Public proceeding of the Board
Immigration and refugee law advisory committee: Meeting minutes for April 16, 2012
John McCamus, Michael Bossin, Raoul Boulakia, Howard Eisenberg, Gerri MacDonald, Sean Rehaag, James McNee
Legal Aid Ontario
Rod Strain, Maureen Murphy, Heather Morgan
2. Welcome and Introductions
The Chair opened the meeting.
3. Minutes, January 31, 2012
- The Chair noted that two sets of minutes were included in the package of materials that members had received. The minutes of the fall meeting on November 14, 2011 had been approved at the consultation meeting on January 31, 2012, but were included in the package for reference.
- The minutes of the January 31, 2012 meeting were approved.
4. LAO Business Planning Slide Deck
- The Chair introduced the business planning overview that had been circulated to the committee. LAO is currently working on its 2013-2014 plan which will come to the Board for approval by early fall.
- A brief review of environmental issues which are expected to have an impact on LAO was provided. They include the new legislation in the areas of refugee law and criminal law.
- The Provincial Budget contains no across-the-board cuts, but there is a plan to reduce spending and LAO will not be immune. The Ministry of the Attorney General is targeting savings over the next three years, but LAO expects no impact in the current year. There was no bad news in LAO’s recent meeting with the Minister.
- LAO continues to make progress on debt reduction. The operating deficit for 2011-2012 is in the $1 million range, which is a great improvement over previous years. However there is still a $20-million operating deficit to deal with. Another issue is the long-term shortfall in committed funding for the last three years of tariff increases (2014-2015 through 2017-2018) that were committed to in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Ministry, the Criminal Lawyers Association and LAO.
- LAO is working on addressing recommendations in the Auditor General’s report, which was generally positive about LAO. Many of the issues identified in the report are issues that LAO was already working to address. For instance, one of the recommendations in the report is about studying the impact of the current thresholds for financial eligibility for legal aid. LAO has formed a study group and will be producing a factual report documenting the effect of the lack of improvement to the eligibility standard.
- LAO’s initiatives and priorities, as set out in the slide deck, were briefly outlined. They support LAO’s modernization strategy in the following areas: value for clients; value for taxpayers; support for service providers; and support for LAO’s institutions (strengthening capabilities). Initiatives include the LAO Lawyer Workforce Strategy (LWS), which is intended to assist LAO with recruitment and retention of lawyers, and a project to study LAO’s administration of discretion expenditures, which can vary considerably from region to region and lawyer to lawyer.
- There was a question about whether LAO plans to retain many of the articling students that are being hired. The Chair explained that the LWS is built on retaining as many students as possible, and showing them that they can build a career at LAO.
5. Business Planning Discussion – Immigration and Refugee Law
- The LAO Director, Policy, introduced confidential information relating to LAO’s planning in the refugee law area. The discussion of this confidential information was redacted from the minutes.
- Members were asked to continue to maintain the confidentiality of the meeting materials pending further notice.
- It was noted by a member that an announcement had just been made about the closure of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office in Ottawa in 2013. Members had heard that a number of smaller offices will be closing, and that seven regions will be consolidated into five. Members indicated that, when the Ottawa office closes, lawyers and claimants will remain in Ottawa, even if the hearings are held in Montreal. Counsel will most likely drive to Montreal for hearings. For LAO, the move to holding hearings in Montreal will raise issues related to the reciprocity agreement between provinces and the federal/provincial/territorial funding agreement, which apportions federal funding for immigration matters between provinces. Members felt that if Ontario is paying lawyers in Ottawa to assist Ottawa clients, then Ontario should get that share of the federal money regardless of what province the hearing is to be held in.
- It was reported by members that Bill C-31 committee hearings are scheduled, apparently, between April 30 and May 8. These will be truncated hearings.
- Committee members said they will advise LAO is they hear anything from the IRB about pre-publication of the Regulations.
- LAO’s consultations about the new system will likely take place over the summer.
- Members asked about the status of some ideas that had been raised previously by the committee. LAO is still thinking about the idea of contracting with lawyers for cases, but no proposal for this has come forward to the Board. A member suggested that this would be a good idea for a pilot project, as opposed to a wholesale change. LAO is following up on the committee’s idea for seeking cost recovery from clients who subsequently find employment. More generally, although this is still in the early stages, LAO is thinking about the potential for increasing revenue from client contributions as a means of supporting improvements to financial eligibility.
6. Other Business