An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Five organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in New Brunswick - the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area, the Public Legal Education and Information Service (PLEIS), the Wilmont Church Legal Advice Clinic, and the Refugee Support Centre. The interview with the Refugee Support Centre was not completed.
The Multicultural Association of Fredericton promotes the concept of multiculturalism in the area; assisting new arrivals, and organizing conferences. The primary activities of the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area are in the protection and promotion of human rights, the creation of cultural awareness, and the provision of settlement assistance to refugees and immigrants. PLEIS is a non-profit organization and charity whose mandate is to develop a variety of bilingual educational products and services about the law for the public to promote access to the legal system. The Wilmont Church Clinic is a service put on by the United Church on a volunteer basis to provide clients with legal advice on a wide range of topics. The Refugee Support Centre provides legal assistance to refugees in New Brunswick throughout the determination process.
Among the organizations contacted in New Brunswick, the legal assistance available for immigration and refugee law matters is relatively limited. Of those groups whose work is not confined to settlement, the legal assistance provided is generally confined to the provision of basic advice, referrals, and information about procedural issues and legal rights. There is an immigration and refugee law pilot project proposal under consideration that, if implemented, would increase the range of legal assistance available to refugees and immigrants. 
Available Legal Services
- Public Legal Education and Information
- Several organizations interviewed in New Brunswick provide some kind of public legal educational services. Some of this assistance specifically concerns the immigration and refugee law process; other groups address a broader range of legal and settlement issues. The explicit purpose of one organization is to provide legal information for public educational purposes.
- Organizations serving refugees and immigrants refer clients to organizations that provide legal assistance to refugees and immigrants, but this is relatively limited.
- Two organizations provide legal advice to refugees and immigrants in New Brunswick. Other organizations report that some advice is available from pro bono private bar lawyers.
- One organization will actually represent refugees and immigrants in legal proceedings.
- Language Assistance
- Three of the organizations interviewed provide some kind of language assistance.
The availability of legal assistance for refugees and immigrants depends somewhat on location. Given that there is not a wide range of legal supports, respondents noted that persons in some communities may have to travel to another location to receive assistance. Perhaps the most extreme examples are in refugee cases, since applications for refugee status may be made in New Brunswick but hearings and other proceedings take place in Halifax.
Public legal education
The Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS) engages in educational activities and information sessions, although not all of these pertain specifically to immigration and refugee law. This agency also distributes pamphlets and other written materials around the province. Wilmont Church Legal Advice Clinic also collects and distributes information at twice-monthly legal clinics. The public legal educational activities of the Refugee Support Centre are unknown.
The explicit function of PLEIS is to provide legal information on a variety of topics. The information available is generally quite broad, and is provided both in print form and online. The topics include legal rights and responsibilities, processes involved in pursuing different kinds of claims, and identification of relevant pieces of legislation or regulations. Overall, the goal of this organization is to improve the ability of the general public to deal with legal matters. Its work does not extend to the provision of advice or representation - with limited staff and a large volume of requests, it can help the most people by concentrating on a general information service.
Two settlement agencies - the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton - organize educational activities that do not specifically concern immigration and refugee law. These agencies may address other general legal issues of relevance to refugees and immigrants (for example, medicare, child tax benefits, income assistance, travel documents, human rights) as well as a variety of other topics in the settlement area. Familiarizing refugees and immigrants with these aspects of the law, and assisting them with applications for these programs, was identified as an important form of legal assistance. Their services include the distribution of written materials.
In general, the organizations interviewed in New Brunswick refer clients to free legal clinics, private bar lawyers, settlement and other community agencies, and provincial and federal government offices. None of the organizations refers clients to legal aid for assistance with immigration and refugee (or other civil) law matters, given that there is no coverage for such issues in this province.
Respondents from the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and PLEIS noted that they refer clients to free legal clinics. The approach of the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton was characterized as one of "striving to refer people to the appropriate legal support." The representative of this agency commented that this includes referring clients to some private bar lawyers with whom the organization has a relationship and who will do work some work on a pro bono basis. Refugee claimants have also been referred by this organization to a private bar lawyer, Lee Cohen, in Halifax. According to the respondent, legal proceedings for refugees take place in Halifax, so Mr. Cohen is an obvious person to approach for legal assistance.
PLEIS also noted that clients may be referred to private bar lawyers, although not necessarily to lawyers with whom the organization has a particular connection. This organization also refers clients to settlement agencies for issues in that area. The Wilmont Church Clinic representative commented that legal aid refers people to this organization's free legal clinics for immigration and refugee law, poverty law and other matters, since these issues are not covered by legal aid. Volunteers who staff the clinics may provide clients with suggestions of other community resources to contact for additional assistance. The Refugee Support Centre respondent noted that staff members do not know of other resources for legal assistance for refugees and immigrants, so there is nowhere to refer clients.
As noted above, two organizations provide advice on immigration and refugee law issues. The Wilmont Church Clinic organizes legal clinics at which private bar lawyers and law students provide general and legal advice on a wide variety of topics. One of these topics is immigration and refugee law, although the clinics also address a range of other legal issues of concern to refugees and immigrants. The clinics operate on a drop-in basis, and are held twice a month. Although provincial legal aid respondents in New Brunswick reported no connections with community organizations delivering services to refugees and immigrants, the Wilmont Church respondent noted that legal aid has referred refugees and immigrants to the clinics.
The other organization that provides legal advice in New Brunswick - the Refugee Support Centre - initially served only the refugee community, but has since expanded its services to include immigrants, refugees, and citizens who need assistance with settlement and immigration matters. Organization staff provide assistance with a wide variety of issues, including immigration and refugee law. This organization has also submitted a proposal for pilot project funding to the federal Department of Justice. The proposed project  is a paralegal service for refugee claimants in New Brunswick that would provide orientation and information, legal advice (including assistance with the completion of Personal Information Forms, Humanitarian and Compassionate applications, and Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada Class applications), interpretation and translation, preparatory work for hearings, and representation at hearings.
Although the two multicultural associations are essentially settlement groups that do not deliver direct legal services to refugees and immigrants, the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton respondent did note that there is a municipal government lawyer involved in settlement work who sometimes provides legal advice to refugees and immigrants. This respondent also reported that one private bar firm used to offer pro bono immigration and refugee law advice, but that the lawyer providing this service has now left, and it is not known whether someone else will take on the role. In addition, staff at the Multicultural Association of Fredericton may provide some assistance with a legal issue by speaking to a lawyer on a client's behalf if there is a language issue, and if the legal question is within the range of staff expertise.
Only the Refugee Support Centre currently provides legal representation for refugees and immigrants. The respondent from this group noted that the majority of the cases it handles concern Convention Refugee Determination. However, staff will assist clients in other areas, depending on needs in the community.
Of the two organizations that provide legal assistance, the Wilmont Church Clinic does not offer any language assistance, and it is unknown whether the Refugee Support Centre provides such service. PLEIS offers bilingual (English and French) services, but will refer to cultural agencies if assistance is required for clients who speak other languages. Both multicultural associations provide interpreters and translators for documents and essential services if they are needed, although one respondent noted that it is sometimes hard to find people to do this work.
STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION
Types of staff
The three organizations that provide a resource for information, advice, or representation in immigration and refugee law matters typically employ lawyers, paralegals, and administrative/support staff. One of these groups relies on private bar lawyers and law students to staff legal clinics, and one group works with law schools and Pro Bono Students of Canada.
Sources of funding
The group that organizes legal clinics does not receive any funding. The persons involved in organizing the clinics are all volunteers, space is donated by local churches, and private bar lawyers and law students donate their time. The funding sources for the other organization that provides legal advice and representation are not known.
Funding for the third organization involved in providing legal information on immigration and refugee law matters comes from the federal government (Department of Justice) and the New Brunswick Law Foundation. The province provides this group with in-kind support in the form of office space. This organization characterized its funding as stable.
The following briefly outlines the range of settlement services offered by the settlement organizations interviewed in New Brunswick, including the kinds of programs offered, the staff employed to administer the programs, and the types of funding received.
Types of settlement programs
- Language training (French and English); translation and interpretation
- Airport meeting service
- Orientation and information sessions
- Peer support and accompaniment
- Assistance with applications and making connections with government services
- Co-ordination of community sponsorship and volunteering
- Assistance with applications for family reunification
- Employment training
Types of staff
Settlement organizations employ a wide variety of people. Organizations identify their staff as "settlement workers" or "immigration support people." Teachers are also employed by some of these groups for language training programs, and some also rely on students (typically in nursing and social work).
Sources of funding
The settlement groups receive the majority of their funding from the federal government (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Heritage Canada). One organization receives money from the province for employment programs.
One organization described its federal funding as stable, the other suggested that its funding has shrunk significantly. For the latter, funding is contingent on the number of "new arrivals" to New Brunswick.
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
Lack of legal services
For three organizations, the lack of legal services available in the immigration and refugee law area is a key weakness in New Brunswick. Each of these organizations pointed to the absence of support from legal aid, and the limited number of community organizations, clinics, and private bar lawyers willing and able to take on this work. Concerns were also raised about the distribution of services across the province - since there are no services in certain areas, people have to travel to receive any assistance.
Concern about lack of legal services motivated the application for pilot project funding for a paralegal assistance program for refugees in Saint John. This proposed program would provide legal orientation and information, assistance with forms (including Humanitarian and Compassionate and Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada Class applications), language assistance (interpretation and translation of documents), preparatory and research work on claims and appeals, and attendance at legal proceedings in a support capacity. Legal representation at detention reviews could also be provided through this program.
Lack of funding
One organization reported that there is not enough funding available for projects that support low-income people. While this group currently functions on an entirely volunteer basis, its initial goal was to hire a paid staff lawyer to provide a more permanent service. However, to date, volunteers have been unable to access funding for such a project. The respondent went on to note that provincial and federal governments are offloading too many support services for low-income people on to volunteers, but these people can only handle so much with the time and resources they have available. However, volunteer-based services are not a viable long-term solution.
Access to justice services
One respondent noted that the trend towards making services available through call centres and toll-free phone lines creates problems. Delivering services in this way makes it more difficult for people to access information, particularly when they have an ongoing problem and cannot always speak to the same person about their case.
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