A Synthesis of the Immigration and Refugee Legal Aid Research

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose of the Document

This document presents a synthesis of the results of the research into immigration and refugee legal aid services conducted as part of the joint Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Legal Aid Initiative, carried out between February 2001 and March 2003. The research carried out as part of the joint initiative was designed to:

  • Provide empirical information about the nature and extent of unmet need for criminal legal aid;
  • Examine cost drivers affecting legal aid services; and,
  • Examine selected issues in civil legal aid, and in particular immigration and refugee legal aid.

The research was intended to identify the issues that should be considered in developing policy options as part of the joint federal, provincial and territorial renewal strategy for legal aid, 2003 to 2006.

1.2 Underlying Research

The research into immigration and refugee legal aid was carried out between September 2001 and August 2002. There were three studies, each with different objectives:

  • Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada [4] - provided a description of the immigration and refugee legal aid services available in each of the Canadian provinces. The purpose of this study was to look at differences in the type of legal aid services offered and the ways in which those services are delivered so as to lay the groundwork for a national strategy that would reflect the unique situation of each province.
  • A Study of Representation for Refugee Claimants and Immigrants [5] - looked at the needs of refugee claimants for representation at different stages in the immigration and refugee process. The purpose of this study was to clarify which legal aid services are most demanded or required by immigrants and refugees, and how those services could best be provided.
  • Immigration and Refugee Legal Aid Cost Drivers [6] - examined the factors that affect the cost of providing immigration and refugee legal aid services. The purpose of this study was to better understand what issues lead to higher costs for providing legal aid services and how service provision can be made more cost effective.

Several issues emerged that have an impact on the results presented in this document:

  • Shifts in service provision - Several major shifts took place in the field of immigration and refugee legal services:
    • New immigration legislation, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), was enacted on June 28, 2002 IRPA. [7]
    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has developed changes to its administrative and operational policies to increase processing effectiveness, better manage access and protect the integrity of the immigration and refugee systems.
    • The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) began implementing policy changes designed to increase case processing and reduce processing times.
    • The Province of British Columbia significantly reduced the budget of the Legal Services Society, the body that provides legal aid services in that province.
  • Focus on refugee legal aid - Few legal aid services are provided to immigrants. Therefore, all three of the studies focused primarily on asylum refugees.
  • Defining representation - "Representation" can be defined in a number of different ways. Members of the legal community tend to define representation as the services of a lawyer. However, in the area of immigration and refugee law (including in the text of the IRPA), a broader definition is used which includes "other counsel" such as a settlement worker, family member, paralegal, immigration consultant, social worker, or even religious advisor, along with lawyers. This is the definition of representation used in this document.
  • Measuring the need for representation - During the course of the research, it became apparent that respondents' assessment of the need for representation by a lawyer at a particular point in the immigration and refugee determination process was tied to the complexity of the legal issues involved, the extent to which a claimant's "security of the person" (e.g. life and liberty) is at stake, and the impact that such representation would have on the fairness of the process.

1.3 Format of Document

The synthesis document reflects the three underlying research studies. Each study component is discussed in a separate section. The format of the document is as follows:

  • Section 1.0 - Introduction - Discusses the purpose of the document, the underlying research, and the format of the document.
  • Section 2.0 - Background Information - Briefly discusses the stages of the immigration and refugee determination process and the IRPA.
  • Section 3.0 - Availability of Service - Describes the current level of service in immigration and refugee legal aid across Canada.
  • Section 4.0 - Need for Representation - Assesses the need for legal aid services during each stage of the immigration and refugee determination process and identifies options for providing those services.
  • Section 5.0 - Cost Drivers - Identifies the key factors contributing to the cost of immigration and refugee legal aid service provision and their effects.
  • Section 6.0 - Looking Forward - Discusses alternatives for providing immigration and refugee legal aid services that may improve the quality of service or increase cost-effectiveness.
  • Section 7.0 - Conclusions - Summarizes the key points of the research into immigration and refugee legal aid services.
  • Appendix A contains a brief description of the three research papers.
  • Appendix B contains a glossary of the terms used in this report.

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