CAMWL is alarmed by Legal Aid Ontario’s Possible Suspension or Reduction of Refugee Services

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To: The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
To:  The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen MP
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1
To: The Honourable William Francis Morneau
Minister of Finance
90 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G5
And to: The Honourable Yasir Naqvi
Attorney General of Ontario
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2S9

Dear Honourable Ministers Wilson-Raybould, Hussen, Morneau, and Naqvi,

Re:  Legal Aid Ontario’s Suspension or Reduction of Refugee Services

The Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law (CAMWL) is alarmed by Legal Aid Ontario’s recent announcement of significant impending cuts to immigration and refugee certificates. We join the Refugee Lawyers Association and other stakeholders in calling on the Federal and Provincial governments to immediately guarantee that their funding dispute does not result in any reduction to Legal Aid Ontario’s immigration and refugee law services, which account for only 6% of their total budget.

CAMWL is a national organization whose membership is comprised of female Muslim law students, lawyers, paralegals, and scholars. Many of us are refugee advocates and researchers, and several others are from refugee families and/or communities.

As Muslims, we also share a special investment in the rights and well-being of refugees. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was himself a refugee, and Islamic teachings include express provision for supporting and protecting those fleeing persecution, simply because it is the right thing to do.

For Canada’s signature on the United Nations Refugee Convention to have meaning, it must be supported with full access to our refugee determination system. This requires affording refugees the means to fully present their circumstances and obtain fair results.   If deprived of access to basic legal assistance, very vulnerable new members of our society will be left alone to face not only a new country, but also complex, intimidating, and fast-moving legal proceedings.

The results carry high human costs, which can include detention, torture, death, and prolonged family separation.   At a social level, cutting investment at the front-end of the process will counterproductively result in wasteful costs in other areas of the system, as claimants whose cases could have succeeded with proper presentation will make use of the various redress applications. These unnecessary adjudications will both negate the savings anticipated by cuts at LAO while fueling human suffering that cannot be costed.

Even now, LAO supports only the most essential immigration and refugee law processes, and through the dedication of refugee advocates, does so at a fraction of the fair market value of these services.   Slashing services at a time when demand is increasing is not the solution to budget deficits at LAO. It is a stopgap measure that punishes the most vulnerable (and voiceless) stakeholders in the system. This runs directly against Canadian values of treating refugees fairly, and with dignity.

We call on the Federal and Provincial governments to work together to ensure that critical services remain in place and to simultaneously work with LAO towards identifying and implementing efficiencies that will sustain the system in the long term. We also call on LAO not to interrupt or reduce existing services.
Your Consideration is highly appreciated.

Imtenan Abd-El-Razik, B.Sc., J.D.
Refugee Lawyer
Member of the Steering Committee of the Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law
Direct telephone: 647-532-5324