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Lenczner Slaght steps up for refugees at risk of deportation

|Written By Kendyl Sebesta

Toronto boutique firm Lenczner Slaght is putting its litigation heft behind refugees at risk of immediate deportation working with Legal Aid Ontario’s Refugee Law Office. This after an announcement by legal aid earlier this month that it would cut refugee and immigration certificate spending by $1 million this fall.

Yesterday, LAO confirmed Lenczner Slaght had approached it earlier this year with an offer to advocate for the RLO’s clients on a pro bono basis.

Carole Simone Dahan, director of the Refugee Law Office, said because immediate deportation cases often have short timelines, the RLO couldn’t always step in. That made the offer particularly attractive in light of recent certificate spending cuts.

“Most recently, a woman detained at the immigration holding centre was given notice on a Monday that her removal was scheduled for that Thursday morning,” said Dahan. “Thanks to the work of Lenczner Slaght staff, we were able to file an emergency motion to the Federal Court, and successfully obtained a stay of the woman’s deportation.”

According to legal aid, the RLO began by training an associate at Lenczner Slaght in refugee law for six weeks. The associate then trained eight colleagues at the firm.

Since March, Lenczner lawyers have argued on behalf of four refugees who faced deportation within 24 to 72 hours, and remain on call to argue for an injunction that will stop their deportation through an emergency stay motion before the Federal Court, according to LAO.

Peter Griffin, Lenczner Slaght’s managing partner, said the firm is “pleased” that its lawyers have taken on the issue.

“We are pleased that our lawyers have demonstrated real interest in expanding the availability of legal services for refugees and others facing imminent deportation by supporting LAO’s RLO,” said Griffin.

The partnership comes in light of an Aug. 3 announcement by LAO that lawyers will receive a certificate for a maximum of eight hours for an expedited refugee case, while taking a closer look at refugee claimants hoping to qualify for legal aid. The changes will start Sept. 6, and are designed to tackle legal aid’s deficit.

According to LAO statistics, between 2009 and 2012, legal aid spending on immigration and refugee legal services increased by 24 per cent. In 2010-11, it spent $21 million for refugee and immigration services, but received roughly $7 million in federal funding for those services.

Tariffs and discretion requests have been a source of contention among refugee, family, and criminal lawyers, who say they should be paid more than the current rates. They have also pointed out that the amount of work required to complete matters often exceeds legal aid’s maximum hours significantly, and feel they may ultimately have to opt out of providing legal aid work because the margins are too slim.

LAO addressed some of those issues by changing its final discretion guidelines to consider a larger number of factors, like disclosure, in the discretion request process for complex criminal and family cases earlier this month. For refugee cases, it is now considering exclusion and multiple countries of citizenship.

But many lawyers have remained skeptical, saying they will have to wait to see how the changes ultimately play out.


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