REPORT: Refugee Reform & Access to Counsel in British Columbia
August 26, 2015 | Lobat Sadrehashemi, Peter Edeldmann & Suzanne Baustad
Since December 2012 the refugee determination process in Canada has undergone drastic changes. This report is based on in-depth interviews and focus groups with refugee claimants, their lawyers and service providers in British Columbia about the impacts of these changes on refugee claimants’ access to legal representation.
Canada’s refugee determination system fundamentally changed in December 2012 as a result of the coming into force of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (formerly Bill C-11) and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act (formerly Bill C-31). The sweeping amendments were given Royal Assent only four months after the legislation was introduced and were implemented six months later, with limited time to digest the impact of the changes.
Refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable people attempting to navigate the legal system in Canada, and for whom the consequences of decisions are among the most significant – refugee decisions are often literally matters of life and death. The vulnerability of claimants, the serious consequences of the legal proceedings and the lack of an established right to a state-funded lawyer, make it critical that the first years of implementation of the redesigned system be closely monitored.
This report, based on focus groups and in-depth interviews with lawyers and service providers working with refugee claimants in British Columbia, considers the impact the legislative changes have had on refugee claimants’ access to legal counsel throughout the refugee determination process.