An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Seven respondents from organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in Quebec. All of these organizations provide both settlement and legal services to refugees and/or immigrants. One agency - the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) - works primarily on discrimination issues. Service d'aide aux réfugiés et immigrants du Montréal Métropolitain (SARIMM) primarily serves refugee claimants and persons with refugee status, although other persons may be assistance as well. Accueil liaison pour arrivants (ALPA) works with the immigrant population in the Montreal area through all stages of the process settlement and integration process.
Representatives of Centre PRISME (promotion, référence, information et services multiethniques) describe the organization as primarily a reference resource, while the mandate of the Centre social d'aide aux immigrants (CSAI) is to welcome and assist refugees and immigrants by offering front-line services to facilitate integration. Both Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants and the Centre multi-ethnique de Québec provide reception and settlement services to refugees and immigrants, with the latter identifying refugees and independent immigrants as their primary client groups.
Available Legal Services
- Public Legal Education and Information
- All organizations interviewed in Quebec are involved in the co-ordination or hosting of information sessions and/or workshops on a variety of topics, including the immigration process.
- All of the organizations interviewed provide referrals to their clients. The places to which people are most frequently referred are legal aid and other community organizations.
- Several organizations (five) provide legal advice in the form of assistance with procedural matters like the completion of forms.
- One organization provides legal representation as a regular service, and the staff of one other organization will occasionally provide some assistance. The majority of organizations (six) do not provide any legal representation in immigration and refugee law matters. Only one organization will act as non-legal counsel for refugees and immigrants.
- Language Assistance
- All but one of the organizations interviewed in Quebec provide some form of language assistance, including translation/interpretation work for legal proceedings and necessary documents.
Public legal education
All of the organizations interviewed in Quebec provide public legal education workshops and materials. These resources pertain to the immigration and refugee law process, as well as to other legal matters related to this process, including refugee status determination, general information on the operation of legal system, and legal rights and responsibilities. The respondent from Centre PRISME noted that while this agency organizes workshops that are facilitated by immigration and refugee lawyers, staff are somewhat hesitant about this service because they fear that disreputable lawyers will become involved.
In addition to information sessions and workshops on the immigration and refugee process, most organizations also offer educational services in a variety of other legal issues of relevance to refugees and immigrants. Three organizations - Service d'aide aux réfugiés et immigrants de Montréal Métropolitain (SARIMM), the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), and the Centre multi-ethnique de Québec - also noted that they distribute self-help and other educational materials on a wide variety of topics. However, the Centre multi-ethnique respondent did suggest that such materials are not disseminated in a systematic way, but rather on an informal basis. The representative of Accueil liaison pour arrivants (ALPA) noted that the organization cannot afford to prepare or distribute materials to clients on immigration and refugee law, although clients may be directed to other sources for such information (including Web sites).
Five organizations - SARIMM, Centre PRISME, Centre multi-ethnique, ALPA, and CRARR - refer clients directly to legal aid. Most of these groups suggested that referrals constitute the extent of their co-operation with the legal aid system, although the respondent from CRARR did note that it occasionally develops strategies for community action in co-operation with legal aid. The example offered was when agency staff act as a third party at tribunals where legal aid lawyers provide representation. One respondent commented that legal aid is not open to co-operation with community organizations.
Respondents from Centre social d'aide aux immigrants (CSAI) and CRARR noted that they refer clients directly to lawyers, including lawyers who may end up handling a case on a legal aid certificate basis. The Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants representative commented that the organization does not work with legal aid except in very rare circumstances.
SARIMM, CSAI, Centre PRISME, Centre multi-ethnique, ALPA, Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants and CRARR refer clients to other community organizations, depending on the needs of the person. Organizations dealing with violence and trauma issues (sexual assault, rape, torture, etc.) were often mentioned in terms of referrals. Three of the agencies noted that they also work jointly with other community organizations. Centre multi-ethnique co-operates with community agencies and works closely with the provincial Ministry of immigration (Ministère des relations avec les citoyens et de l'immigration - MRCI). CRARR forges coalitions in complex cases, particularly when the outcome of the case has the potential to affect many people. Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants characterized the whole approach of the agency as one of "community integration" - working jointly with other groups while respecting each other's areas of expertise and programming.
SARIMM, CSAI, Centre multi-ethnique, ALPA, Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants and CRARR all provide general advice and information to clients on immigration and refugee law matters. The respondent from CSAI noted that law students are sometimes involved in the provision of advice, although it was acknowledged that their activities in this area must be closely supervised.
All of these organizations also provide legal advice in addition to general assistance, primarily through such procedural activities as the completion of forms. Respondents from five agencies - SARIMM, CSAI, Centre multi-ethnique, ALPA and Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants - specifically noted that staff assist with Personal Information Forms for refugee claimants. Other areas where this kind of assistance is provided include application letters, sponsorship forms, and permanent residency applications. The SARIMM representative noted that staff try to keep legal advice to a minimum, given that refugee claimants have to see a lawyer to have their Personal Information Forms signed, and that the lawyer can provide further assistance. A respondent from CSAI also expressed caution about providing legal advice suggesting that the organization cannot afford to provide clients with the wrong advice, given the potential for extreme consequences like deportation. The respondent from ALPA noted specifically that the organization provides advice to inland refugee claimants. The work of CRARR is limited to assisting people in issues relating to experiences of discrimination, but staff do not offer any procedural assistance.
The Centre multi-ethnique respondent insisted that, as a general rule, staff will not provide legal advice. Clients who require such assistance are referred to the provincial Ministry of Immigration or to legal aid. Other organizations noted that they will refer clients to legal aid or to private bar lawyers when the issue on which a client requires advice is outside of staff expertise (e.g., ALPA).
CRARR is the only organization interviewed in Quebec in which staff regularly provide legal counsel. The focus of this organization is on cases in which people are subject to discriminatory practices, and staff attempt to choose cases that will affect a large number of people.
The CSAI representatives noted that although this organization generally does not provide legal representation, staff will occasionally provide such services for Humanitarian and Compassionate cases. Staff at Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants also do not provide representation to clients directly, but they do have a relationship with some private bar lawyers who will offer such assistance on a pro bono basis. These lawyers are not necessarily immigration and refugee law specialists, but tend instead to focus on issues in family and poverty law as they apply to immigration and refugee matters.
Of the six organizations that reported that staff generally do not provide legal representation, respondents from CSAI and ALPA noted that the complexity of the laws and regulations in this area make it difficult and intimidating for non-lawyers to offer legal guidance, particularly when the stakes are so high (e.g., risk of deportation). ALPA in particular noted that it was formerly more willing to provide legal assistance, but now only refers clients to the many specialized immigration and refugee lawyers, due to concerns about the adequacy of the services provided by non-lawyers. This respondent felt that the immigration and refugee law system previously was more straightforward, which made it easier for non-lawyers to play a role in legal processes.
SARIMM is the only organization in which staff act as non-legal counsel. This service is offered only for unaccompanied minors and persons unfit to represent themselves (e.g., those with mental health issues). Lawyers typically carry out this function in other provinces, but in Quebec it is largely done by social workers . SARIMM has a social worker on staff to provide this kind of representation, and this person will remain involved with a client throughout the entire legal and settlement process. The IRB contracts with this agency to provide non-legal representation in the circumstances outlined above. Non-legal counsel services are provided for Inland Claims cases, Immigration Appeals Division cases, and Adjudication Division cases. The respondent noted that, in the wake of September 11, there may also be a need for staff to provide representation to unaccompanied minors and unfit persons at the Port of Entry stage.
As noted in the table, only one organization interviewed in Quebec (CRARR) does not offer any language assistance. The kinds of activities in which the other six groups provide language assistance include the provision of general information, explanation of forms and documents, and assistance with the completion of Personal Information Forms. ALPA staff will also occasionally accompany clients to legal or other proceedings, generally to provide language assistance. CSAI noted that staff may attend IRB hearings to provide language assistance, but this service is very rare. The respondent from ALPA also explicitly commented that staff will occasionally translate client histories or other documents for lawyers.
Six of the organizations interviewed in Quebec - SARIMM, CSAI, Centre PRISME, Centre multi-ethnique, ALPA, and Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants - noted that they rely on staff to provide language assistance (translation and interpretation) to clients. When staff lack the relevant expertise, SARIMM and Centre multi-ethnique will hire external persons or seek volunteers from other organizations, with the SARIMM respondent noting that it receives grants for such initiatives. CSAI and Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants also noted that they will provide service exchanges (providing other work in exchange for language assistance, or vice versa).
The following data was submitted for the legal services provided by two organizations in Quebec in the 2000-2001 fiscal year.
|Public Legal Education||General Advice||Legal Advice||Representation||Language Assistance|
|Legal Counsel||Non-legal Counsel|
1 This number is estimated.
Source: Data collection charts for Quebec.
Among those organizations that submitted data, the provision of general and legal advice was by far the predominant activity carried out by staff in the immigration and refugee law area. Language assistance was also a significant service, not only combined with legal services, but also attached to the settlement services provided by various organizations.
Profile of Immigration and Refugee Law Clients, 2000-2001
|Characteristic||Number of Clients|
|Characteristic||Number of Clients|
|Age 18 and under||566|
|Age 40 and over||962|
|Characteristic||Number of Clients|
2 Although data was requested for a "family" category in addition to "women" and "men", the reporting organizations did not track their clients in this manner. The "family" category was intended to capture cases in which the primary applicant is not described as a woman or man, but as a couple and/or a family.
3 Including the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania).
4 Including the former Soviet Union and the Balkans.
5 Including Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Source: Data collection charts for Quebec.
Among the organizations that submitted data, there was no consistent outcome with respect to the predominance of women or men. For all organizations, the majority of clients were between the ages of 19 and 39, and Africa (including the Maghreb) was the largest client source region. Two organizations explicitly noted that the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania) is a particularly significant source of refugees and immigrants at present.
A limited amount of information is available on actual amounts of funding. One organization reported that it has received $170,000 for its Immigrant Assistance and Settlement Program. Another group was able to break its funding down to show the amounts spent on various programs: public legal education, $30,000; general advice, $63,000; legal advice, $68,000; and language assistance, $60,000.
STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION
Types of staff
The organizations interviewed tend to have several types of staff. Many employ persons who work directly with clients as they come in (front-line workers, community workers, community legal workers, reception/settlement agents, administrative staff). Although these employees may come from a variety of backgrounds, some organizations mentioned that on-the-job training is important.
In addition to these front-line staff, several of the organizations that offer some variety of legal services also have a settlement component. Accordingly, they employ counsellors (employment, vocational training, etc.), teachers (computer, language), social workers, and occasionally interpreters and psychologists.
Only one organization has any legal staff (two lawyers). Two groups noted that they sometimes rely on pro bono lawyers to provide services to their clients, although one of these agencies noted that these lawyers rarely deal with immigration and refugee law issues.
Several organizations reported relying on volunteers. For one organization, these volunteers are nuns (based on a former affiliation with a religious organization); the others did not specify a particular source of volunteers. A different group noted that it deliberately tries to avoid using volunteers as much as possible, because it believes work should be remunerated. Some groups also rely on students, and one occasionally uses short-term contract workers.
Sources of funding
The primary funding source for the organizations interviewed is the provincial government. Some organizations also receive funding from the federal government - Ottawa provides Quebec with a grant under the Canada Quebec Accord, which requires that Quebec provide settlement services to refugees and immigrants in the province. The United Way is an additional source of financial support for several of the organizations.
Federal government sources of funding include Citizenship and Immigration Canada (under the Canada Quebec Accord grant), Human Resources and Development Canada, Heritage Canada (three organizations received funding from Heritage), and Health Canada. On the provincial level, the Ministry of Immigration (MRCI) provides funding to five of the organizations interviewed. For four of these groups, MRCI is the primary funding source. For the fifth agency, the Ministry provides partial funding. One organization is funded entirely by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, while two organizations receive partial funding from the Ministry of Employment (although this funding is principally for settlement services like employment and training programs).
Other sources of funding
Three organizations receive funding from the United Way, and one group is partially funded by the Quebec Regional Health Services Board. Other funding sources include private foundations, fundraising, and private donations.
Organizations were divided with respect to opinions on the stability of their funding. Several organizations claimed that the funding they receive is stable, although some also pointed out that this is not necessarily positive, since the amount of money they receive overall remains insufficient. These groups highlighted increasing demands, as a result of greater numbers of refugees and immigrants without any comparable increase in funding dollars, and the small size (and hence budget) of the Quebec Ministry of Immigration as key reasons for inadequate funding levels. Overall, funding from MRCI was viewed to be relatively stable even if available amounts are low - a significant finding given that MRCI is a primary or secondary funding source for the majority of organizations interviewed in Quebec. Funding from the United Way was also considered to be generally stable by the organizations receiving support.
Funding from the federal government was generally viewed to be less stable than funding from the provincial government or from the United Way, although two organizations have had relatively long-term funding relationships with Heritage Canada. One of these organizations noted that the funding it receives from Heritage Canada is actually becoming less stable, more closely monitored, and more difficult to access. This agency reported that its activities are scrutinized more closely, and that the application process is lengthy, particularly given the limited amount of money that is available.
Funding for one organization is tied to the number of refugee status claims, which the respondent reported is increasing in Quebec.
Several of the organizations interviewed in Quebec offer settlement services as well as legal assistance. Since some form of legal assistance is offered by each organization, separate information on settlement services in Quebec has not been included.
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
Two organizations in Quebec were reluctant to answer questions about aspects of the current system of delivering services to refugees and immigrants that are and are not working well. One group suggested that the only relevant comment on these questions is that there is "an immense void" in terms of the services available to refugees and immigrants in Quebec. A respondent from the second organization did not offer any reason for being unwilling to offer responses to questions in this area. Overall, however, respondents in Quebec were more concerned than respondents in other provinces about the reasons for this project being conducted, and the uses to which the information would be put.
Lack of funding
Four organizations pointed to a lack of funding for immigration and refugee services as a significant problem. For two organizations, the limited financial support means that staff cannot always provide clients with the amount of assistance that they think is appropriate. Another respondent raised particular concerns about the impact of recent budget cuts on the quality of services available to refugees and immigrants in Quebec. The fourth agency characterized immigration as an "underdeveloped window of opportunity in Quebec" that is being compromised by inconsistent funding.
Lack of services for refugees
Five organizations pointed to the lack of services for refugees as a general problem in Quebec. Different service areas were highlighted as key weaknesses: one organization mentioned both the absence of job search assistance and the lack of French language training/the prioritization of immigrants for the receipt of such services; three different organizations pointed to a lack of targeted support for refugees in general and government sponsored refugees in particular; the fifth group suggested that refugee claimants are generally denied access to services. One of these three respondents also mentioned that the family allowance was lower for refugees than for Quebec citizens.
Several organizations mentioned that the provincial government funding they receive through MRCI limits the services they can offer to refugees to the provision of housing assistance during the resettlement period.  However, respondents noted that they recognize greater needs among the refugee community for other kinds of assistance, and will often try to provide services in other areas. One respondent also suggested that problems arise in terms of services for "political" (government-sponsored) refugee claimants who have already been accepted by the federal government. This representative charged that the federal government does not provide community organizations with any money to assist these refugees, despite the fact that their claims have been approved. The respondent said the result is that organization staff end up assisting these people for free and in secret.
With respect to French language instruction, one organization claimed that priority is given to immigrants because the Quebec government does not consider it a wise investment to spend money on language training for refugees, when many of them will end up being denied status.
Organizations working beyond their mandate
Another key concern raised by several different organizations is the fact that they are forced to provide assistance in areas that are outside the range of services for which they are funded, or for which they have a specific mandate to address. For example, many settlement organizations are mandated only to provide assistance with finding housing and meeting other basic needs, but their activities extend into the advocacy area. Some groups report that they provide additional services because they see a need in the community for such assistance - finding accommodation is important, but it is not sufficient. This concern is linked to the comment, above, about extending services to refugees even when they are beyond the funding and/or mandate of the organization.
Geographically based service delivery
One respondent noted that service delivery is too focussed on geographic area, so that persons residing in one part of the city cannot access the services available in another part. This approach is too restrictive, particularly when the services available in a particular area are inappropriate or underdeveloped.
Only one respondent raised any concerns about access to services in English. This organization suggested that English-speaking refugees are not able to access services in English, which clearly raises problems in terms of effective communication.
Prejudice against refugees
One respondent had the impression that some public servants are already prejudiced against refugees and, with the new security concerns post-September 11, this is only likely to get worse. More generally, although many public servants working in the immigration and refugee area are understanding and competent, others are very inflexible.
Co-ordination and Co-operation among community organizations
Several organizations pointed to positive and effective relationships among community organizations serving the refugee and immigrant population, and, in some cases, between groups serving refugees and immigrants and other community resources (CLSCs, local employment centres, etc.).
One organization particularly noted that it is important to have a central location for the delivery of services to refugees and immigrants. In the absence of such a structure, each local community service centre (CLSC) would inherit the task of offering these services. The complexity of the immigration and refugee law process would make it difficult for staff to keep up to date with changes in the legal environment. Within an organization dedicated to addressing only immigration and refugee issues, staff can spend more time becoming familiar with the complexities of the system, and better facilitate linkages between refugees and immigrants and the other community services they need.
Types of staff, training, and activities
Two organizations reported that staff are well trained to provide the services offered to refugees and immigrants. In addition, one organization noted that the involvement of social workers in IRB proceedings and throughout the legal and settlement process is a positive feature of the system in Quebec, since these people are able to provide support and assistance outside the legal realm.
On a similar note, one organization pointed out that the work it does with refugees and immigrants is effective because staff keep up to date with the range of programs available as well as the laws and regulations in a wide variety of areas (e.g., employment, health, education). This permits staff to direct clients to the appropriate service and to provide them with useful information. Given the limited budget for refugee and immigrant assistance, it is important to be efficient.
Conversely, a respondent from one organization did claim that the training of people who work with refugees on a daily basis is very deficient. The same organization argued that Quebec lawyers are not well trained in issues concerning the Charter of Rights, and may actually not recognize Charter violations - or provide their clients with bad advice on issues pertaining to fundamental rights.
Access to documents
One respondent noted that the only positive thing about the immigration and refugee law system is that access to documents is easier now that they are all available on the Internet.
 One respondent mentioned that the specific agreement that limits assistance to the housing area is the Gagnon-Tremblay-McDougall Agreement
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