Immigration lawyer wins this round against CIC

A Toronto immigration lawyer who claims Citizenship and Immigration Canada tried to drive him out of business has won a new review of his access to information request on ministry communications about him.

CIC initially withheld more than 400 pages of the 509 it found mentioning Forefront Migration Ltd. owner Timothy Leahy, claiming they were protected by solicitor-client privilege.

The ministry decision was confirmed by the office of the privacy commissioner and a Federal Court judge, but in a Sept. 4 ruling, a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal found shortcomings in the ministry’s actions. The court found it was unclear who had made the decision to withhold the documents, and that there was no indication of how the determination was made.

“The decision letter, signed by Ms. McManus, merely asserts the exemptions that apply. No further reasons are given. The record consists of a relatively thin affidavit, documents that have been produced to the appellant, and documents that have been withheld from the appellant. This material does not provide us with the basic information we need in order to discharge our role,” says the appeal ruling.

“It may be that some or all of the documents were properly withheld from Mr. Leahy. We are unable to render a decision on this view of the paucity of evidence before us. In that circumstance, it would be inappropriate to order the disclosure of any document. Instead, we remit to a different decision-maker for redetermination.”

Leahy wants to uncover the chain of events that led to a September 2007 CIC operational directive ordering visa offices to have no contact with him because he was “considered not to be an authorized representative” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Because the Law Society of Upper Canada listed his status as “not practising law — employed,” CIC took the position that Leahy was not a member in good standing of a Canadian law society, a requirement for authorized representatives who are not licensed immigration consultants.

The CIC also sent out letters to any applicants that were listed as clients of Leahy’s instructing them either to find another representative or proceed self-represented with their applications.

A short time later, the issue was rendered moot when Leahy’s law society categorization changed to “practising law — employed,” and the CIC sent out a new directive in January 2008 indicating that he would now be considered an authorized representative.

“It destroyed my practice. People were being crucified because they were associated with me. . . . I still see action that I think are because I’m counsel,” Leahy told Law Times earlier this year, adding he was confident the withheld documents would reveal the “smoking gun” he was looking for.

The bad blood between Leahy and CIC goes all the way back to 2002, when Leahy was admonished by the Law Society of Upper Canada for directing improper correspondence to immigration officials sent out of indignation on behalf of his clients.

According to Leahy, the officials complained after getting riled by his strongly worded complaints about allegedly abusive behaviour by immigration officers towards his clients.

In one case complained of, according to Leahy, an immigration application filed on behalf of a 70-year-old rice farmer from Hong Kong was returned because Leahy had failed to include the man’s intended occupation in Canada. He sent it back again, writing “Federal court judge.”

Leahy ran into more trouble with the law society in 2004, earning a nine-month suspension (http://canlii.ca/en/on/onlshp/doc/2004/2004onlshp10/2004onlshp10.html) for practising while uninsured between 1997 and 2001.

Leahy argued at a hearing that he had not been engaged in the private practice of law, but that he was employed as corporate counsel for a company he had formed, a situation he believed exempted him from paying insurance fees. But a panel rejected his case, finding that his appearances for his company’s clients at the Federal Court constituted the private practice of law.

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