B.C. legal aid suspends immigration and refugee services due to lack of funding

B.C.'s Legal Services Society says it can no longer accept new immigration and refugee cases because it says there's been an increase in cases with no increase in funding.

Starting Aug. 1, Legal Services Society will no longer accept new refugee and immigration claims

B.C.'s Legal Services Society will suspend new applications for immigration and refugee claims Aug. 1, 2017. (Mike Laanela/CBC)

British Columbia's legal aid society will no longer represent new immigration and refugee claimants starting August 1, 2017 because the society says there is a lack of funding.

The Legal Services Society (LSS) says the money comes from the federal government — the jurisdiction primarily responsible for funding immigration and refugee legal aid.

The LSS says the society receives $1.7 million total per year for immigration legal aid.

However, officials say claims have increased by 145 per cent over the past three years without enough of an increase in funding.

The society says it would need an additional $1.07 million just to maintain services until the end of the year, and so it says it must suspend services to make sure it can pay for the cases that have already been accepted.

Clients who have applied for legal representation before Aug. 1 will be processed as usual.

The LSS says it will also continue to fund duty counsel for people held in custody at the Canada Border Services' Vancouver enforcement centre.

'Very concerned'

Battered Women's Support Services in Vancouver says this move will gravely affect their clients because more than 40 per cent are immigrant women.

"For many women who are leaving abusive relationships, the immigration factor is very much intersecting with their experience of violence in their relationship," explained Angela MacDougall, the organization's executive director.

MacDougall says some abusive partners use immigration status as a way to wield power and control in the relationship.

Many women don't know what their status is or even whether their partner has applied for sponsorship, she said.

With the absence of legal aid, MacDougall is concerned these women will have to represent themselves.

"The Canadian legal system is challenging and intimidating for anybody ... [but especially so] if you don't have the proficiency of English," she said.

"That's the big challenge. We're very concerned about this development."

The federal government is currently reviewing whether additional funding can be provided for immigration and legal aid across the country.

With files from The Early Edition

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