The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Something’s gotta give when resources don’t grow with workload

October 18 2017 18 October 2017


Canada has opened its doors and its arms and its borders to refugees.

Now it needs to open its wallet.

British Columbia has gone from receiving 725 refugee claims in 2016 to 110 a month in 2016. In Ontario, if the current rate of refugee claimants continues, there could be nearly 5200 by the end of the year, almost double the number in 2015. Across the country, the Immigration and Refugee Board predicts 40,000 new claims by the end of the year.

And yet, the CBA Immigration Law Section notes in a letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, there is an “alarming trend of budget cuts, lack of funding and service suspension for immigration and refugee legal aid service in Canada.”

While the federal government has been contributing up to $12 million in temporary annual funding to six provinces (Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador) for immigration and refugee legal aid services, the Section notes that legal aid is not universally available for refugee proceedings.

“With the significant increase in demand for refugee legal aid services, and without additional funding to meet the increased demand, the legal aid societies in Ontario and British Columbia intended to take immediate steps to ensure they operated within their means by suspending legal aid services for immigration and refugee clients. While these decisions have been suspended for the time being, we are deeply concerned by the implications of this alarming trend, which stands to become a national problem.”

The Section notes that access to justice is a fundamental component of the rule of law, and is a fundamental human rights issue for all members of society.

“With respect to refugees with precarious status, the consequences of immigration actions and government decisions can be dire. A refugee who cannot rely on prompt and effective legal representation is at risk for arbitrary deportation to a terrifying future filled with torture or even death. Moreover, refugees comprise a truly marginalized group, and the challenges they face are endless.”

The current crisis is a shared responsibility between federal and provincial governments and legal aid societies, and dealing it will take a collaborative approach by all stakeholders. The situation calls for additional funding – contributions for immigration and refugee legal aid services have steadily decreased since 2002, the submission notes.

The government could save money and time by streamlining the current system, including eliminating restrictive timelines for refugee hearings, which have contributed wasteful hearing postponements, the Section says. As well, allowing all refugee claimants access to an open work permit could reduce the burden on both the provincial legal aid and welfare systems, the submission says.

“The CBA Section commends the steps our federal government has taken in recognition of the world-wide refugee crisis and in admitting more refugees in 2016 than in any other recent year,” the submission says. “However, the government must also ensure that sufficient resources are in place to support refugee claimants in Canada, including access to representation by an immigration and refugee lawyer through legal aid.”

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