A Qualitative Look at Serious Legal Problems Faced by Immigrants in Greater Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia
This study was designed to gather information from immigrant communities in Greater Victoria and the Vancouver area to gain deeper insight into the immigrant experience when navigating through serious legal problems. Twenty in-depth interviews with newcomers and established immigrants (carried out between July and November 2020) showed that immigrants often feel unheard. Listening to their voices and understanding their legal needs was the focus of this report.
Many immigrants expressed that their unfamiliarity with Canadian laws and rights together with the uncertainty that comes with the first years of living in a new country affected their readiness to respond to serious legal problems.
- In many cases, discrimination was associated with the legal problems that immigrants experienced, but they often did not consider it as worth challenging.
- The more complicated the legal issues that someone faced, the more serious the consequences they experienced. Experiencing multiple serious legal problems, such as family and child custody issues especially, put immigrant women of colour at risk for housing and food insecurity in addition to experiencing health and social consequences.
- In this study, immigrants with a refugee background and immigrants that were family sponsored experienced more serious legal issues than economic immigrants.
- Participants appreciated the resources that Canada has to offer in terms of providing legal assistance, but they wished that more people would be eligible, more hours would be available, and the process would be faster.
- Education levels were not a good predictor of being able to navigate legal issues in Canada. Most immigrants interviewed in this study had university educations but struggled to understand the information they found or did not know where to go for help. What helped was better access to information; clear explanations of overly technical language on government websites; the availability of experts, including, but not limited to, legal, human rights, immigration, and human resources professionals (and being able to speak to them); and being familiar with community resources.
- The legal problems that newcomers experienced during the first five years in Canada were more often related to finding and maintaining housing and employment.
While many legal problems that were arbitrated in court were resolved, the effects of facing legal struggles were long-term and many felt powerless throughout the process. At the same time immigrants also showed themselves to be strong and determined to make things better for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.
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