An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Four representatives from three organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in Nova Scotia. Two of these three agencies - the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association (MISA) and the Centre for Diverse Visible Cultures (CDVC) - are primarily settlement groups. MISA assists immigrants who have already been granted landed immigrant status by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. It provides assistance in accessing training, services, language instruction, and community resources. CDVC strives to promote the participation, accessibility, and self-determination of persons from visible cultures by fostering public awareness of ethnic diversity, providing programs and services to strengthen well-being, and acting as a representative in consultations with government, industry, and other organizations. In addition to the above two settlement groups, the Halifax Refugee Clinic provides pro bono assistance to refugees in need throughout the determination process.
Available Legal Services
- Public Legal Education and Information
- Public legal education is not a large component of the work done by organizations that provide legal assistance to refugees and immigrants.
- Two organizations noted that there are not many places to refer people for legal assistance. Some groups refer clients with legal problems to private bar lawyers.
- Two organizations provide legal advice, although they serve only the refugee community in Nova Scotia.
- Two organizations provide legal representation, but they serve only the refugee community in Nova Scotia.
- Language Assistance
- A limited amount of language assistance is available in legal matters.
Public legal education
The Halifax Refugee Clinic offers training sessions throughout the year at various locations, and is quite active in this capacity in the community. In addition, clinic staff occasionally work with social services, doctors, and educators to inform them about the reality of refugees' situation and the discrimination they face.
The two organizations interviewed that provide exclusively settlement services - the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association (MISA) and the Centre for Diverse Visible Cultures - do offer orientation sessions on Canadian law, although not specifically in terms of the immigration and refugee process.
Respondents from the Halifax Refugee Clinic indicated that there are few places to which to refer clients in need of legal assistance. The absence of legal aid coverage for immigration and refugee law issues was highlighted in this context. The Refugee Clinic does refer clients who can afford to retain their own counsel to private bar immigration and refugee lawyers, and persons with other needs to settlement agencies. Clinic respondents did point out that a lot of people are referred to their services by other organizations.
MISA noted that the main place to which clients are referred is the Halifax Refugee Clinic. The Centre for Diverse Visible Cultures also used to be an important resource for referrals, but this is to a lesser extent now. A representative of the Centre for Diverse Visible Cultures noted that it refers clients to private bar lawyers who provide assistance on a pro bono basis. These referrals are not necessarily just for immigration or refugee law work, but the respondent noted that this is a component of its programming that the Centre hopes to expand. At present, the Centre refers to only one private bar lawyer.
The Halifax Refugee Clinic provides assistance with forms and the preparation of hearing materials, as well as advice on the legal process, legal rights and responsibilities, and available options for action. The areas of the immigration and refugee law process for which these services are provided are Port of Entry (although this is rare), Inland Claims, Convention Refugee Determination, Immigration Appeals, Adjudication, Humanitarian and Compassionate, Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada Class, and Federal Court. Assistance is also provided with other kinds of legal issues, including applications for work permits and permanent residency.
MISA employs crisis outreach workers who deal with legal matters, but these are more often related to domestic disputes or violence - not federal laws concerning the immigration and refugee process. The primary functions of outreach workers are to support the client, make referrals, and write letters attesting the person's need for legal assistance.
The Halifax Refugee Clinic provides legal representation for refugees at hearings and tribunals throughout the determination process. This service is provided free of charge to those who cannot afford to retain private counsel. The areas where legal representation is provided are Port of Entry, Inland Claims, Convention Refugee Determination, Immigration Appeals, Adjudication, Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada Class, and Federal Court cases. The Refugee Clinic does not currently provide legal counsel for Humanitarian and Compassionate applications, but this service is soon to commence, now that additional funding has been secured. Respondents noted that they have not yet encountered a case involving a Supreme Court or International Tribunal appeal, so it remains an open question as to what assistance would be provided. If the outcome of a case is positive, staff will continue to assist the client with forms and so on. If the outcome is negative, staff will advise on rights and options for further action.
Only the Halifax Refugee Clinic provides some language assistance. This service is not provided by staff, but by translators retained by the Clinic. However, a respondent noted that the Clinic hopes to eventually create its own roster of interpreters/translators to provide such service in addition to its legal work. On the settlement side, the MISA representative noted that staff occasionally provide translation services for legal documents and in court proceedings.
The following data was provided by one organization offering general and legal advice as well as legal representation in immigration and refugee law matters in Nova Scotia.
|Immigration/Refugee Law Issue||Public Legal Education||General Advice||Legal Advice||Legal Representation||Language Assistance|
|Port of Entry||10||10||10||2||9|
|Convention Refugee Determination||120||120||150||150||100|
|Immigration Appeals Division||0||0||0||0||0|
|Humanitarian and Compassionate||2||5||5||5||1|
|Post-Determination Refugee Claimants||-||-||35||35||-|
1 The numbers in this table are estimated.
Source: Data collection charts for Nova Scotia.
Four applicants were denied assistance with Convention Refugee Determination matters by this organization on the grounds that the client could afford to retain private counsel, informed the organization that the claim was fictional, or appeared to be lying or had an unbelievable story. Respondents did not report refusing assistance to clients in other legal matters.
This agency further reported that, in 2000-2001, 17.5 percent of its clients were female and 82.5 percent of its clients were male. No data was provided on age. Country of origin of immigration and refugee law clients was described as follows.
|Country of Origin||Percent of All Clients|
|Russian and Romania||33|
|Other (38 countries)||38|
2 The percentages in this table are estimated.
Source: Data collection charts for Nova Scotia.
A limited amount of information on the cost of the legal services available to refugee and immigrants in 2000-2001 was provided. Respondents estimated that legal advice and representation services were made available at a total cost of $25,000, a figure that constitutes 85 percent of the entire budget for the services provided by this organization.
STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION
Types of staff
The organization providing legal services has a co-ordinator, one part-time lawyer, and one part-time caseworker on staff, as well as a supervising lawyer as the director. This agency also relies on law students, international development students, volunteer lawyers and other community members to provide services.
Sources of funding
The Catholic Pastoral Centre funds this organization, and additional funding has recently been received from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia. This group charges a $35 administration fee to clients, co-ordinates fundraising activities and solicits donations. The organization does not receive any provincial or federal government funding. Respondents characterized funding as stable.
Types of settlement programs
- Joint initiatives with educational materials (pamphlets)
- Language assistance (fee-for-service translation, staff-based translation and interpretation)
- Referrals to other organizations serving immigrants, Halifax Refugee Clinic, multicultural organizations, and private bar lawyers
- Training and employment programs, job search assistance
- Violence education and prevention
One settlement organization focusses on visible minority immigrant populations and the unique forms of discrimination they face. This organization felt that assistance for visible minorities is particularly important because other organizations in Nova Scotia that assist immigrants often have to demonstrate "results" in order to maintain funding (e.g., job finding and retention by clients). Since it remains easier to find employment for those who are not persons of colour, visible minorities tend to be overlooked or to receive less assistance. The other settlement group noted that it provides services directly only to adults. Children are assisted only as part of the services provided to a family.
Types of staff
General staff, settlement counsellors, outreach workers, students, translators, and some students on a volunteer or practicum/placement basis. Neither of the settlement organizations has lawyers or paralegals on staff (although one does refer to private bar lawyers who work on a pro bono basis).
Sources of funding
Funding for the settlement organizations interviewed comes largely from government sources. On the federal level, the main sources are Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Department of Justice (for work on violence prevention). Some limited funding from the provincial government is also provided. For one organization this funding comes through the Department of Education. Municipal government is also a source of a limited amount of funding, with one organization reporting that this typically is in the form of small grants. In addition to government, one organization noted that private donations and the United Way are additional sources of financial support.
One settlement organization respondent characterized funding as long-term, but unstable. The other respondent, from an organization providing legal assistance, suggested that funding is long-term and stable in the sense that some dollars are received every year, but that the amount of funding is currently in decline.
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
Lack of legal support
One organization identified the key problem as the overall lack of services in Nova Scotia. Respondents pointed to the fact that there is no legal aid coverage for immigration and refugee law matters, as well as to the lack of community resources. As a result, there are many issues for which no legal assistance is available, despite the fact that there is a need for such services.
Two other organizations interviewed in Nova Scotia also recognized the lack of legal support available to refugees and immigrants, although one did note that the Halifax Refugee Clinic has made a significant contribution towards filling the gaps in this area. Prior to the initiation of this program, the range of available services was described as "pathetic." However, since the Refugee Clinic deals primarily with refugees, there are still very few resources for assistance for immigrants.
Problems in the legal system
One respondent noted that the amount of time it takes to process a refugee claim is far too long (it can sometimes take five or six months). This time lag can have drastic consequences for the claimant - in the extreme, the respondent cited cases of attempted suicide. The respondent also noted that IRB members seem to lack sufficient knowledge about refugee cases, often asking inappropriate questions. Finally, the respondent noted that there is no permanent IRB in Nova Scotia, so Board members must periodically come from Ottawa for hearings. When the Board's members are present, too many hearings are hurried through the IRB process in the short time available. This has negative implications for the quality of the legal presentation. Evidence cannot be fully presented; judges make questionable decisions about the relevance of certain information, and so on. The respondent also noted that there are no IRB members from the Atlantic region.
Two respondents commented that there is a lack of trained, high-quality translators for legal proceedings. Using insufficiently skilled translators tends to exacerbate the legal problems described above. Three respondents noted that Nova Scotia also lacks private bar lawyers with expertise in immigration and refugee issues, and those that do work in this area charge high fees. In general, one organization pointed out that there are few lawyers with language skills or cross-cultural training. Finally, one respondent raised some concerns about immigration consultants, noting that these people often provide their clients with incorrect or bad advice, despite charging high fees.
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