An Analysis of Immigration and Refugee Law Services in Canada


This report provides a descriptive profile of the legal services available to refugees and immigrants in each of the Canadian provinces. Included in this profile are the services offered through legal aid (Part One) and the services provided by a variety of community organizations serving refugees and immigrants (Part Two). The section on legal aid considers the availability of legal advice and public legal education materials in addition to the provision of formal legal representation. The section on community organizations also focusses on the legal services offered by these groups, although some information on the settlement services available to new arrivals in Canada is also provided. Part Three of the report provides a summary of the services offered by both legal aid and community organizations in all jurisdictions, highlighting areas of convergence and divergence.


Legal aid plans

The information on provincial legal aid plans presented in Part One was collected through a review of annual reports and other relevant literature, a series of interviews with key provincial informants, and the distribution and collection of data charts.

The Web sites of the legal aid plans were the primary source for the literature review. Many of the larger provinces post annual reports, overviews of statistical information, and planning documents on their Web sites, making them a particularly valuable resource (notably those of B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec). Less information was available online for the smaller provinces, and legal aid plan representatives in some of these jurisdictions reported that there is no current annual report available for distribution. Web site materials were, accordingly, supplemented with literature accessed through law libraries and the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Interviews with legal aid plan representatives focussed both on assembling a more precise description of the kinds of services provided by legal aid in the immigration and refugee law area than is available in annual reports, and on collecting the impressions of legal aid representatives about the adequacy of the current system for delivering these services. Accordingly, respondents were not only asked about the nature of staffing and service provision, but also about the strengths and weaknesses of available services and key gaps in the system currently in place.

The data collection process with legal aid representatives met with only partial success. Data collection charts were prepared in advance of the interviews in the expectation that clearly laying out the categories to be filled in by legal aid respondents would facilitate the data collection process. However, in no case did respondents complete the charts as distributed. They instead tended to compile data into new charts that accorded more closely with the way in which case information is tracked in their province. In combination with the already significant differences in the way in which legal aid is delivered in each province, this lack of consistent reporting complicates efforts to compare provincial data.

The second key problem area in terms of accessing provincial legal aid data was the difficulty initially connecting with, and subsequently collecting data from, legal aid respondents. All respondents commented on the fact that compiling the amount of data initially requested for this project would require a significant investment of time. When combined with the daily workload of staff, such requests are accordingly difficult to accommodate, particularly in a short time. In addition, respondents commented on the fact that they have received multiple requests for data from a variety of research projects currently under way, with several participants expressing frustration on the apparent lack of co-ordination among these initiatives. As a result of these difficulties, the data collection was sporadic in terms of when information was actually received and the quantity of information that legal aid respondents were willing or able to provide. Resulting inconsistencies in the type and quantity of data provided further undermines the comparability of provincial data.

Community organizations serving refugees and immigrants

The information on community organizations presented in Part Two was collected through key informant interviews and the distribution of data collection charts. Community organization contacts were found through several channels. Legal aid representatives were asked about other organizations serving refugees and immigrants in their province, and these organizations were contacted and interviewed where possible. If further community organization contacts were still needed in the province, after the contacts suggested by legal aid had been exhausted, organizations' respondents were asked for more suggestions of groups to call or a Web search for additional organizations was performed. In several provinces - particularly those that do not offer any legal aid coverage for immigration or refugee law matters - legal aid respondents were unable to suggest any community organizations to contact at the time of the interviews. Accordingly, the additional methods described above were regularly used.

As with legal aid data collection, a series of charts was prepared in advance to try to facilitate this process. While community organizations typically did complete the charts as delivered, several expressed frustration or confusion about how to classify their clients and/or services into the categories provided. This seemed to be due in large part to confusion over the kinds of cases that belong in each immigration and refugee law category (for example, what kinds of issues are included in category "Immigration Appeals Division"). Most of the community organizations interviewed do not rely on lawyers or other staff with legal training to provide assistance in immigration and refugee law cases, so this confusion may result from a lack of information on the specific sections of the legislation that give rise to particular claims. However, a second reason for confusion on the part of community organization representatives may be that these groups often do not structure their programming around the services needed to address separate and distinct legal issues. Community organizations are more likely to see immigration and refugee issues as a continuum through which clients move, and throughout which staff provide support and assistance.

Since the focus of this project is on available legal resources in the immigration and refugee law area, the interview and data collection process for community organizations focussed on those providing some kind of legal assistance (public legal education, advice, representation as legal counsel, or representation as non-legal counsel). However, in most provinces, some of the suggested contact groups were either primarily or entirely settlement service organizations: groups offering services designed to facilitate the transition of new arrivals into Canada from a broader social, economic, employment, and family perspective. Accordingly, information on available settlement services has also been provided where applicable.

The information and data collected from community organizations should not be viewed as a comprehensive overview of the range or quantity of services being offered to refugees and immigrants at the community level. On one hand, not all of the agencies serving refugees and immigrants in each province were contacted. The intention of this project was not to complete an exhaustive set of interviews, but rather to contact a sample of organizations involved in providing services to refugees and immigrants. On the other hand, the organizations that were contacted tended to be those that are more formally established. In most cases, any services offered by more informal groups or networks - including those organized by cultural communities, churches or individuals - have not been captured. Accordingly, while certain trends may emerge in terms of available services, problem areas or success stories, it should not be assumed that these trends reflect the experience of all community organizations involved in the delivery of assistance to refugees and immigrants.

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