A Mexican expat who has been living in B.C. for years says he was intimidated by a man pretending to be an immigration officer while busking in Victoria Thursday.
Fernando Garci-Crespo Santalo wrote about the encounter on Facebook, saying the older white man heard him singing in Spanish and demanded to see his work papers “so he knew I wasn’t an ‘illegal worker taking jobs away from Canadians.’”
In an interview with Global News Friday, Santalo said he was singing downtown around 9 p.m. when the man approached him.
“He said he was an off-duty immigration officer and wanted to see my papers,” he said. “I think it was my accent.
“He said, ‘Show me your papers, show me your immigration papers and show me your licence, because there are a lot of illegal immigrants here that take jobs away from good Canadians … and that’s just wrong.’”
Santalo said he knew right away the man wasn’t an immigration officer, pointing to the large bag he had of what appeared to be recycling.
But then the man reached into the bag, looking to Santalo like he might pull out a weapon.
“He muttered a few more things, about ‘illegals’ or ‘immigrants’ or God knows what, and he walked away,” he said.
Santalo came to B.C. from Mexico City four years ago as an exchange student, but found he fit in with the more liberal political climate in the province.
But he says encounters like the one he experienced Thursday show racism still needs to be confronted in Canada.
“People don’t realize we have that problem, and a lack of proper representation [in politics],” he said. “We’re seeing the same kinds of rhetoric about immigration here as in the U.S.
“It’s important to know that we’re not immune, and that diversity and multiculturalism are things we need to fight for.”
Santalo has worked as a political organizer for a variety of environmental and climate advocacy groups. He has also gotten to know several local and provincial politicians across party lines while pushing for action on climate change.
Santalo’s post was shared by several people online, including North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma, who said she was “infuriated” by the story.
“I am no stranger to being on the receiving end of or witnessing bigotry, but the idea that someone would behave as though they have the authority and support of the Canadian Government to police ‘illegals’ on our streets in this way is just abhorrent,” Ma wrote.
Ma, who was born in Canada to Taiwanese immigrants, told Global News the incident speaks to a larger pattern of racist, anti-immigrant behaviour being normalized by politicians like U.S. President Donald Trump.
“What’s particularly appalling about it is this isn’t just about one man terrorizing another person on the street,” she said. “What’s happening is it’s a symptom of what’s become a growing threat to the proud Canadian identity of multiculturalism.”
Victoria police said they are investigating the incident, but a report has not been filed.
Santalo said he does not plan to involve the authorities, and will instead focus on the support he’s received since sharing his story.
“I really think that we need to be courageous and we need to be loving and we need to be optimistic, but we also need to be outraged when it’s needed,” he said.
He also posted a thank you on Facebook, along with a vow to continue singing and speaking in Spanish.
“I’m happy and confident, proud to be Mexican, proud to be a migrant, proud to call BC home,” he wrote. “I will #SingOn.”