Toronto immigration lawyer Karen Kwan Anderson: This opinion piece in the Toronto Star warns readers that refugees need to be protected from bad lawyers:
It is impossible to overstate the importance of legal representation for refugees who arrive in this country. They have no understanding of the refugee determination procedures. Many come from places where they have no experience of having their rights taken seriously. Some languages, I have learned, do not even have a word for “rights.” Refugees depend on their lawyer to shepherd them through a process that is obscure even to most Canadians.
When a lawyer does not prepare a refugee for a hearing, when he or she does not submit evidence given by a refugee, when he or she does not even appear at a hearing, the refugee’s claim is seriously compromised and all appeals after that are also jeopardized…
The present system of justice is seriously tipped in favour of the lawyer. The lawyer can draw out the complaints process long enough to ensure that the refugee who has complained will eventually be deported before any decision is rendered. The minister of immigration could act to right the scales of justice by granting refugees a temporary residence permit until the complaint has been heard. Then if the complaint is upheld, the refugee, as a matter of natural justice, should be granted a new hearing.
I agree that there are delays which result in an inherent unfairness against a client who has complained against their lawyer due to negligence. However, pointing to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s delay in prosecuting a lawyer does not address the issue of how clients can avoid going to and/or remaining with unscrupulous lawyers in the first place.Sometimes, clients do not know that their lawyer’s conduct is wrong, and even if they do, they may not complain or even realize that they cancomplain. I wonder to what extent do community and newcomer services, settlement houses, interpretation services, Legal Aid Ontario and even the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada provide information on a client’s rights? Any of these bodies could and should help before things go too far.
Consumer protection is important to all of us; it is especially crucial to a refugee claimant, because what happens at a hearing could result in their deportation.I recommend clients do the following:
1. have a trusted friend attend with you at all meetings with the lawyer.
2. sign a retainer agreement with the lawyer and demand a copy.
3. keep copies of all documents received from the lawyer.
4. make a copy of all documents given to the lawyer.
5. if you think something is wrong during interactions with the lawyer and/or during the refugee claims process, seek an opinion from another lawyer.
Karen Kwan Anderson is an immigration lawyer with Pace Immigration, an immigration law firm in Toronto, Canada.