An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Three organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in Manitoba, all being located in Winnipeg. Two of these groups - the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council and Welcome Place - are part of the same organization structure, so information on the activities of these two organizations has been merged. The Interfaith Immigration Council is a voluntary association of faith communities and individuals. It welcomes and extends hospitality to all refugees and immigrants through the provision of paralegal services for refugee claimants, assistance with family sponsorships, information and advice for refugees overseas, and a complete range of services (reception, settlement) to government-sponsored and privately sponsored refugees. The Citizenship Council - International Centre is an immigrant-serving agency dedicated to providing a comprehensive range of services and programs that support and facilitate the integration of immigrants. These include settlement assistance, language assistance, employment services, educational activities, and community outreach.
The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) has recently developed a new program to provide legal support services to refugees and immigrants in Manitoba, in addition to settlement services. This project is being piloted with assistance from the Department of Justice. Legal work in immigration and refugee cases was formerly done through other agencies, but, since the initiation of this pilot project, all of this work has been moved to the Immigration Council.
Through its work on this new project, MIIC is able to provide a continuum of assistance to refugees and immigrants, from the first claim upon arrival until the client becomes a permanent resident. MIIC provides assistance at all of the stages involved in this continuum, including legal information, advice, and representation.
Available Legal Services
- Public Legal Education and Information
- Public legal education is not a large component of the work done by organizations serving refugees and immigrants in Manitoba, in terms either of the immigration and refugee process or other issues of interest to refugees and immigrants.
- For legal matters, refugees and immigrants are referred primarily to MIIC.
- Through MIIC.
- Representation in certain areas is provided by paralegals at MIIC. Many issues are referred to legal aid or private bar lawyers.
- Language Assistance
- Staff and volunteers at the organizations interviewed provide language assistance needed for both preparatory work and legal proceedings.
Public legal education
MIIC respondents noted that public legal education is not a large component of the work that they do, although they did note that the role MIIC plays in sponsoring refugees has an educational component since the organization assists people throughout the legal and settlement process. The Citizenship Council has brochures and other written materials available for distribution to its clients.
For legal work, MIIC is the primary organization to which refugees and immigrants are referred. The Citizenship Council noted that it refers people to MIIC, as well as to a variety of other organizations and government offices, depending on the particular needs of the client. Overall, the approach of this group is to try to create linkages and connect people with the resources they need.
If staff at MIIC are unable to assist refugee claimants with their legal problems, respondents noted that they may direct clients to legal aid. However, if a person has been refused legal aid coverage, then there are very few other places to refer them.
MIIC is the only organization that provides general and legal advice to immigrants and refugee claimants, although the majority of their clients (estimated at 95 percent) are asylum refugees. The immigrants who receive assistance are those who have "fallen through the cracks" of the immigration system. No assistance is provided to independent immigrants.
The bulk of the legal advice provided concerns Inland Claims, Convention Refugee Determination, and Post-Determination Refugee Claimants cases. With respect to the provision of general advice, respondents estimated that inquiries most often concern Port of Entry and Inland Claims issues. Overall, Inland Claims are a significant area of work, but given that these cases tend to span more than one year, keeping accurate numbers is difficult. In addition, one respondent noted that assisting people with Inland Claims tends to involve many other matters (visits to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, medical appointments, mental health referrals, social services referrals, and so on). Providing assistance through all of these components is what is meant by the statement that the organization helps people from the initial claim through the entire process.
In general, the work of MIIC focusses on assisting lawyers with the preparatory stages of a file, including the collection of narrative information and a personal history for the Personal Information form. The completion of this "time-consuming" preparatory work is of key importance, according to one respondent, given the low remuneration available to legal aid lawyers involved in immigration and refugee law cases. Without it, this person felt that many lawyers would simply refuse to work on legal aid cases.
The pilot project at MIIC arranges for legal representation for refugees, but staff are seldom involved in providing that representation themselves. Occasionally, staff paralegals may act as legal counsel in Convention Refugee Determination cases (expedited hearings), and Adjudication Division cases (for clients with no access to legal aid or other support). Assistance is also provided in Humanitarian and Compassionate and Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada Class applications. The respondent suggested that legal aid is unlikely to fund cases in this area because of the administrative nature of the process, and, for Post-Determination applications, the low success rate. Referrals are the only form of assistance offered in cases in the following areas: Immigration Appeals, Danger Opinions, Federal Court Judicial Review/Appeals, Supreme Court Appeals, and Appeals to International Tribunals.
For the majority of clients, MIIC acts as a processing body. Staff refer clients to lawyers (the Council has connections with local lawyers who do legal aid work on immigration and refugee files), prepare background materials (in particular the Personal Information Form), and generally assist lawyers with immigration and refugee law cases. As the respondent noted, Council paralegals do not replace the work of counsel, but rather
"supplement it so that claimants will get adequate services that they might not otherwise get, given the amount of money allotted by legal aid." In this way, MIIC ensures that persons without access to funding, or persons who
"fall between the immigration cracks," get a reasonable chance to have their claim heard.
Both organizations interviewed in Manitoba provide assistance with translation and interpretation. The Citizenship Council has a language bank of people whose expertise covers more than 80 languages. The Council representative described its services in this area as "the most comprehensive access to diverse languages" in Manitoba. Language bank members often provide services on a voluntary basis, although the respondent noted that sometimes interpretation or translation is arranged on a fee-for-service basis. Language assistance is provided in court proceedings as well as for the translation of documents.
MIIC settlement counsellors have a variety of linguistic skills that they use in their work with refugees. If staff lack the relevant expertise to deal with particular cases, the organization seeks assistance from outside volunteers.
Under the Justice Canada pilot project at MIIC, specific funding is allotted for translation work. Accordingly, clients do not pay for this service unless they do not qualify under the requirements of the pilot program - MIIC pays translators from the funds allotted for this service. Prior to the initiation of the pilot project, there were no funds specifically earmarked for language assistance.
The following data was submitted by one organization interviewed in Manitoba for the fiscal year of April 2000 to March 2001.
|Immigration/Refugee Law Issue||Number of Clients|
|General Advice||Legal Advice||Non-legal counsel||Legal counsel||Language assistance|
|Port of Entry||100+|
|Danger Opinions - Submissions to Minister||3|
|Appeals to International Tribunals||2|
|All Immigration/ Refugee Law Services||200$||100+$||6||11||40$|
In 2000-2001, 85 new files were opened by organizations providing legal services to refugees in Manitoba. Of these 85 files, the primary client in 41 instances was a female, in 19 cases was male, and in 25 instances was a family (12 of which were single-female-parent families). The respondent estimated that 40 clients were below age 18.
Although 85 new files were opened, these files dealt with a total of 137 people arriving in Canada to claim refugee status. Of these 137 claimants, 95 were adults and 42 were children.
The following table breaks down the total number of new files opened in the 2000-2001 and 1999-2000 fiscal years by source region.
Immigration and Refugee Law Clients by Source Region
|Source Region||2000-2001 fiscal year||1999-2000 fiscal year|
|Number of Files from Region||Percentage of All Refugee Files||Number of Files from Region||Percentage of All Refugee Files|
Source: Data collection charts for Manitoba.
A very limited amount of information was provided on the cost of delivering legal services in immigration and refugee law. A respondent estimated that the cost of delivering public legal education, general advice, and legal advice in 2000-2001 was $45,000. Another $5,000 was allotted to translation and language assistance, for a total of $50,000. For the organization as a whole, this amounted to only 5 percent of the costs incurred in the provision of all services (e.g., settlement, sponsorship).
STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION
Types of staff
Paralegals are the primary staff involved in the delivery of legal assistance. There has been some discussion of the possibility of arranging times for lawyers to come in and assist clients (likely on a pro bono basis), but currently there are no lawyers employed by organizations serving refugees and immigrants in Manitoba.
Counsellors also provide some advice, and counsellors, volunteers, and professional interpreters and translators deliver the available translation and language services. Sources of funding
The federal and provincial governments are the primary funders of the legal services available to refugees and immigrants in Manitoba. A small amount of funding is derived from the community through fundraising and private donations.
Federal and provincial government funding has been quite long-term according to all respondents. Provincial financial support was characterized as unstable by one representative, and stable (but not increasing) by the other. Respondents noted that the legal program operated by MIIC is in the pilot stage. It is not yet clear whether current funding will last. This is particularly the case on the provincial front, where amounts of financial support have fluctuated over the life of the program thus far.
The following briefly outlines the range of settlement services available to immigrants and resettled refugees in Manitoba, the kinds of programs offered, the staff employed to administer these programs, and the types of funding received.
Types of settlement programs
- Comprehensive language bank for translation and interpretation (mostly voluntary but also some fee-for-service)
- Sponsorship program
- Employment assistance (orientation, job searching, career planning, career transitions, computer skills)
- Distribution of education materials; information and referrals (housing, support services, parenting)
- Advocacy and cultural bridging programs
- Nutrition services (meal planning, budgeting, nutrition education, dietary assessments, cross-cultural menu planning, community outreach)
- Community liaison and outreach
Types of staff
Paralegals, general settlement staff, translators/interpreters, and volunteers are involved in delivering settlement services in Manitoba.
Sources of funding
The principal sources of funding for settlement work are the federal, provincial and municipal governments. Other organizations that contribute money include private foundations, the United Way, and corporations (e.g., American Express). Settlement groups also raise some funds through donations and membership fees.
Although much of the funding must be renewed on an annual basis, respondents felt that several sources were fairly stable. The United Way has reliably provided core funding since the 1980s, and the City of Winnipeg offers three-year contracts. Provincial government funding through the departments responsible for labour and immigration is relatively dependable, even if it has not increased.
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
Low remuneration for immigration and refugee lawyers
The key gap identified by respondents in Manitoba is a lack of money. This leads to a dearth of paralegals and lawyers working in the immigration and refugee law area.
As noted above, the low remuneration that lawyers receive through legal aid for immigration and refugee law cases is an area of concern for organizations in Manitoba because it limits the number of lawyers who are willing to take on such cases. When there are not enough legal aid lawyers, to do even the work that has merit, there are few other resources to which people can turn. Organizations like MIIC provide a very limited amount of legal representation. Cases that were highlighted as raising particular difficulties are those that involve working with traumatized clients. These cases exact an emotional price on the lawyers involved, which one respondent felt led to "burn out." Success stories
Contribution of community organizations to case file preparation
Related to the problem of low remuneration for legal aid lawyers is the role that MIIC paralegals play in preparing case files. Respondents felt that this is very valuable to the lawyers involved in immigration and refugee law, since much of the time-consuming initial work is completed and translated before they take on the case. This not only makes it more likely that lawyers will be willing to work for the low rates offered by legal aid, but also that clients have access to a "one-stop shop." MIIC staff provide legal advice, advocacy, and settlement services as well as refer people to lawyers for legal proceedings. One respondent suggested that the use of skilled paralegals is not only working well, but is actually becoming a necessity in the immigration and refugee law area. The low remuneration that legal aid lawyers receive for immigration and refugee law work means that there are too few lawyers willing to take on cases in this area. In addition, a respondent suggested that there have been problems in the past with emotional "burn out" on the part of legal aid lawyers handling the most difficult and time-consuming cases.
Co-operation with legal aid
The initiation of the pilot project has led to more co-operation with legal aid on the part of the MIIC, as Council paralegals work more closely with lawyers in the preparation of case files. Since MIIC staff can now take on the preparatory work, lawyers are now better able to complete a case within the limits established by legal aid. This has created a more positive climate for everyone.
Co-ordination of services for refugees
Given the expanded role of MIIC in providing legal advice and working with legal aid in the preparation of case files, other organizations use the Council as the primary referral point for clients in need of legal assistance. In other words, it seems that MIIC has become the focal point for processing refugee claimants. Almost all refugee claimants "go through" the Council to the appropriate service, whether it is formal representation through legal aid or more general assistance delivered by MIIC staff.
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