LAO Newsroom

Responses to recent media enquiries

LAO Newsroom

Response to enquiry on legal aid changes on immigration/refugee cases

Friday, April 5, 2013

LAO provided the following response to an enquiry from the Toronto Star regarding legal aid changes for immigration and refugee cases.

1. When will the changes come into effect?


Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) continues to fund services for this client group. As with all areas of law, LAO is continually assessing delivery options, and has been consulting extensively with stakeholders. There are opportunities for improvement to better serve claimants and provide more value for taxpayers, thereby ensuring sustainability of refugee services.

After extensive consultations with the Refugee Lawyers’ Association, lawyers, paralegals, consultants, community organizations and other concerned individuals across Ontario, LAO now provides refugee services according to its interim measures announced on Jan. 25, 2013 and its expansion of these interim measures announced on Feb. 5, 2013.

LAO is considering the feedback we have received from our consultations, and will announce changes to refugee services in due course. Consultations will be ongoing and a Refugee Law Services Operations Review Committee will be created consisting of multiple stakeholders (lawyers, paralegals, community agencies, clinics, staff) to advise LAO on the implementation of changes.

2. Can you confirm if LAO plans to cut the number of legal aid certificates issued to immigration/refugee-related cases by 40 per cent?

As a result of the federal legislation which took effect on Dec. 15, 2012, the number of refugee certificate applications that LAO has received has decreased by 60 per cent.

This table provides exact numbers:

LAO refugee applications








- 53%




- 61%




- 65%

LAO’s approval rate for refugee certificates has been 94 to 98 per cent since April 2011, and 94% of refugee applications taken since December 15, 2012 have resulted in the issuance of a certificate.

New federal refugee legislation has changed the landscape. It cuts time for preparing the initial paperwork of refugee claimants (from 28 days to 15 days), streams refugees by country of origin for the first time, sets short timelines for claims to be heard (within 30-60 days, depending on country of origin), and creates a new federal agency, the Refugee Appeal Division, to hear appeals.

LAO is responding to this new legislation by continuing to meet its ongoing commitment to client services. Certificates are just one of many supports that LAO provides to these clients. A mixed, diversified model which includes LAO staff services, clinics and licensed paralegals has benefitted claimants and tax payers.

LAO has already implemented significant improvements to ensure clients continue to access the refugee law services they require:

  • LAO’s toll-free telephone service staff, for instance, provides immediate help to callers in over 200 languages. We offer services through our toll-free line to meet the needs of eligible refugee clients as well as individuals who might not be able to afford a private lawyer but do not fit the criteria for a legal aid certificate.
  • Between October and December 2012, our toll-free telephone service staff answered 371 calls related to refugee and immigration matters – 25 per cent more than the number of such calls they had received three months prior. Two hundred and twenty-one of these calls came from people who had arrived from 61 different countries, and were referred to other professionals within LAO for further assistance.
  • LAO added 54 pages of updates on our refugee service delivery initiatives to our LAO website. Refugee claimants can access an overview of legal expectations and requirements, help with completing a Basis of Claim form, an explanation of the refugee claim timelines.
  • In December 2012, LAO added a detailed new refugee law section to, our legal information website for the general public. These new pages have drawn, to date, 4,642 views, 433 from outside Canada.
  • LAO has updated the application process of our certificate program to include a country list. This new service provides our front line staff with the information they need to provide eligible clients who have the necessary supporting documentation with an immediate certificate for preparation of a Basis of Claim form – which, in turn, helps lawyers accommodate the new shortened refugee claim timelines and expedite decision-making on applications for legal aid certificates for clients.
  • Refugee claimants in Ottawa can visit LAO’s Ottawa Integrated Legal Services office, staffed with professionals knowledgeable in summary legal advice for immigration and refugee matters.
  • Refugee claimants in the GTA can receive support services from a number of summary advice legal clinics.

3. Any general reaction on refugee lawyers’ campaign ( against the proposed cuts?

As indicated above, LAO is not cutting services to this client group.

  • In response to the allegation that LAO is imposing “current and proposed cuts…”

    As indicated above, it is the new federal refugee legislation that has changed the refugee determination system. With timelines cut for preparing the initial paperwork of refugee claimants (from 28 days to 15 days), and for claims to be heard (within 30-60 days, depending on country of origin), everyone within the legal service sector needs to rethink how to best serve refugee claimants. In line with this:

    • LAO is exploring partnerships with community legal clinics – the heart of the system for many new Ontarians.
    • LAO has started considering the use of licensed paralegals to augment the role of the private bar in providing services. The same regulatory body that oversees lawyers – the Law Society of Upper Canada – oversees paralegals, and hiring paralegals, where appropriate, is fiscally responsible.

    As a result of the new legislation, LAO has expanded services: LAO has launched a Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) pilot (at a cost of $500,000). This pilot allows eligible clients whose claims at the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) have been denied to apply for a legal aid certificate and initiate an appeal. Eligible clients can now receive RAD services through LAO’s Refugee Law Office, the Ottawa Integrated Legal Services office and private lawyers.

  • In response to the allegation that “Legal Aid Ontario has already restricted access to a lawyer for refused refugee claimants who need to take their cases to the Federal Court…”

    LAO unbundled its judicial review services to focus its limited resources on providing services for clients with reasonable likelihood of a successful outcome. This is ensuring that LAO provides the right level of coverage at the right time, without depriving clients of funding where cases are found to have merit.

    Previously, LAO issued about 155 judicial review opinion certificates every month. Approximately 10 to 12 per cent of these resulted in a successful outcome – the right of a refugee to have the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hear his or her case again.

  • In response to the statements that Ontario should not risk having this marginalized group being denied access to justice….and that refugee legal services represent only a small fraction of Legal Aid Ontario’s total budget…

    LAO is accountable for the entire legal aid system in Ontario, and is obligated, under the Legal Aid Services Act, 1998 (LASA), to “establish policies and priorities for the provision of legal aid services based on its financial resources.” In practice, this means that LAO makes the key decisions on how to operate within its means. One of these decisions is LAO’s ongoing commitment to accommodate increasing client demand without sacrificing client services. LAO’s modernization initiative will continue helping LAO meet our mandate to provide high-quality legal aid services to all of our low-income clients – including refugees seeking asylum and those requiring immigration law services – in an innovative and cost-effective manner. The organization is now well on its way to providing all its clients – when appropriate – with more avenues of support tailored to their specific needs and new, less costly service channel alternatives.

  • In response to the allegation that “Legal Aid Ontario is considering changes that would include sending many refugee claimants to already overburdened community legal clinics”

    A few linguistic and ethnic-based clinics have expressed interest in providing refugee law services for their clients. These clinics, which are already central points in their communities, help break down linguistic and cultural barriers, and can be more efficient and effective in handling volumes of claims from specific countries.

Kristian Justesen
Director, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Group
Phone: 416-979-2352 ext. 4782
Email: or