"Canada is not killing black people at the alarming rate the United States is," says Kyle Lydell Canty, a black American citizen seeking refugee status in Canada.
Canty appeared in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board last Thursday, representing himself because as a non-citizen, he couldn't get legal aid. An IRB decision in his case is expected to be rendered in four to six weeks.
Canty crossed the border in September to visit and take photos. "I was unsure at the time that I would be making a refugee claim," he told VICE News. He made up his mind two days later.
At his IRB hearing, Lydell said he presented exhibits meant to demonstrate the human rights conditions in the US, including videos of his own and others' experiences of being harassed by cops, various news reports, and the UNHCR handbook on determining refugee status.
"I then presented evidence specifically dealing with me, such as documents dealing with false arrests, no probable cause, evidence of extortion on behalf of the police departments and courts," he said.
Lydell is from New York, but has lived in Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Florida. He's moved constantly, he says, partially because of his interactions with police.
If he returned to the US, he'd be facing charges including jaywalking, trespassing, threats and intimidation, and disorderly conduct — he points out none of these charges are felonies, and insists they're all false.
In New York, Canty says he was convicted by default of attempting to resist arrest and using foul language since he refused to go to court after he was denied a jury trial — something he says he's been denied repeatedly.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the time the cops in the United States don't have probable cause to make the arrest in the first place," he says. "We are dealing with illegal search and seizure."
Lydell says his experiences with the justice system in the US have compelled him to "provide knowledge to every black person in America on how to properly sue their government and any other government who wants to follow in America's footsteps."
"I didn't admit to any of these charges, and all of the charges are false," said Canty. "My argument is the cops falsely arrest black people all the time."
He was charged with jaywalking in Tuscon for example when he was out exercising in the early hours of the morning. Canty says he was crossing the road during a green light when an officer stopped him and demanded that he show him his ID. He believes the stop was racially motivated.
Through the district court of Oregon, Lydell launched an action against the FBI for failing to investigate alleged civil rights abuses by the Tucson Police Department and the Rochester Police Department. In September, the claim was dismissed with leave to amend — the amended claim, the order said, would have to be more specific.
It's rare for US citizens to get refugee status in Canada. According to the most recent numbers from the IRB, only 2 people were accepted from January to June of 2015 of a total of 71 claims. Only one claim was accepted in all of 2014 of a total of 166.
"I've personally spoken to over a dozen different Americans who've claimed refugee status and it's often hard for people to believe because most people imagine refugees coming from places in the global south," says Harsha Walia, co-founder of No One is Illegal Vancouver.
"The reality is there are a lot of Americans seeking asylum in Canada — a lot of black folks and people of color who face racial violence, and quite a lot of women who claim asylum because of fairly weak domestic violence laws in different states in the US," Walia says.
To obtain refugee protection in Canada, a claimant must prove that his or her home country is unable to provide protection against persecution, and the evidentiary threshold for proving this is very high, says Efrat Arbel, a law professor at the University of British Columbia Allard School of Law.
"Even extreme forms of discrimination — including violence or harassment — may not constitute 'persecution' in the legal sense of the word," she says. "This is an onerous legal requirement, which makes it difficult for many claims to succeed."
In addition, the US is considered a designated country of origin in Canada, meaning a place the Canadian government doesn't believe normally produces refugees and protects human rights.
"My sense is that if any of the past cases are an indicator, he will unfortunately be refused and reported, but that's where community pressure will make a difference," says Walia.
Canty says he fears for his life because "cops are threatening me, showing up to my home, banging on doors, shooting and killing black people. It's as simple as that.
"I've had interactions with police officers here, and they're very different from police in the States," he says. "I'm not stupid enough to think Canada doesn't have any racism, because North America has a history of racism.
"However Canada is a much safer place for me than the States."
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk