Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia refugee workshop aims to train lawyers in immigration law

With the recent influx of Syrian refugees, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society wants to increase the number of lawyers who practise refugee and immigration law to help close a gap in legal services for the new Canadians.

Only 2.9 per cent of practising lawyers in Nova Scotia do some type of immigration law

Elizabeth Wozniak, a Halifax lawyer who specializes in immigration and refugee law, says the stakes are high for people who don't have legal representation. (Lisa Neily/Nova Scotia Barristers' Society)

With the recent influx of Syrian refugees, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society wants to increase the number of lawyers who practise refugee and immigration law to help close a gap in legal services for the new Canadians.

On Tuesday, a refugee law workshop will be held in Halifax as a first step to build a roster of lawyers trained in this area of law who can then offer pro bono services. Close to 60 people – lawyers and non-lawyers — are signed up for the session.

There are 1,963 practising lawyers in Nova Scotia. Of those, about 57 or 2.9 per cent do some immigration work.

No legal aid for refugee claimants

"One of our focuses at the barristers' society is to address access to legal services needs and to see how we can respond to those needs," said Darrel Pink, the bar society's executive director.

"We found that volunteer lawyers, lawyers who are prepared to give pro bono legal services, might be a way to address the needs for refugees, in particular, and some new immigrants as well."

The society, the Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia and some lawyers have established an education program that will provide lawyers and other community members with the tools they need to help newcomers.

"It can [be] filling out forms, it can involve managing schedules, making sure that documents get filed all the way through to actual representation at hearings," Pink said.

Errors can lead to deportation

There's no hard data yet on the number of families who require legal services.

Elizabeth Wozniak is a Halifax lawyer who specializes in immigration and refugee law. Her law firm of seven handles about 300 refugee and immigration cases a year, outside of the volunteer legal work they do.

Wozniak said there's no legal aid available for refugee claimants in Nova Scotia, like there is in other provinces. She said the stakes are high for people who don't have legal representation.

Elizabeth Wozniak's firm of seven handles about 300 refugee and immigration cases a year. (Sherri Borden-Colley/CBC)

"Oftentimes, we think of immigration rules as very administrative, but in fact really they're actually quite punitive," Wozniak said.

"So if you make a mistake on a form, on an application like, for example, something simple like you're applying to extend your work permit and you didn't include the right amount of money in terms of the fees to the Immigration Department, you can end up being deported. And so that's the type of thing that's at risk."

'It has a lot of meaning'

Wozniak said immigration law fits her just right.

"Because what you're giving somebody in the end is something very tangible," she said. "You're giving them permanent residence in Canada. You're helping them to obtain their citizenship or to get status here when they wouldn't have it and I think we get a lot of satisfaction out of it. It has a lot of meaning."

The workshop is sponsored by barristers' society, ISANS, the Halifax Refugee Clinic, Atlantic Refugee and Immigrant Services and the Halifax section of the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca