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CASSA's Blog

Voices Unheard: the shadows of border harassment for racialized women

By March 9, 2024No Comments

Sajia Rahman, an international student from Bangladesh came to Vancouver to pursue her Master’s in Data Science in the year of 2021. She came from an eminent Muslim family and she wears hijab as part of her practice. After a few months of coming to Canada she landed a job at Sobeys, one of the prominent chain stores in Canada. Despite the fact that she had to struggle in securing a home, maintaining daily chores, her education and full time employment; she was happy with her new life in Canada. After completing 3 consecutive semesters, she decided to visit her parents and nieces back in her home country. She was working more than her usual hours to cover the cost of travel and also had to purchase gifts for her close family members. She wanted to surprise her parents without letting them know of her trip. She worked  hard and remained focused on her goal. She was dreaming about how surprised and happy her nieces would be to see her.

Eventually, the day of her journey arrived. In the airport, she had suddenly been held by an immigration officer while crossing the scanner. She was on her period at that time and the immigration officer asked her whether she was carrying anything extra down there. She replied that she was on her menstrual cycle and if they want she can go to the washroom, remove it and come again for scanning. They refused, and one officer approached her to check physically. In a shock she somehow managed to ask for a female officer to check her private part and also she wanted to go inside a room or even a covered place, but they denied that too. Request for the female officer was granted and that female officer checked her in public, and also asked her to open her cover in front of everyone. She strongly refused to do so, then only they took her to the room to make her remove hijab. They continued with shoe dusting checks and also made her feel like she was a criminal. After a prolonged interrogation they cleared her to go. After all the checks , her excitement of reuniting with her  family had gone and instead frustration, fear, humiliation and an identity crisis occupied her mind. She was thinking, it’s not possible that among so many passengers only she is on her period, everyday so many borders pass through this scanner and the situation is not new to them. Then why is it only her? What was her fault? Can it be that she is racialized or that she is a practicing Muslim? Why? Why?

It took a couple of days to come out from that feeling but with the love and support of her family she would battle the feelings. Being one of the contributors in the Canadian economy by paying high education fees, making herself a resource by working in the Canadian market, this kind of treatment is totally unacceptable. However, when it was time for her return the thought of crossing immigration made her  sick a few days before flying. She even postponed her return several times and was thinking about what if the immigration refuses her to enter, or what if they mark her as a suspicious person, or what if they humiliate her more than before. There is only one semester of her schooling  left and her parents have already paid a huge amount for her bright future. What will happen with her education? 
With thousands of uncertainties and doubts she started her second return back to Canada. Luckily she had a smooth entry while entering.  While Canada proudly champions its commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion, a closer examination reveals persistent discrimination and slant towards racialized individuals such as Sajia..