An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Six organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in B.C., the majority being located in the Vancouver-Lower Mainland area. The Immigrant Services Society, the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society (SUCCESS), the Surrey Delta Immigrant Services Society, and the Victoria Immigrants and Refugee Centre Society are primarily settlement services agencies, serving new refugees and immigrants to B.C. and/or any person not born in Canada. SUCCESS targets its services particularly to the Chinese community. The Multilingual Orientation Services Association for Immigrant Communities (MOSAIC) has both a settlement and a legal assistance component, as well as a large network of language specialists operating on a fee-for-service basis to provide interpretation, translation, typesetting, desktop publishing, and consultation in foreign languages. The Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies is an umbrella organization that provides support to other groups serving refugees and immigrants, and provides leadership in advocacy and education for anti-racism, human rights, and social justice issues.
Available Legal Services
- Public Legal Education and Information
- A limited amount of public legal education is available on the immigration and refugee law process (primarily through one organization, although some settlement agencies will tell people about the process and what to expect). More general public legal education on a variety of topics of relevance to refugees and immigrants is widely available.
- Referrals are given by most of the groups interviewed to legal aid, private bar lawyers, and pro bono legal clinics. A wide range of other referrals -to organizations serving refugees and immigrants, government offices, community groups, and so on - are also provided.
- A limited amount of legal advice is delivered through organizations serving refugees and immigrants. Only one of the groups interviewed had a program that explicitly provided such a service; the others offer legal advice in particular situations, but not as a part of their general mandates. One settlement agency organizes pro bono legal clinics through which clients can get legal advice, but typically deal mostly with family law issues.
- There is only one organization that has a program to provide representation in a variety of areas, and even this is more often as non-legal counsel. Two settlement organizations noted that staff occasionally provide representation for clients at certain proceedings, but that this is not a typical activity (or one that it encourages).
- Language Assistance
- While all but one of the organizations interviewed have some language assistance component (ESL, interpretation, translation), the focus of these services is not the immigration and refugee law process. They are more often linked to settlement services.
Public legal education
The Multilingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities (MOSAIC) respondent noted that this organization provides workshops and information sessions on a wide variety of topics, as well as having a range of written materials on hand in a variety of languages. The written materials are not produced directly by the organization, but are collected from other sources, including legal aid and the People's Law School. However, the respondent noted that available literature is not widely used by clients, because refugees often are not literate in their own language and some cultures do not prioritize learning from written texts. The respondent has found that many clients prefer face-to-face interaction, and the workshops and information sessions tend to be more successful forms of education.
A variety of settlement organizations also provide public legal education in the form of information sessions and workshops on various aspects of Canadian law, one of which is the immigration and refugee law process. The Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS), in particular, handles a lot of issues related to family reunification.
Several organizations noted that while they do not provide legal advice directly, they do refer clients to other services, most notably legal aid. Legal aid was reported to be a key referral resource for five organizations: the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society (SUCCESS), MOSAIC, VIRCS, Surrey-Delta Immigrant Services Society (SDISS), and the Immigrant Services Society (ISS). The MOSAIC respondent also noted that clients may be referred to the lawyer referral service, particularly if staff expect they can afford to hire their own lawyer. This organization will also provide clients with instruction on how to "shop for" a private bar lawyer. Only SUCCESS noted that it refers clients to legal clinics, while only VIRCS mentioned private bar lawyers as a referral site.
Overall, few of the organizations serving refugees and immigrants interviewed in B.C. are involved in the provision of advice, whether of a general or legal nature. Any assistance that is offered in immigration and refugee law by settlement organizations is typically limited to making clients aware of relevant legal processes and procedures, and trying to present them with options (by providing educational materials and referrals). There is no overall service plan or mandate that includes the delivery of legal assistance. SDISS explicitly noted that staff do not provide legal services because of the responsibility and liability involved, while the ISS representative commented that legal assistance is best left to persons with the proper training. However, several respondents also pointed out that anticipated legal aid cutbacks in the immigration and refugee law area will create additional pressures, in terms of the legal assistance available to new arrivals in B.C.
Only MOSAIC operates a regular program for the delivery of direct legal assistance. This program has only one staff member, and the respondent characterized this position as that of an advocate. There is no requirement that the advocate has legal training. Through this program, clients can access general and legal advice on issues related to immigration and refugee law, as well as receive assistance with the completion of forms (for example, sponsorship applications, visa applications, permanent residency applications). The respondent described the provision of advice as a big part of her work, but also noted that this service is not limited to immigration and refugee issues. Advice will also be provided on a wide range of other matters (employment, social assistance, taxation, family matters, criminal law, and so on). All persons who come to this organization seeking advice receive assistance.
VIRCS reported that it sometimes provides information and basic assistance to clients in Inland Claims and Humanitarian and Compassionate cases. Occasionally, some assistance may also be provided in Convention Refugee Determination and Immigration Appeals Division cases (although this is even more rare). The information provided includes an outline of legal processes and the stages involved in making a claim or application, and options for post-hearing remedies. This organization was not able to provide detailed statistics on the types of legal issues in which staff provide assistance. However, the respondent was able to report that, of the services provided by the Settlement department, 24 percent were for legal assistance with immigration and refugee issues, while 8 percent were for legal assistance in issues other than immigration and citizenship. However, this 24 percent figure included a wide range of issues within the immigration and refugee legal process, including family reunification and other assistance with family class applications - an area in which the organization reports doing a lot of work.
SUCCESS runs a pro bono legal clinic (at three different locations, four times each month). Clients attending the clinic can obtain 30 to 45 minutes of legal advice or basic assistance (including a written legal opinion letter). The clinic is staffed by private bar lawyers, the majority of whom have a background in family law. No statistical data is available for the clients assisted at these clinics, but the respondent estimated that at least 75 percent of the cases are in the family law area. There are no immigration lawyers at the clinics, although other lawyers do try to help people even when the issue is outside their area(s) of expertise. If no assistance can be provided, clients are referred to legal aid or to another private bar lawyer. This organization keeps on hand for referral purposes a list of lawyers who work in different areas.
The SDISS respondent noted that occasionally lawyers may refer clients to organization staff for assistance with the completion of forms (for example, the Personal Information Form), using the language skills of staff members. However, this is a service that the organization generally tries to avoid providing because it is outside of its funding mandate, and because of the amount of time involved. Similarly, the ISS representative noted that staff may review completed Personal Information Forms with clients, but pointed out that staff try to stay away from the delivery of legal services. SUCCESS settlement staff also will sometimes assist with the completion of forms.
As with the availability of legal advice, there are very few resources through which refugees and immigrants can access representation in B.C., whether from legal or non-legal counsel. ISS reported that staff may very occasionally act as non-legal counsel for refugees and immigrants, but this is only in the capacity of offering moral and emotional support and/or language assistance. No direct representation is provided. VIRCS staff have acted as non-legal counsel in one IRB hearing and very occasionally provide representation for Immigration Appeals Division cases. The respondent from this agency insisted that lawyers should generally handle activities of this sort. No statistical information is available.
At present, only MOSAIC has an established Advocacy Program for the provision of legal and lay representation. However, staff resources and experience limit the assistance available through this program. Typically, the organization actually does not provide legal representation, because there is no requirement or preference for having a lawyer fill the advocate position. The present advocate happens to be a lawyer, and so has chosen to act as legal counsel in some circumstances.
Through the MOSAIC Advocacy Program, representation is provided only for immigration and refugee law issues not covered by legal aid. The advocate will act as non-legal counsel in a wider range of cases, including hearings and tribunals where a client has legal representation through legal aid. The respondent noted that the position of this organization is that the complexity of certain kinds of immigration and refugee law cases necessitates the involvement of a lawyer, not an immigration consultant or other kind of counsel. This does mean that there are caps on available coverage for immigration and refugee law cases, however, since legal aid does not cover everything. The respondent noted that a lot of inquiries received by the Advocacy Program concern landing problems for Convention Refugees and Humanitarian and Compassionate applications. No assistance is provided for cases concerning Immigration Appeals, Danger opinions, Federal Court judicial reviews or appeals, Supreme Court appeals, or International Tribunal appeals. These kinds of cases are generally not handled through the Advocacy Program because advocates are not required to have legal training. (Despite being a lawyer, the current advocate has chosen not to take on these kinds of cases, in order to avoid creating service interruptions or confusion about available assistance if subsequent advocates do not have legal training.)
As with legal aid, the Advocacy Program has a financial eligibility component for the provision of actual legal representation, due to the greater amount of work and responsibility involved. In practice, however, the respondent noted that financial considerations do not come up very often. The guidelines are slightly more generous than those used by legal aid. With respect to the provision of advice, the respondent noted that the advocate can make a determination whether to impose financial eligibility criteria. The current advocate has chosen to provide advice to anyone who seeks it. While the services of the Advocacy Program are not targeted to any specific group, the current advocate has what is called an "evolved specialty" in assisting women. Despite this, statistics tend to show that similar proportions of women and men are assisted each year.
MOSAIC has an interpretation and translation department that operates on a fee-for-service basis. Most of the settlement organizations interviewed also provide interpretation and translation services among normal staff services or on a fee-for-service basis. With respect to language assistance services in legal matters, VIRCS works mostly with documents needed for immigration and refugee proceedings, although it will also do birth, death, and marriage certificates, letters of reference, and other documents. SUCCESS provides volunteer interpreters to legal aid in addition to running a fee-based translation service (including handling documents and accompanying people to meetings). As noted above, SDISS occasionally provides assistance with the completion of Personal Information or other forms, when clients have been referred by their lawyers.
The following statistical information was provided by one organization interviewed in B.C.
|Case Type||Number of Clients$||Number of Consultations#|
* Data applies to the period between September 1, 2000 and August 31, 2001.
$ Refers to clients who receive advice or legal representation on immigration matters.
# Refers to the number of calls received on immigration matters from staff in other branches of the organization or from external persons. In these cases, information or advice may be provided to the caller regarding their client's situation.
Source: Organization Data Sheets - Description of Services Provided
The table below shows client characteristics for the one group that submitted data. However, these figures pertain to all persons relying on this organization for legal assistance, not just those clients in immigration or refugee law matters.
|Characteristic||Number of Clients|
|AGE RANGE||Under age 21||6|
|Aged 21 to 40||118|
|Over age 40||114|
|IMMIGRATION STATUS||Permanent Resident||90|
Source: Data Sheets - Description of Services Provided
STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION
Types of staff
One advocate delivers direct client services in immigration and refugee law in the organization that primarily provides legal assistance. The person filling the advocate position may have experience or qualifications in a variety of areas, but there is no requirement that this person have legal training (although the current advocate is a lawyer). Volunteers are not used in this program, due to concerns about confidentiality.
The limited legal assistance available through settlement organizations is provided by settlement staff, which can include counsellors, settlement workers, teachers, translators/interpreters, volunteers, and students.
Sources of funding
Settlement organizations do not receive funding that is targeted to the provision of assistance with immigration and refugee law matters. The organization that regularly provides direct legal assistance to refugees and immigrants is funded exclusively by the B.C. Law Foundation. This funding was characterized as relatively stable, and has been in place for six to seven years. However, the respondent did note that the funding situation would likely have been characterized as less stable prior to the election of the Liberal government. Against the backdrop of the significant cuts implemented and/or planned by the Liberals, the fact that this program has not yet been affected now seems very positive. However, low interest rates do have an impact on the stability of Law Foundation funding, given that the money used to fund the community organization comes from interest on lawyers' trust accounts.
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