and immigration by post-colonial and critical race scholars. By basing the selection of literature on the defined parameters of in-state refugee claims, I hope to provide a concentrated and focused argument on the importance of a post-colonial critique on forced migration and refugee studies as it relates to sexual and gender minority refugees. Using a post-colonial framework to analyze in-state sexual and gender minority refugee claims in Canada allows us to go beyond hetero-normative and racial settler frameworks to look at the larger political, social, and legal forces at play in Canada's refugee system and its settler state. (2)

Interrogating Imperialism and Colonialism in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies

Interrogating refugee or forced migration research in the context of historical and ongoing colonialism and imperialism is an unruly task. The first reason for this difficulty is that refugee or forced migration studies remain a largely unstructured and diverse collection of work that span several disciplines; second, relatively few studies connect intersecting theories and historical processes of colonialism to processes of forced migration. This is a missed opportunity in forced migration and refugee studies, as it falsely places the phenomenon of forced migration and asylum into a box outside of larger social, economic, and political processes stemming from the legacy of colonialism and imperialism.

The legal process and protocol of asylum, as well as the definition of "refugee," is a relatively recent development, first created by the 1951 Refugee Convention and recurrently modified in the interim. Despite this recent development, the economic, social, and political forces that cause persons to be displaced and that regulate the traffic of individuals to find asylum in other states have deep historical links with past and present colonial structures. In not situating refugee and forced migration research in historical and ongoing processes of colonialism, the phenomenon of forced migration and refugee asylum appears ahistorical. We may live in a complex world in which multiple factors come together to affect refugee migration, asylum processes, and the settlement of refugee diasporic communities, but this world has been made through the historical and ongoing processes of various and intersecting colonial and imperial histories and processes. Colonialism in its many different historical, social, and geographic forms did not end with the official end of the old empires, but instead continues to reproduce itself through ongoing dichotomies, hierarchies, and norms, as well as through the unequal exchange of power and resources. To investigate refugee and forced migration without understanding the historical and contextual mechanisms of imperialism and colonialism creates a post-colonial amnesia and a further silencing of ongoing colonial violence.

As much as forced migration studies may be a wide and diverse field, so too is post-colonial studies. Postcolonialism was first conceived by political theorists and historians as the historical period after colonial occupation and the establishment of independent states. Since then, the term has widened to incorporate more than the historical period after colonialism. Post-colonialism is now seen by the majority of post-colonial theorists as the cultural interactions between the colonized and the colonizers from the moment of colonization onwards. Post-colonial studies interrogates the effects of colonialism, while recognizing the specificity of each case in which it is deployed. (3) The "post" in post-colonial is regarded by most post-colonial theorists as a challenge to the implied chronological separation between colonialism and its aftermath. Instead, post-colonialism should be seen as more of an "unbroken term" to the long history of colonial consequences. (4) Within post-colonial studies, immigration has played a prominent role, especially in understanding how the regulation of colonizer and colonized persons' movement and settlement solidified national borders and created the modern state. Within Canada, post-colonial theorists work to critique and understand the ways in which settler colonialism continues to shape both Indigenous sovereignty and access to settlement and citizenship for immigrants.

Legal and qualitative studies of refugee and forced migration that have interrogated processes, structures, and discourses of imperialism and colonialism have shown how ongoing imperial processes shaped practices and policies of migration and asylum through globalization and global inequality, through the creation and controlling of geographical, political, and social borders, and through the global and national regulation of citizenship and rights. (5) This research has brought much-needed critical attention to refugee and forced migration studies by grounding it in intersecting colonial and imperial legacies. These different legacies of imperialism and colonialism intersect globally, nationally, and locally in the structural, discursive, and material factors that shape refugees' lives. Migration and settlement cannot be adequately theorized outside of spatialized relations of imperial and colonial power. (6)...

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