LAO announces measures for Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee claimants who apply for refugee protection division coverage will be issued a 10-hour expedite legal aid certificate under a new pilot project from Legal Aid Ontario.

The expedite certificate covers the preparation and filing of the basis of claim and other documents such as submissions under the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s expedited process established for Syrian refugee claimants. Last month, the board announced it would begin to expedite Syrian refugee claims. The process applies to Syrians who are in Canada and making a claim on Canadian soil.

A regular refugee claim would receive seven hours of coverage from legal aid to do the initial basis of claim form and then another nine hours for the hearing stage. While immigration lawyers say that’s never enough time to handle a claim, the provision for Syrian refugees under the expedited process is welcome.

“Generally, I think 16 hours for a refugee claim is very low. I’ve never been able to do a claim in 16 hours,” says Jacqueline Bonisteel, an immigration lawyer with Perley-Robertson Hill & McDougall LLP.

“That said, the hours make sense because you’re still doing the basis of claim plus an additional three hours to put the documentation together and there is no hearing preparation required. In general, it would be great to have more hours from legal aid for refugee claims, but this standard makes sense.”

However, Bonisteel says the LAO web site indicates claimants may not find out whether they’re approved for the expedited process until very close to the hearing date.

“When you submit your paperwork, you will be asking for the expedited process, but by the time you get an answer from the Immigration and Refugee Board, your hearing could be getting close and if you don’t have the assurance, you will want to be preparing your client for a hearing just in case,” she says.

If a client does require a hearing, Bonisteel says LAO has said it will grant an additional six hours to prepare.

“This all happens so fast that in general, it can be very difficult to get the answers you need from legal aid in time and you end up doing work without the assurance of having the hours,” she says. “I do see that there may be an issue there.”

Bonisteel applauds the board for bringing in the expedited process for Syrian refugees and suggests it should be extended to claimants from other countries.

“It’s hard to argue it’s not a good thing. I think there are other countries where it should be introduced — for Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps,” she says. “I’ve often had to go from Ottawa to Montreal for a hearing, and the whole thing is over in half an hour because the case was so clear. I think it makes a lot of administrative sense to not have the claimant have to go through [the hearing] process. If this works well, it would be great if the IRB would consider other countries where it is quite clear a claim is genuine.”

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