An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada

Part Two: Immigration and refugee law services provided by community organizations (continued)

Newfoundland and Labrador

Three organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in Newfoundland - the Association for New Canadians, the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council, and the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland (PLIAN). Each group is located in St. John's.

The Association for New Canadians provides settlement assistance, integration support, counselling, and educational programs for newcomers, with the goal of assisting these people to integrate with Canadian society. The Refugee Immigration Advisory Council provides a range of services to refugees and immigrants in Newfoundland and Labrador. No particular groups are targeted by this agency. PLIAN is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about legal issues. The mandate of this group is to assist Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in understanding the law and to make the legal system more accessible.

LEGAL SERVICES

Not many organizations of any kind serving refugees and immigrants were located in Newfoundland. Legal aid representatives were able to offer only one suggestion, and subsequent searching uncovered only two other groups, one of which is a general services organization that does not specifically serve the refugee and immigrant community. One respondent explicitly noted that immigration and refugee law is not a primary issue in Newfoundland.

Available Legal Services
Public Legal Education and Information
None of the organizations interviewed offer public legal education specifically on the immigration and refugee law process, although organizations do provide information on other legal issues of relevance to refugees and immigrants.
Referrals
Clients are referred to a wide variety of organizations, including legal aid and private bar lawyers.
Advice
One organization provides general and legal advice to clients. Advice may pertain to the immigration and refugee law process, as well as to a variety of other issues.
Representation
One organization will very occasionally act as legal counsel, but will accompany clients to legal proceedings as non-legal counsel.
Language Assistance
Settlement agencies provide translation and interpretation services for court proceedings.
Public legal education

The Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC) does some legal education work, providing information sessions in response to the needs of the community or particular groups. The Association for New Canadians - essentially a settlement agency - provides legal information to clients on relevant aspects of the law and their rights and responsibilities under it, but this does not include any specific information or advice on how to negotiate immigration and refugee law processes. The respondent from this organization described the service as a general legal orientation.

The explicit purpose of the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland (PLIA) is to provide legal information to clients in person and over the phone. Staff cover a wide range of topics, which may include immigration and refugee law or other legal issues related to the immigration process. This organization also distributes a wide range of pamphlets and other written materials.

Referrals

As noted in the above table, all of the organizations interviewed in Newfoundland refer clients to legal aid or private bar lawyers for legal services. For other kinds of assistance, they may be referred to a variety of places - settlement agencies, government offices, clubs, shelters, and so on. All organizations interviewed reported that referrals are an important component of their work.

Advice

RIAC provides general advice to clients on a wide variety of issues of concern to refugees and immigrants - family reunification, sponsorship, employment, community resources, and so on. This kind of advice is provided by volunteers - there are no paid staff at this agency.

RIAC also provides legal advice to clients. Advice may be provided on any immigration and refugee law issue except Supreme Court and International Tribunal appeals, although the areas highlighted in particular by the respondent are Inland Claims, Convention Refugee Determination, Immigration Appeals, Humanitarian and Compassionate, Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada Class, Danger Opinions, and Federal Court cases (although assistance with Federal Court cases is limited and is always provided in consultation with a lawyer). The respondent noted that Immigration Officers usually provide assistance with Port of Entry issues, although volunteers from this organization may get involved when there is a risk of deportation. Volunteers provide assistance in, for example, the completion of forms, compilation of background materials and documentation, and preparation for legal proceedings. The organization also has a relationship with some private bar lawyers who come to the office to provide services to clients directly or answer volunteers' questions about a case so that they can direct a client appropriately. The respondent suggested that volunteers will typically direct a client themselves if they know from experience how to handle the type of issue in question, but will consult with a lawyer when there is a new or particularly complex matter.

PLIA is responsible for running the legal information line as well as the lawyer referral service for Newfoundland. Both of these services provide clients with legal information on a variety of topics, but staff noted that they do not provide any direct advice, whether general or legal. According to the Association for New Canadians, the overarching goal of settlement services is to foster independence and self-sufficiency. As such, the staff of this group tend not to advise clients on a specific course of action. However, an Association respondent also commented that staff will suggest to clients that they seek legal counsel in certain situations, and direct them accordingly.

Representation

There are few resources for direct legal representation other than legal aid. RIAC will occasionally provide some representation for Immigration Appeals Division cases involving minors. This organization will also act as non-legal counsel, accompanying clients to legal proceedings to provide advice and support or assisting clients to get the right kind of legal counsel.

Language assistance

The respondent from the Association for New Canadians noted that staff will provide translation and interpretation services for court and other legal proceedings. There is no certification for providers of these services. The Association is developing a training program to create a certification program. The respondent from this agency also noted that staff will assist in finding translators or interpreters from other provinces if the necessary skills are lacking in Newfoundland.

RIAC has volunteers who provide translation and interpretation assistance. At present, one respondent noted, Newfoundland has no certification process for language professionals, but is in the process of developing a training program towards that end. PLIA translates all its materials into French, but does not offer other kinds of language assistance.

The following data was provided by one organization in Newfoundland on the legal services available to refugees and immigrants in 2000-2001.

Number of Clients by Type of Service, 2000-2001
Immigration/ Refugee Law Issue Education/ Self-help General Advice Legal Advice Representation as Non-legal Counsel Language Assistance
Inland Claims 3 -* -* -* -*
CRDD 40 35 7 -* -*
Immigration Appeals 10 5 0 2 -*
Adjudication 2 0 0 0 0
Humanitarian/ Compassionate -* 20 -* 3 10
PDRCC 40 25 -* -* 15
Danger Opinion -* 2 2 2 1

* "-" indicates that respondents were unable to determine the number of cases handled by organization staff. "0" indicates that the organization provided no assistance in 2000-2001. The respondent noted that it is difficult to separate out activities in each of these areas, given that staff provide services on more of a continuum, moving from one stage to the next. There was also some confusion as to the particular activities that fell into each category.
Source: Data collection charts for Newfoundland.

Client Characteristics, 2000-2001

AGE RANGE
Characteristic Number of Clients
Under age 18 3
Age 18-39 45
Over age 40 10

SEX*
Characteristic Number of Clients
Women 22
Men 24
Family 12

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Characteristic Number of Clients
Former Soviet Union 45#
China 6
Sierra Leone 10
Liberia 5
Sudan 3

# This number is estimated.
Source: Data collection charts for Newfoundland.

STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION

Types of staff

The two organizations in Newfoundland that regularly provide direct legal services to clients have quite different staffing situations. One organization is staffed completely by volunteers and students who donate their time. The respondent from this organization noted that it previously had part-time paid staff, and that some of these people have gone on to jobs with the federal government in the immigration area. The second organization does have one lawyer on staff, and will hire others on a contract basis as needed. However, the respondent from this agency also noted that it also tends to rely heavily on volunteers.

Sources of funding

One legal service organization receives funding from the Mennonite Central Committee, local churches, and community fundraising events. All of these funding sources were characterized as unstable. The other organization is funded by the federal Department of Justice, the Newfoundland Department of Justice (in-kind funding), and the Law Foundation of Newfoundland. Core funding from the federal government and the Law Foundation was characterized as stable, but difficult to obtain.

SETTLEMENT SERVICES

The following describes the range of settlement services offered by the one settlement organization interviewed in Newfoundland.

Types of settlement programs
  • Orientation and information sessions
  • Assistance completing forms and applications
  • Language instruction, translation, and interpretation
  • Referrals to legal aid, private bar lawyers, police, victims' services, government offices, community groups, cultural organizations, etc.
  • Raising public awareness about immigration, racism, and cultural sensitivity through cross-cultural education and information and consultation services
  • Employment assistance (resume development, post-secondary access, job search, career planning, computer skills)
  • Counselling and support groups
  • Volunteer programs
Types of staff

All employees were described as general settlement workers.

Sources of funding

Different programs have different sources of funding. The federal government (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) provides funding for settlement services. Work with refugees is funded by Human Resources and Development Canada and by the provincial Department of Human Resources and Employment. Some project-based funding also comes from Heritage Canada.

Funding tends to be reassessed on a yearly basis, so there is never a long-term guarantee. To keep receiving funding, the organization must be accountable for the work it has done.

IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS

Problem areas
Lack of consistency in materials

In the opinion of one respondent, the immigration and refugee system would benefit from the development and use of common terminology. This would help ensure that services are delivered more consistently, to the benefit of both staff and clients, in light of ongoing changes in immigration legislation and changes in staff at various departments, organizations, and legal aid. This respondent pointed to the fact that the language used in various manuals, service delivery mandates, and so on, tends to vary between organizations.

Time and resource constraints

In Newfoundland, there are only two legal aid lawyers who work in the immigration and refugee law area. Apart from legal aid, there is only one group that provides any kind of legal assistance to refugees and immigrants, and it is a volunteer-based organization. In the face of such limited resources, it is unsurprising that one organization suggested that efforts to collaborate with legal aid are hindered by staffing and time constraints. Although settlement agency representatives regularly refer people to legal aid, and there is one settlement worker who acts as an interpreter for legal aid, the development of other co-operative initiatives was described as "slow going."

Time and resource constraints are also particularly worrisome in light of the limited availability of legal assistance outside of the legal aid structure. One respondent pointed out that a key weakness in the current system for addressing the legal needs of refugees and immigrants is the simple fact that the disappearance of one organization would be devastating. In other words, there are so few resources to fall back on that there is no room for any decrease in available service levels.

Lack of co-ordination of services

One respondent noted that the services currently available in the immigration and refugee law area would benefit from greater co-ordination among settlement groups, lawyers, legal aid, government offices, and the IRB - particularly with respect to sharing information about a client and/or case. When the channels of communication break down, too often the price is exacted from the client, who is left to negotiate a new system on his or her own. This limited range of alternatives for supporting new arrivals was identified as a key gap in the immigration system.

Under the present system, new arrivals - and especially refugees - are too dependent on lawyers as the only source of information and assistance. This is particularly a problem in light of the above comments concerning lawyers' overwhelming workloads. The system would be improved by broadening the range of individuals involved in the processing of refugee claimants (e.g., someone other than a lawyer could take on responsibility for completing Personal Information Forms).

Ongoing legislative changes

One respondent noted that changes in the legislation make it difficult to keep up to date - and, accordingly, to inform their clients - about what to expect. The resulting lack of consistency also has an impact on decisions about service provision. For example, the respondent noted that refugee claimants must wait a longer time before having their claims processed, but once the process is under way, it goes quite quickly. With all of the changes in the system, it is not clear whether or not this is a permanent state of affairs and, accordingly, whether staffing levels, for example, should be adjusted accordingly.

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