Reduced access to Legal Aid for immigrant and refugee women

The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen MP
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
365 Laurier Avenue West Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1

29 June, 2017

Dear Minister Hussen,

Re: Reduced access to Legal Aid for immigrant and refugee women

We are alarmed by the announcement by the Legal Services Society (LSS) that, effective August 1, 2017, they will no longer accept applications for immigration and refugee cases due to a lack of funding1. According to LSS, they have experienced a 145% increase in refugee claims in the last three years without an increase in funding from the Canadian federal government.

For the past 3 years, the Building Supports project team has worked together with immigrant and refugee women with lived experience of violence, anti-violence, community organisations and government to identify and address barriers to safety and housing for immigrant and refugee women and their children: http://bcsth.wpengine.com/projects/building-supports/. We know that they must frequently navigate immigration, family and criminal law systems. This is a daunting and precarious position to be in for any person. For those without strong proficiency in English, unfamiliarity with Canada’s complex legal systems and processes, and limited financial resources, it can be terrifying and dangerous. Legal aid can be a lifeline that protects them from further danger, reduces the likelihood of them having to return to an abusive partner and is often one of the first steps to them securing a safer future in Canada.

In line with its commitments under the Canadian constitution, the federal government is responsible for immigration and refugee laws including immigration tribunals and their processes. By not providing the necessary funding, the Canadian federal government is in conflict with the constitution and the Supreme Court ruling that legal representation is required when the right to life, liberty and security of the person is at stake. In your capacity as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, we urge you to increase funding to appropriate levels to allow LSS to meet the needs of this most vulnerable group of people.

On behalf of the Building Supports Team,

Joanne Baker

Joanne Baker, Hannah Lee & Louise Godard: BC Society of Transition Houses
Margaret Jackson & Sarah Yercich: FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women & Children
Jill Atkey: BC Non-Profit Housing Association

1 http://lss.bc.ca/assets/media/newsReleases/2017_06_21_FAQsuspensionOfImmigrationServices

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