A Synthesis of the Immigration and Refugee Legal Aid Research

6. Looking Forward

6. Looking Forward

This section discusses potential innovations for providing immigration and refugee legal services that may improve the quality of service [18] or increase cost-effectiveness.

The research identified two potential innovations in service delivery:

  • The use of paralegals
  • The use of community organizations

6.1 Paralegals

There was consensus among the respondents that well-trained, supervised paralegals could be used to increase the quality of representation available to refugee claimants. Paralegals have experience with a wide variety of different clients and issues and solid connections with NGOs offering settlement services. Therefore, they are often able to offer a broader range of services to clients and the quality of the services they can offer is very high. Paralegals could provide assistance and representation to claimants in many parts of the refugee determination process. The best-qualified paralegals could provide full service representation at pre-hearing stages and at some of the less complex enquiries, detention reviews, and CRDD hearings[19]. Paralegals could also prepare high quality Personal Information Forms (PIFs), the document that is the basis for the refugee determination hearing.

The use of paralegals would likely increase the quality of service provided, but is unlikely to reduce the cost of providing legal aid services if the amount of legal aid provided by lawyers remains at today's levels.

6.2 Community Organizations

NGOs are capable of providing effective, high-quality legal services to immigrants and refugees if they are properly staffed, funded, and connected to networks of expertise. NGOs could prepare PIFs and other forms, prepare for hearings, support claimants in the post-determination stages, and provide language and interpretation assistance. NGOs could also be an important source of referrals to other agencies in health, social services, and settlement services.

Many of the NGOs working with refugee claimants across Canada currently offer some of these services. However, the extent of service provision by NGOs also varies considerably across the country. Those organizations in provinces where immigrant and refugee legal aid is not covered, or is less well funded in comparison to other provinces, tend to offer the most comprehensive and extensive range of services.

Some respondents raised concerns with respect to relying on NGOs to provide these services. Most NGOs are not funded, and therefore not equipped, to provide assistance to asylum refugees. As a result, NGOs rely extensively on volunteers to assist them. However, some volunteers at NGOs lack training, and may misinform immigrants and refugee claimants thereby creating unrealistic expectations.

In light of these concerns, respondents felt that, if NGOs are to carry out a more formal role in providing legal services to immigrants and refugees, they must be adequately funded and their volunteers must receive proper training in order to ensure that the quality of service provision does not suffer. Paralegals could be located at NGOs.

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