An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Three organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in Alberta. Two of these organizations - the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association and Changing Together: A Centre for Immigrant Women (Edmonton) - target their settlement services specifically to women, and are largely involved in delivering services of a settlement nature. The Edmonton Immigrant Services Association is also a settlement agency that provides programs and services relating to education, integration, settlement, and adaptation.
Available Legal Services
- Public Legal Education and Information
- The organizations interviewed do not offer any public legal education targeted specifically to the immigration and refugee law process, although general information on the law is available through settlement organizations.
- For legal problems, the organizations interviewed refer clients to private bar lawyers, legal aid, legal clinics, and Calgary Legal Guidance.
- The only source of general or legal advice on immigration and refugee law is weekly legal clinics jointly co-ordinated by one of the organizations interviewed.
- None of the organizations provide any legal representation.
- Language Assistance
- One organization co-ordinates interpreters for the legal clinics it helps to organize, and one organization will provide language assistance to clients at legal proceedings and in court.
Public legal education
Two organizations - the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association and Changing Together: A Centre for Immigrant Women - organize and run workshops, information, and orientation sessions on a variety of legal (and other) issues of interest to refugees and immigrants. These events do not necessarily concern the immigration and refugee law process in particular, although the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association does provide information on legal aid eligibility, the application process, and so on. The respondent from this organization reported that this information is particularly valuable for refugees, since there are few resources available for them in Alberta. The Edmonton Immigration Services Association (EISA) also conducts workshops, but these activities primarily concern issues like racism, discrimination, budgeting and financial management.
All three organizations interviewed in Alberta report referring clients to private bar lawyers for legal issues. These lawyers provide assistance on a volunteer pro bono basis. Changing Together maintains a list of immigration and refugee lawyers (as well as organizations serving refugees and immigrants, and other relevant agencies) for referral purposes.
Two organizations - Changing Together and Calgary Immigration Women's Association - reported that they refer clients requiring legal assistance to legal aid, although the Changing Together respondent noted that the assistance available through legal aid is too limited. Only the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association reported referring clients to legal clinics and to Calgary Legal Guidance, a non-profit organization that provides free legal advice to people who cannot afford a lawyer and who do not qualify for legal aid. However, immigration and refugee law is not one of the areas listed in the description of this organization's activities.
The Calgary Immigrant Women's Association jointly co-ordinates weekly legal clinics with Calgary Legal Guidance to address a variety of legal issues of concern to refugees and immigrants. Women's Association staff co-ordinate the clinics and introduce clients to the clinic lawyers, but do not provide direct legal services. Eight volunteer lawyers deliver services at the clinics and, according to the Association respondent, these lawyers may provide assistance with any aspect of the immigration and refugee law process. The clinics are open to all persons below a certain income level, but there is no strict process for income testing - generally, they "take people's word" as to their income. The clinics are targeted to people who cannot afford to obtain private legal counsel, so the only reason for using income thresholds is to ensure that services are available first and foremost to those who need them most. No data is available from the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association on the kinds of legal issues addressed at the clinics since "the issues discussed are between the lawyer and the client - we don't get involved."
A respondent from Changing Together did note that staff sometimes provide general and legal advice (including doing research on an issue to determine the appropriate course or action and assisting with the completion of forms), with the assistance of law students in practicum positions. However, these activities typically do not encompass the immigration and refugee law process - they more often concern other legal issues of relevance to new arrivals. With respect to legal questions or problems in the area of immigration and refugee law, clients are usually referred to lawyers.
None of the organizations interviewed in Alberta provides legal or lay representation to refugees and immigrants.
The Calgary Immigrant Women's Association does not have interpreters or translators on staff, but they will arrange for people with language skills to be at the clinics described above if the need for such services is known in advance. These translators/interpreters are volunteers, but typically have gone through some kind of training with Association staff. The representative of EISA noted that it may provide interpreters/translators for formal hearings or court proceedings if a client is in need of this kind of assistance. Interpretation and translation assistance is also available through this organization for a range of settlement issues.
STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION
Types of staff
The only organization in Alberta involved in the delivery of direct client services in immigration and refugee law relies on private bar lawyers, working on a pro bono basis, to actually provide clients with general and legal advice. The two staff members responsible for co-ordinating the services of these lawyers were characterized as general settlement staff, and they are assisted by one volunteer.
Sources of funding
The provision of direct client services in immigration and refugee law is not an internal responsibility of even the one organization that is involved in the area., and this agency reported that it does not receive any funding targeted to it. Any legal services that are offered to clients come under the general settlement service umbrella - funded by both the federal and provincial governments. Funding guidelines for settlement services dictate that assistance is to be directed to immigrants, not to asylum refugees. However, the respondent from this agency reported that staff do, in fact, assist refugees, despite receiving no monetary support for the work.
The primary function of all three organizations interviewed in Alberta is to provide settlement assistance to refugees and immigrants. Any legal assistance that is offered by these groups is a part of this general mandate. Given that settlement assistance is the primary component of support available for refugees and immigrants in Alberta, the following discussion briefly outlines the range of settlement services offered. It includes a list of the kinds of programs offered by settlement agencies, the staff employed to administer these programs, and the types of funding received.
Types of settlement programs
- Promoting cross-cultural understanding and awareness through educational activities
- Workshops and information sessions, sometime in collaboration with schools and community groups (topics include discrimination, racism, gender inequality, women's rights, human rights, cross-cultural communication, cultural diversity, leadership, family violence prevention)
- Language assistance - ESL, translation, and interpretation (including for court proceedings)
- Employment mentoring
- Pre-employment services (job-seeking information, writing resumes)
- Discussion groups
- Emergency services (food, clothing, accommodation)
- Assistance with income taxes
- Assistance with accessing government and other services
- Referrals to other organizations, lawyers, legal aid, government offices
- Assistance with completion of forms and obtaining documents
- Matching programs (matching new arrivals with local citizens)
Types of staff
The types of staff that deliver settlement services include instructors/facilitators (for workshops - usually with some educational qualifications), general settlement staff, notary public, volunteers, and practicum students. None of the organizations employs lawyers or paralegals (although one organization noted that, rather than relying on volunteer lawyers, it would like to have a part-time lawyer on staff).
Sources of funding
Other sources of funding
- United Way
- Edmonton Community Lottery Board
- Private foundations
- Edmonton Community Adult Learning Association (ECALA)
- Alberta Family and Social Services
- Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission
One organization suggested that the stability of funding is compromised by the fact that funding tends to be renewed on an annual basis. This short renewal term means that securing future funding is always a worry, even though this organization reports that some amount of funding has always come through in the end.
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
One of the organizations interviewed in Alberta did not want to answer questions on the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in the system for delivering services to refugees and immigrants in the province. The respondent did not feel sufficiently expert to offer useful comments on these issues.
High cost of legal assistance
One organization noted that successful immigration and refugee lawyers are expensive to retain, and not all new arrivals can afford their services. This is particularly the case for women, since they typically have fewer resources than men and are, accordingly, disadvantaged in the legal system. Legal aid provides some relief in this area, but it is also the case that there are not enough legal aid lawyers with expertise in immigration and refugee law.
Impact of September 11
One respondent noted that September 11 has had a deleterious effect on the immigration and refugee law system - in essence, "nothing is working well since September 11." In particular, the additional security measures that have been implemented mean that everything is taking a longer time to process.
Lack of services for refugees
One organization's respondent highlighted the fact that there are no agencies with a specific mandate to assist asylum refugees or to focus their services on their needs. Given this lack of targeted services, the range of assistance available to asylum refugees in Alberta is uneven and unstable. For example, the respondent noted that while this organization currently provides services to refugees regardless of the fact that it receives no funding for such work, it is uncertain whether future staff will continue to extend services to refugees. In addition, with no co-ordinated or central location for assistance, refugees are obliged to seek "bits and pieces of help" from several locations - and what they are able to find is often simply a matter of luck. The respondent also noted the problem that funding for organizations serving immigrants tends to restrict programs to serving immigrants (and resettled refugees), thereby preventing refugees from accessing the same kinds of services.
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