Public proceeding of the Board
Immigration and refugee law advisory committee: Meeting minutes for April 4, 2008
John McCamus, Raoul Boulakia, Rod McDowell, Francisco Rico, John Rokakis, Ezat Mossallanejad, Gerri MacDonald, Geraldine Sadoway, Barbara Jackman, Doug Lehrer, Jennifer Gullen
Legal Aid Ontario
Vicki Moretti, Carole Dahan, Angus Grant, Rod Strain, Sudabeh Mashkuri, Heather Morgan
2. Welcome and Introductions
The Chair opened the meeting.
3. Minutes, October 11, 2007
The minutes were approved.
4. Safe Third Country Agreement
- The STCA appeal will be heard May 21, 2008. If the FCA rules that the STCA is invalid, there will likely be a further stay until the matter can be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. The earliest that the border would open up would be Spring 2009. The outcome of the case will not affect LAO’s coverage policies.
- Members felt that LAO needs to develop a contingency plan so that area offices in Welland, St. Catharines and Toronto will be ready to handle increased volume if the STCA is quashed. Meeting the 28-day PIF deadline will be a problem if numbers increase dramatically. There are fewer lawyers practising immigration law now than before the STCA was implemented.
- One option to meet PIF deadlines would be to do away with the opinion letter requirement, but this would require a regulation change. A short-term solution could be to allow a discretionary increase in such cases to allow for completion of PIFs.
4.1 Follow up
- LAO will develop options to address the potential quashing of the STCA and will report back to the committee in the fall.
5. LAO Financial Eligibility Review
- Members provided the following advice:
- New rules need to be simple, easily understood.
- New rules need to be communicated, made public.
- The working poor are unable to get legal aid. Refugee claimants believe (and they are not wrong) that if they find employment they will not be eligible for legal aid to make a refugee claim. They are penalized for working. If they don’t get a work permit and start working, however, it will be harder for them to get a permit later, if their refugee claim is refused.
- Consider the issue of discretion - make the rules more mandatory.
- Make a connection between the applicant’s income and the nature and likely expense of the case. A client who might be able to afford a half-day case is not going to be able to afford a case that drags on for months. There is actually a need for two sets of guidelines, depending on whether a client has a high-cost case.
- Members agreed that, if LAO comes in future to consider the guideline levels, the LICO cut-offs would be a good place to start. The LICOs are adjusted for family size and geographic location, which is a positive thing.
- NGOs that work with refugees could also be consulted as part of this review.
The review is still at a preliminary stage. If members have further input, they should contact LAO Policy Counsel assisting the advisory committees.
6. Action Items and Updates
6.1 Follow up:
- LAO was asked to reconsider putting a link on its website to direct refugees to a website that can provide them with information about making a claim in Canada. A link could be provided to the CCR or another NGO.
- LAO was asked to look at the travel tariff, and whether there are any possibilities for improving it, in light of the increasing cost of gas.
7. Service for French-speaking refugees - discussion
- A member reported that refugee clients whose documents are in French are having their hearings delayed because the Board will not pay for the documents to be translated and has an insufficient number of members who speak French. If LAO would pay for translation it would help to reduce delays.
- A test case could be brought to force the government to translate documents.
- There are few French-speaking refugee lawyers and they are overwhelmed. They need to be provided with resources, such as background briefs on country conditions, to ease their workload. Perhaps information about LAO’s resources could be posted on the RLA’s website.
8. Situation of Spanish-speaking refugees - discussion
- A member reported that the situation for Spanish-speaking refugee claimants is becoming more serious as their numbers increase. The Centre for Spanish Speaking People is no longer able to provide clients who do not receive legal aid certificates with summary advice and assistance in preparing their PIFs. This is a gap in service that is creating pressure for NGOs.
- It would be helpful for refugee-serving organizations to have more information on LAO’s criteria for accepting a client for a certificate. By the time an opinion letter is completed and the applicant is refused for legal aid, the 28-day deadline may be nearly up and the PIF must be completed on short notice.
- It was noted that there are other situations that are of concern to the community that serves Spanish-speaking refugees. These include the situation of live-in caregivers who do not qualify for legal aid, and the problem of lawyers who take advantage of refugees. The LAO Vice President, Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Region, noted that LAO should always be sent a copy of any complaint about a lawyer that is made to the Law Society.
9. LAO Advisory Committee consultation
There was insufficient time to complete this discussion. Members asked if a special meeting could be scheduled for a full discussion on the advisory committee consultation document. Members were advised that they would be contacted.
10. Next Meeting
A tentative date of Tuesday October 7 2008 at 4:00 p.m. was chosen for the fall meeting, to be confirmed.