A Synthesis of the Immigration and Refugee Legal Aid Research

3. Availability of Service

3. Availability of Service

This section describes the level of refugee legal aid service provision across Canada and the way in which these services are provided. The section is divided into three sub-sections. The first discusses service provision across Canada; the second service provision in provinces with a high number of refugee claimants; and, the third service provision in provinces with a low number of refugee claimants.

Table 3.1

3.1 Service Provision Across Canada

Legal aid plans are independent organizations that are created by the province or territory, run by a board of directors, and jointly funded by the provincial or territorial and federal governments. The federal government contributes toward the provision of criminal legal aid services through the legal aid program and to civil legal aid services through the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). Additional criminal legal aid contributions are made to offset the costs six provinces incur in providing immigration and refugee legal aid services.

The level of immigration and refugee legal aid services varies considerably across Canada. Only six provinces cover immigration and refugee legal aid: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. All six provinces provide full legal aid representation at Convention Refugee Determination Division (CRDD) hearings, detention hearings, and appeals to the Federal Court of Canada or the Supreme Court of Canada. In general, legal aid is most likely to cover services at stages where the complexity of the issue and the risk to "security of the person", and therefore the need for representation, is highest. Table 3.1 outlines the services provided in each of the six provinces.

Some legal aid services are also provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These organizations are active across the country and assist immigrants and refugees with their legal problems by providing public legal education and information (PLEI), non-legal advice, interpretation, and limited representation. In most cases, the services offered by NGOs are not offered by local legal aid plans. In provinces where there is no refugee legal aid service, NGOs attempt to meet the legal and non-legal needs of refugees. However, these services are only sporadically provided to refugees, either because the mandate of these organizations does not technically include asylum refugees or because of a lack of funds.

Immigration and refugee law services are also provided by private lawyers and by immigration consultants.

3.2 Service Provision in "High Volume" Provinces

Ontario, Quebec, and, to a lesser extent, British Columbia attract the majority of refugee claimants. The legal aid plans in these provinces provide the broadest range of services in the immigration and refugee area[8]. These provinces are also the main providers of immigration and refugee PLEI, including pamphlets and information sessions for community organizations. However, only British Columbia and Ontario have formal mechanisms in place to offer general advice and assistance in immigration and refugee law, and most of the services they provide are delivered on an as-needed or very limited basis.

The provinces with high volumes of refugee claimants also tend to have the highest number of practicing immigration consultants and private lawyers providing immigration and refugee services[9]. The immigration consultants tend to provide representation in only a small number of refugee claims, usually in parts of the process where legal representation is not ordinarily used or that are largely administrative.

3.3 Service Provision in "Low Volume" Provinces

The remaining provinces receive few of Canada's refugee claimants. The "low volume" provinces in Eastern Canada, however, are different from those in Western Canada because they receive different types of refugee claimants and they have, historically, provided services in different ways.

Of the three "low volume" provinces in Western Canada, Alberta and Manitoba provide legal aid services to refugees whereas Saskatchewan does not. In Alberta and Manitoba legal aid plans provide legal services to refugee claimants through a combination of supervised paralegals and private bar lawyers working on certificates.

The Atlantic Provinces receive few refugee claimants and, in the region, only Newfoundland offers any immigration and refugee legal aid services. Services, including representation at refugee determination hearings, immigration hearings and appeals, in the remaining three Atlantic Provinces are provided by community organizations, volunteers, and lawyers who provide services without charge.

The low number of refugee claimants in Atlantic Canada makes it difficult for legal aid plans to set aside funds for immigration and refugee legal aid when there are other areas with much higher demand for service. When demand is low, the required expertise is also harder to develop and maintain. Therefore, it may be difficult to develop a pool of people with expertise in representing refugees and to coordinate scarce associated services, such as translation and interpretation.

Most paralegals and respondents from NGOs felt that refugee claimants have problems accessing legal representation in Atlantic Canada. Respondents from the CIC and the IRB felt that the problem is limited to those provinces where immigration and refugee legal aid is not funded under the legal aid plan.

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