An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada
Part One: Immigration and refugee law legal aid (continued)
STRUCTURE OF LEGAL AID
Delivery of services
Legal aid in Saskatchewan is administered by the Legal Aid Commission (LAC). Staff lawyers, along with legal assistants and support staff, deliver the majority of legal aid services. Private bar lawyers may be used where it is determined that private representation would better serve the client.
Eligibility for legal aid
Eligibility for legal aid is determined on the basis of three criteria: financial, range of services, and professional merit. Both eligibility officers (non-lawyers) and legal aid staff lawyers are responsible for making eligibility determinations.
Applicants are financially eligible for legal aid if they are receiving social assistance (from the province or the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs), or if their financial resources are equal to or less than what they would be if they were receiving social assistance. Eligibility is also automatic if obtaining private legal representation would reduce an applicant's financial resources to a level at which he or she would qualify for social assistance. Applicants who are not receiving social assistance may be asked to contribute to the cost of their legal representation.
The criterion of range of services pertains to whether or not the legal issue in question is one for which legal aid provides coverage. For example, there is no formal coverage for poverty law or immigration and refugee law issues in Saskatchewan, so applicants with legal issues in these areas would not be considered eligible for legal aid.
With respect to evaluating the professional merit of an applicant's case, some or all of the following factors may be considered:
- Whether it is a case that a reasonable person of modest means would commence or defend;
- Whether the legal costs are reasonable compared to relief sought;
- The seriousness of the legal or economic outcomes;
- The potential benefits to the client;
- Whether there is a possible defense to the charge;
- Whether there is a reasonable likelihood of success;
- Whether the client has been co-operative (keeping appointments, keeping in touch with the legal aid office after a move, etc.); and
- Whether the client has accepted reasonable professional advice from his or her assigned lawyer.
Evaluation of professional merit continues throughout a case. In other words, consideration is given to some or all of the factors listed above as long as the client is receiving representation through legal aid. Staff lawyers are the only persons responsible for making decisions about professional merit. Legal aid applicants who initially meet with an eligibility officer may be accepted on the basis of financial and range of service criteria, with merit to be addressed when the client subsequently meets with a lawyer.
COVERAGE OF IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE LAW ISSUES
Saskatchewan does not provide any formal legal aid coverage for immigration and refugee law matters. In addition, a legal aid representative noted that there is no coverage available on an ad hoc or discretionary basis through the legal aid system. If a client who is eligible for legal aid services in criminal law will be facing deportation if convicted of an offence, the lawyer will investigate the options and risks for the accused as part of the representation of the client in order that a client has accurate information on which to base decisions on dealing with charges. Since legal aid in Saskatchewan does cover criminal law, there are some requests for assistance in these circumstances. Since this kind of coverage is not technically a part of the services provided by legal aid, no data is collected on such cases.
According to the LAC respondent, there is not a great demand for legal aid coverage for immigration and refugee law matters in Saskatchewan, given that the province is not a point of first entry into Canada. Even if legal aid coverage were extended into the immigration and refugee law area, it is unlikely that there would be a great number of cases annually.
At the time of the interview, the LAC representative did not know of any community organizations involved in providing services to the refugee and immigrant community, whether of a legal or settlement nature. Accordingly, no suggestions were forthcoming about the strengths or weaknesses of the current "system" for delivering services to refugees and immigrants - essentially, the respondent did not consider there to be any "system." However, it was acknowledged that there likely are some organizations in Saskatchewan that do provide assistance in immigration and refugee matters.
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