Representation for Immigrants and Refugee Claimants

7. Sources of information[44]

7.1 Information sources for refugee claimants

Respondents generally agreed that the primary sources for whatever information refugee claimants have, when they first become involved in Canadian legal proceedings, are compatriots in their countries of origin and friends and acquaintances in Canada. Of the 21 claimants interviewed, 14 indicated that they had learned of the possibility of making a refugee claim in Canada from these sources. Three relied on information from agents who had assisted them in getting to Canada, and two had personal knowledge as a result of prior experience[45]. Two did not provide any indication of sources of information prior to when they made their refugee claim.

Of the 34 service providers who expressed any opinion regarding the sources from which refugee claimants get information, 22 mentioned family and friends, 21 mentioned the community and 16 mentioned smugglers. Three mentioned other claimants as a probable information source, and three suggested that some claimants rely on their own research. A summary breakdown of responses on presumed sources of information is provided in Table 18. It should be noted that many of the respondents mentioned more than one information source.

Table 18: Pre-claim Information Sources

These questions were originally intended to elicit information based on respondents' direct knowledge. Therefore, respondents from CIC and the IRB were not expressly questioned on the matter of sources of information on which refugee claimants rely. But the immigration officers who suggested that claimants are well informed when they arrive in Canada pointed to smugglers and to family and friends already living in Canada as the most likely information sources.

A recurring theme among service providers who commented on this issue was that much of the information claimants have before coming to Canada is incorrect, and sometimes dangerously so. They noted, in particular, that information provided by smugglers is often designed more to benefit smugglers, or to protect them from being apprehended by immigration authorities, than it is to help the claimants.

Respondents generally agreed that once immigrants and refugee claimants become involved in legal proceedings, they acquire substantial additional information from the service providers who assist them after their arrival in Canada. Service providers and claimants noted that immigration officers provide basic information about the process at the admissibility and eligibility interview. Respondents in Montreal also spoke favourably about an arrangement that the IRB has in that city (but nowhere else), under which claimants are required to attend an interview with an IRB staff member seven days after their claim is referred to the Board. This interview is used to provide claimants with accurate information about the process, including information about legal aid and a list of available counsel, and to obtain basic information about the claim before the claimants are misled into providing a fabricated story. A key object of this interview is to quickly correct misinformation claimants may be hearing in the community.

Ten of the 21 claimants interviewed referred to information that they had received from CIC. This information included basic explanations about the process and the official kit of forms that all claimants receive when their claim is referred to the IRB. Three of the 21 claimants referred to information they received from the IRB, but they did not indicate what use they made of that information. One claimant mentioned information on country conditions available at the IRB Documentation Centre, but noted that he only became aware of that information after his claim was accepted. He suggested that it would be helpful if claimants were made aware of that information early in the process. However, it must be noted that this individual had multiple post-graduate university degrees and is not at all representative of the refugee claimant population at large.

7.2 Information sources with regard to other processes

Before individuals involved with detention reviews contact a service provider, their principal information sources are immigration officers and adjudicators, staff at the detention centre, and other detainees. These sources usually provide only limited general information about the process. They frequently advise detainees to retain counsel, and they sometimes provide names of people the detainees can contact for help. Detainees rely almost exclusively on NGO caseworkers and lawyers or other counsel for more specific information about the process and about their individual case.

Persons involved in immigration inquiries usually rely on friends and acquaintances in the community to explain the process to them. Information from these sources was considered by respondents to be generally unreliable. Otherwise, the persons concerned rely heavily on service providers to explain the inquiry process to them and to guide them through it. Comments received from respondents other than those from CIC and the IRB suggest that persons who are the subject of immigration inquiries have problems understanding information about inquiries provided by immigration and IRB adjudicators. The complete lack of understanding about the inquiry process demonstrated by all of the inland refugee claimant respondents supports this assessment.

Most individuals pursuing immigration appeals have had some form of support in relation to other immigration and refugee proceedings in which they have been previously involved. They tend to return to these sources for information and assistance in relation to their appeals. The IAD provides information about the appeal process on the IRB Web site, but no respondent identified this as a significant information source for prospective appellants.

Failed refugee claimants who have had representation for the initial refugee determination hearing before the RPD (formerly the Convention Refugee Determination Division - CRDD) are generally informed by their counsel about the available post-determination options. However, respondents who commented on this issue indicated that unrepresented claimants are generally poorly informed about their options in the event that their refugee claim is rejected. The service provider respondents who addressed this issue indicated that lack of information about post-determination options creates problems for many unrepresented claimants. For example, they suggested that unrepresented claimants often miss the deadline for filing an application for leave for judicial review because of lack of information.