An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada

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

Prince Edward Island

Two community organizations serving refugees and immigrants were interviewed in P.E.I. - the Association for Newcomers and the Community Legal Information Association (CLIA). Both of these groups are located in Charlottetown.

The Association for Newcomers is a settlement agency that support programs that help newcomers feel welcome in the community, and that helps government-sponsored refugees with immediate settlement needs. CLIA is a non-profit corporation and registered charity that provides public legal education. CLIA's goal is to provide residents of P.E.I. with understandable and useful information about laws and the justice system. No community organizations that specifically provide refugees and immigrants with direct legal assistance in the immigration and refugee law process were located in P.E.I.

LEGAL SERVICES

Organizations contacted in P.E.I. noted that there is little demand for immigration and refugee law services because very few refugees and immigrants come to this province. In addition, respondents noted that P.E.I.'s small population is relatively homogeneous, with few minority communities. For this reason, one respondent noted that even those refugees and immigrants who do arrive in P.E.I. - for example, through government assistance or sponsorship - tend not to stay. The lack of cultural or linguistic communities with which to forge connections and combat isolation prompts people to continue on to other places.

In general, it was suggested that legal services for refugees and immigrants are "noticeably missing" from the range of services available in this area. There are some resources available from the health, employment, and social services perspectives, but very few legal resources for people who do not have enough money to afford a private bar lawyer.

Available Legal Services
  • Public Legal Education and Information
  • There are no public legal education activities specifically concerning the immigration and refugee law process, and a limited number of activities in other issues.
  • Referrals
  • There are no places to refer people for legal services other than to the lawyer referral service or private bar lawyers.
  • Advice
  • No.
  • Representation
  • No.
  • Language Assistance
  • No.
Public legal education

The limited activities in this area include the hosting of workshops on different issues and the distribution of educational materials. However, these tend to concern general legal issues rather than the immigration and refugee process in particular (for example, landlord-tenant matters, family law, policing and criminal law).

There is some co-operation between settlement agencies and provincial social services. The working relationship was described as positive and they have collaborated on the creation of an immigrant services committee. However, the committee does not deal with the legal aspect of immigration and refugee law issues, focussing instead on dealing with agencies in the health and social services arenas.

Referrals

The Community Legal Information Association (CLIA) runs the lawyer referral service for P.E.I. and, accordingly, refers people to that service for brief consultations. Staff also has contact information for two or three local private bar lawyers who are willing to be called on immigration and refugee law (and other) matters. However, the respondent did not know what degree of assistance these lawyers would provide to the persons referred to them. In addition, CLIA refers clients to a wide range of settlement and other services.

One settlement organization that was interviewed in P.E.I. - the Association for Newcomers - primarily refers clients to CLIA for legal support, and to other community agencies or government offices for other kinds of issues. If a client is reluctant to call the organization to which they have been referred, the Association may make this contact on the client's behalf. The respondent from the Association for Newcomers noted that that it does not receive a lot of requests for legal assistance.

Advice

There is no agency through which refugees and immigrants can receive general or legal advice in P.E.I. CLIA does not provide legal advice, but will refer clients to the lawyer referral service or to a few private bar lawyers who have indicated a willingness to respond to such requests. The Association for Newcomers does not employ lawyers or paralegals and, accordingly, does not deliver advice on legal matters. The Association respondent noted that staff members are generally unable to make recommendations on legal matters. In addition, they are to some extent unwilling to provide legal direction, given the complex nature of immigration and refugee law, and given concerns about restrictions on who can act in a legal capacity on behalf of a client.

Representation

There is no agency through which refugees and immigrants can receive legal representation. Neither of the organizations interviewed could comment on the extent to which private bar lawyers would handle immigration and refugee law cases (other than on a regular fee basis). A representative of CLIA noted that there are some larger regional law firms in P.E.I. that may be able to use their internal resources to find someone with expertise in a given area if needed (e.g., an associate in another office). Overall, however, there are few lawyers in this province with expertise in the immigration and refugee law area. In the opinion of the CLIA respondent, the closest truly qualified lawyers are located in Halifax.

Language assistance

Respondents from both CLIA and the Association for Newcomers pointed out that there are no certified translators or interpreters in P.E.I., and neither of the organizations interviewed regularly provides language assistance services. The CLIA respondent noted that CLIA may make use of volunteers to provide needed language assistance, but there is no one to do this work in formal contexts like legal hearings or court proceedings. A representative of the Association pointed out that there is no formal agency in P.E.I. that delivers language assistance.

STAFFING AND FUNDING INFORMATION

Types of staff

The staff of CLIA includes neither lawyers nor paralegals. The respondent described the employees simply as "general staff information providers."

Sources of funding

Funding for CLIA comes primarily from the federal Department of Justice. This funding was characterized as stable and long-term - the organization has been it receiving since its inception. According to the respondent, the provincial government (Office of the Attorney General) does not provide CLIA with any direct funding, but does offer in-kind support. The P.E.I. Law Foundation is an additional funding source.

SETTLEMENT SERVICES

The following briefly outlines the range of settlement services offered by the Association for Newcomers in P.E.I., including the kinds of programs offered, the staff employed to administer these programs, and the types of funding received.

Types of settlement programs
  • Assistance with forms and applications
  • Airport meeting service
  • Information and orientation sessions (in the process of developing an educational program)
  • Referrals to other agencies, government offices, colleges etc.
  • Distribution of basic information (e.g., a brochure about living in P.E.I.) on a drop-in basis
  • Employment training and assistance

Unlike the settlement services available in other provinces, language training was not a principal focus of the services available in P.E.I. It was reported that there is no regular programming in this area. However, the Association receives few requests on language issues, even though there is no other resource for language assistance in P.E.I. When requests are received in this area, clients are generally referred to Holland College, which provides language instruction for newcomers to Canada.

Types of staff

Employees of the Association for Newcomers were described by the respondent simply as general staff.

Sources of funding

The federal government (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) is the exclusive source of funding for the Association for Newcomers. The organization receives no provincial support. The respondents identified the lack of provincial funding as a source of frustration, but did characterize their federal financial support as stable and long-term. The respondents also pointed out that the funding received by the Association sometimes places constraints on the types of services they are able provide. For example, funding from Human Resources and Development Canada specifies that employment assistance must be directed to immigrants, while other programs are tied to services for government-sponsored refugees.

IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS

Although there is essentially no "system" in place to deal with immigration and refugee law issues, respondents did note that this may not be such a problem as it initially would seem, given the low demand for these services. According to one respondent, the lack of resources certainly becomes a problem when new arrivals require assistance, and this can result in some desperate circumstances. However, the underlying issue is that such situations don't arise very often in a place with no international airport and only limited port access.

Problems areas
Access to justice

Despite the limited demand for services for refugees and immigrants, the fact that people who need assistance have few resource options means there are problems when the situation arises. As one respondent put it, access to justice "should not have a price tag." From the perspective of the availability of legal assistance, the current system was described as "pathetic" for those who cannot afford private counsel.

Lack of legal expertise

There is a lack of lawyers in P.E.I. who have sufficient expertise in the immigration and refugee law area. However, one respondent noted that this is unlikely to change. Given the limited demand for such services, lawyers cannot build a practice around immigration and refugee law work, so there is little incentive to expand their knowledge. Accordingly, this representative suggested that the "most appropriate" approach to dealing with immigration and refugee law issues for P.E.I. would be to have this province covered by a larger centre in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Success stories
Online resources

One positive step that has been made is the online availability of P.E.I. government statutes. This updated resource provides better access to information about legislation and regulations, but it has done nothing to address the gap in legal representation and advocacy.

Collaboration and joint problem solving

One respondent noted that, given the small size of the province, joint problem solving is possible. Organizations know about the community resources that are available, and can tap into these resources to assist their clients. Staff will make calls and connections on behalf of their clients and try to connect them with the resources and assistance they need. As one respondent put it, they try to do "general problem solving."

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