Immigration in Nova Scotia is at a 10-year high. With that comes a whole new set of challenges and demands, one of which is the need for legal services.
The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society is hosting a Refugee Law Workshop on Tuesday with the goal of building a roster of legal professionals who are able to offer pro and low bono services in the area of refugee law. They hope to fill what they refer to as “gaps in the provision of legal services to immigrants and refugees.”
According to the Nova Scotia government, 3,418 newcomers arrived in Nova Scotia between January and June of this year. Compared to last year, the province also saw nearly triple the number of refugees in the first few months of 2016 at 1,739.
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“Of course with the numbers of immigrants that we’ve have this year, more and more questions are coming our way,” Gerry Mills, executive director for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, said.
“We need a bigger roster of lawyers that can respond to some of these questions surrounding immigration and refugee law.”
Mills said her organization’s clients require assistance with a number of complex legal issues surrounding refugee claims and family sponsorships. She says it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified legal professionals to refer them to.
The Halifax Refugee Clinic is dedicated to offering pro bono legal services to refugee claimants, however, even they are feeling the strain.
“We have a lot of referrals that kind of stretch our capacities and resources and also expertise,” Julie Chamagne said.
“That’s why we’re hoping to engage more people in the legal community and train them up in these very specific areas of the law where we have these legal gaps.”
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While other provinces such as Ontario and Quebec offer legal aid for immigration and refugee law, Nova Scotia does not.
Immigration lawyer Liz Wazniak said more needs to be done to ease the burden on volunteers and charity organizations.
“People who are coming here and making refugee claims inside Canada, that’s a complex legal process and they’re expected to navigate that on their own or only relying on a volunteer,” Wozniak said.
“If you’ve got somebody in detention for example, who has no status in Canada, who is at risk of being deported to perhaps a country where their life will be danger and there’s no legal aid representation for them, that doesn’t seem fair.”
She said she expects the demand for legal advice will only continue to grow in the next year as refugees have a one-year window to bring immediate family members to Canada.
The workshop is a partnership between the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, Halifax Refugee Clinic, Atlantic Refugee and Immigrant Services and Refugee Sponsorship Support Program – Halifax section.
Close to 50 people are expected to attend Tuesday’s workshop.