Public proceeding of the Board

Immigration and refugee law advisory committee: Meeting minutes for January 19, 2010

1. Participants

Members

John McCamus, Rod McDowell, Michael Bossin, John Rokakis, James Yakimovich, Sean Rehaag, Ezat Mossallanejad

Regrets

Barb Jackman, Geraldine Sadoway, Raoul Boulakia, Marcel Castonguay, Gerri MacDonald, Rana Khan

Legal Aid Ontario

Rod Strain, Angus Grant, Heather Morgan

2. Welcome and Introductions

The Chair opened the meeting.

3. Minutes, June 23, 2009

The minutes of the spring meeting were approved.

4. Overview of LAOs Planning Processes: Slide Deck

  • The Chair provided an overview of the advisory group process that took place in fall 2009 to provide advice to the Attorney General on how best to spend the new funding that was announced for legal aid in September 2009. Five advisory groups were appointed by the Ministry, and each advisory group held two meetings. These meetings had two broad themes: improving compensation for legal aid service providers and improving and modernizing the legal aid system. A number of useful proposals were made. A final report was delivered to the Minister by the Chair and Justice Sidney Linden on December 15, 2009.
  • Members reviewed the recommendations made by the Ministers advisory groups, and particularly those made by the advisory group on immigration and refugee law services.
  • The recommendation on providing panel lawyers with access to Lexis Nexis was felt to be excellent, since it would help service providers to work more efficiently. Existing supports for lawyers, particularly LAO LAWs services and the annual RLO seminars, were also praised.
  • The Law Society is bringing in mandatory CLE requirements for lawyers. Training is expensive. LAO should be putting on more of its own programs so that the legal aid bar can more easily meet the training requirements.
  • Reinforcing the advisory groups recommendation on block fees, the view was expressed that block fees are not a good idea for immigration and refugee law.
  • With respect to the recommendation on discretion, some members commented that if a lawyer explains the need for more hours or for an additional medical report, usually the outcome will be positive. In the clinic system, there is increasing pressure on the budget for disbursements such as medical reports and interpreters. If pressures and needs in the area of disbursements are being raised generally, the pressures and needs in the clinic system need to be included.
  • There was support for the recommendation that LAO should help to create more articling positions. There should be more student positions at clinics for immigration and refugee law. It is important to bring students up through the clinic system because most refugee lawyers in private practice do not have the time to devote to a student.
  • It was suggested that, outside of Toronto, a model should be developed in which clinics can share a student with the private bar. Outside of Toronto, there are clinics that do some refugee law work but not a lot of it, so a cooperative approach would be needed. In Ottawa, clinics have shared one student to help them with ODSP work, so this approach could also work for refugee services. The danger is that a shared student could be spread too thin. There are many bright, eager students, and not enough jobs.

5. Environmental Scan and Discussion

  • The changes to Safe Third Country have caused the number of claimants coming through the border at Fort Erie to drop by 40 per cent. The drop in Windsor is even higher. Smuggling is increasing, because anyone who can get through the land border illegally can then make a claim from within Canada. Although there may be fewer cases coming in through land borders, the claims that do arise may be harder to deal with and more costly.
  • There is a trend towards greater enforcement and also to criminalization of refugees so that they can be moved into the deportation process.
  • Another trend that is emerging is the sending of applications from the same claimant (for example, PRRA and H & C) to different offices instead of hearing them together at the same office. One application may be heard here, and the other in Nova Scotia.
  • In both the refugee process and the post-refugee removal process, the federal government is pursuing a more enforcement-oriented agenda. Changes are coming that LAO will have to respond to. The government is already doing what can be done to move in this direction without the need for legislative change.
  • The RPD is now up to full strength in Toronto.
  • There is a need for standardization and also a monitoring mechanism for interpretation services provided by paralegals, to ensure competency. There have been problems in this area.
  • The financial eligibility test for certificates is out of date and inadequate. The current needs test does not make sense because everyone knows that legal aid clients have no money left over at the end of the month. People who are receiving OW or ODSP can easily get a certificate, but the working poor, who may receive even less income than someone on income support, find it very hard to get a certificate. It was noted that the clinics also use an income test that has not changed in years.

6. Next meeting

No date was selected for the next meeting. Members will be contacted by e-mail to select a date, likely later in spring 2010.