CILA 2022 In Review: In Conversation with the CILA Steering Committee


This article was written by Megan Fanjoy, Communications and Research Coordinator at Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association

This past week, I sat down with members of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) Steering Committee to reflect on the organizations’ work over the past year. We dove into both their successes and challenges, speculating about what lies ahead for CILA in 2023. 

Thank you to our Steering Committee: Ravi Jain; Barbara Jo (BJ) Caruso; Vance Langford; Nicolas Simard-Lafontaine; Lou Janssen Dangzalan; Marina Sedai; Chris Veeman; Betsy Kane; and Nathan Po. 

At the start of the year, the Steering Committee had a long list of commitments it hoped to realize for its members. What are some of the highlights of action items you checked off the list over the past year? Any remaining items you’re looking forward to actualizing in the coming months?

[RAVI JAIN] CILA has come a very long way in a short time. A great deal of thought and effort was put into CILA’s by-laws and election process which is now underway. We wanted an organization for lawyers with a secure listserv and opportunities for mentorship and knowledge-sharing. We also wanted checks and balances with respect to our board and officers. Another part of building the foundation was creating a first-class website which describes our mission, contains our online library, provides membership tools and also allows easy access to the incredible number (110 so far) of short publications covering a range of issues in our field and providing a voice to so many. CILA has already made its mark in Canada in a very public way. We have been invited to provide expert testimony to House and Senate Standing Committees and we have been frequently quoted in the media. We recently received our first letter from the Minister in response to a submission made not alone, but via a coalition with other groups, which is also part of our mandate. 

CILA held its first in-person event, hosting a Bench and Bar reception recently with the Federal Court of Canada and Department of Justice lawyers. CILA also has a very strong social media presence, with 9,000 followers on Twitter and the Association has engaged in media campaigns on important issues, such as portal shutdowns. Moreover, CILA has already put on a series of high-level workshops which have been extremely well received and we are fulfilling our goal of liaising with other organizations, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Business Council of Canada, the Conference Board of Canada, the Office of the Auditor General, the Shadow Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and others.  We have received formal letters of support from CARL, the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association CHBA, South Asian Bar Association SABA and Calgary Black Chambers.

Of course, CILA also facilitated pro bono assistance for Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) and CILA is currently extremely active on the issue of access to legal counsel in our area of law. After our election, we look forward to meeting with the Ministers of Public Safety and Immigration and focusing on a few key issues for the benefit of our members and the clients we all serve.

Advocacy and working in tandem with government officials and other stakeholders to achieve just immigration and refugee law is at the heart of CILAs mission. What can we expect to see from CILA in 2023 in this respect? 

[VANCE LANGFORD] In 2022, our Members had the opportunity to participate in a workshop and receive training with Richard Kurland and Chantal Desloges on presenting at House of Commons and Senate committees. Several Members, including both senior and junior lawyers, appeared on behalf of CILA before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM), Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology and Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. We also met with Members of Parliament and the Senate for informal discussions and participated in joint meetings and submissions on distinct issues, including access to legal counsel in Québec. In 2023, our Members can see continued opportunities for mentorship and participation in advocacy addressing an established and strategic set of priorities where CILA can have impact.

[LOU JANSSEN DANGZALAN] We can expect the same fervor from our membership and executives as things return to pre-pandemic realities. In such a short span of time, CILA has established itself and is poised to build on the successful launch of its advocacy and stakeholder engagement activities in the hopes of creating a more equitable immigration system.

What was one of the biggest challenges CILA faced this past year? What lesson did you learn as we enter the new year? 

[VANCE LANGFORD] A significant challenge for CILA in 2022 was recruiting new members and recognizing and providing continued value to our Founding Members and Benefactors, while we prepared and Elections Policy and opened nominations for our first election of directors in 2023.  We learned that our value proposition resonates not only with established immigration lawyers, but also with law students and new members of the immigration bar across Canada. As we enter the new year, we will develop a strategy that prioritizes the interests of our Members and supports them in a community of Canadian immigration lawyers.

[MARINA SEDAI] Appreciating and taking good care of our volunteers is a challenge we are up for and embrace. Our volunteers are our most precious resource. They have busy practices. Many are in the managing partner or similar role at their firms. They have lives outside the practice of law with families, friends, health and fitness, and community involvement. And yet they believe in CILA’s work and vision so much that they still generously give of their time and energy.

CILA appreciates that they want to contribute even when there are other pressures in life they could spend their time on.

CILA sees what excellent work they do and how creative their ideas are.

CILA admires their dedication in putting in many hours of work.

And CILA wants to bring in more volunteers: students, new lawyers, sole practitioners, lawyers who are just getting acquainted with the bar for a variety of reasons … every immigration and refugee lawyer is a member of our bar and welcomed into the fold. There is room for everyone under the CILA tent.

CILA hosted their first-ever in-person event this past November, the Bench and Bar Reception, at the Wine Academy in Toronto. What does this event signify for CILA? Any plans for more in-person events in 2023?

[BJ CARUSO] The Steering Committee was really anxious to meet some of our members after having launched in late 2021 with no in person opportunity due to COVID-19 restrictions.  We also sensed that our colleagues in the immigration bar were fatigued from so many Zoom meetings and the time was ripe to have an in person event. The Immigration Law Summit hosted by the Ontario Law Society is always well attended and attracts both solicitors and barristers, senior and junior, from the immigration bar, as well as members of the judiciary and Department of Justice. So it seemed like the ideal opportunity to capitalize on folks being in Toronto for this conference. Over the years Justice Diner has encouraged meetings of the Bench and Immigration Bar and so we reached out to him to facilitate an invitation to the Bench. My Co-Chair at the Immigration Law Summit was with the Department of Justice and he was kind enough to extend invitations to his colleagues, so it all came together with little effort. 

Our new Communications and Research Coordinator, Megan Fanjoy, coordinated name tags and drink tickets and greeted everyone upon arrival. The Wine Academy was the perfect setting given its close proximity to the Law Society and amazing food and selection of wines. It was just a really amazing evening of both new and familiar faces and lots of opportunity to mix. With the help of our sponsors–Battista Smith Migration Law Group, Galileo Partners, Langford Law, and Sikand Immigration Law–we broke even on the event while being able to keep the admission reasonably priced. This event is now the blueprint for future CILA events in other cities across Canada.

We are already making plans for another in person gathering in Ottawa on the afternoon of June 1st. This will provide our members with an opportunity to meet in person our Membership Coordinator Dinah Singh who resides in Ottawa and our newly elected Board of Directors. Stay tuned for details.

CILA saw an immense growth in their engagement on social media over the past twelve months. What do you attribute for this continued success? Why do you think your community resonates with your content?

[BETSY KANE] CILA has prioritized publicizing the issues facing applicants seeking temporary and permanent entry to Canada through social and the mainstream media. CILA’s voice on current issues is being followed closely by stakeholders, including the key government departments we engage with. The timing and quality of CILA’s publications  coincided with intense public interest in IRCC’s operations, given the Department’s impact on the lives of ordinary Canadians and permanent residents. With the imposition of travel restrictions earlier in the pandemic and the problems with application intake and processing of passports, the public and the media were looking for trusted sources of information to explain delays, inconsistent messaging and of course the backlog. 

CILA was able to offer informed commentary and explanation and this led to a steady increase in followers and engagement with our content.  Our credibility as a source of “in-the-know” information proved invaluable to those looking for answers. The quality of our publications is stellar, as we rely on our members to share their expertise and experience. This resonates not only with members of the bar, but all parties who monitor and must rely on IRCC, IRB, ESDC and CBSA services. Lastly, our success can be attributed to our communications team who kept our feet to the fire to deliver high caliber content consistently.

Over the course of the year, CILA developed relationships with multiple equity-facing organizations, including Canadian Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA), South Asian Bar Association (SABA) and Calgary Black Chambers. Why is it important to build relationships with and work alongside equity-facing organizations as you work towards realizing your vision statement?

[LOU JANSSEN DANGZALAN] As immigration lawyers, we naturally deal with diversity and equity issues as we face them together with our clients. Building alliances with like-minded organizations who have been at the forefront of championing issues that our clients face on a daily basis is a foundational pillar at CILA that will allow us to make our vision a reality.

[NICOLAS SIMARD-LAFONTAINE] CILA fundamentally believes that multiculturalism brings value to Canada. The continuous rise of immigration levels to reach over 500,000 new permanent residents in the coming years will make equity and inclusivity for all a societal issue to address collectively. As these associations are already strong advocates for the rights of their members, we believe that they are natural allies for the years ahead. 

Through our work, we will continue to advocate for a better, faster, more inclusive, and more transparent Canadian immigration system. As the Canadian government and Canadians face significant challenges in welcoming record numbers of migrants, we remain steadfast in our mission to ensure equity is at the heart of the Canadian immigrant system. With allies, we will be able to do so by building coalitions or by engaging in public discourse with more alignment. 

Ultimately, CILA made a lot of strides throughout 2022 in the immigration and citizenship field of law. If you were to sum up the year in one word, what would it be? 

[CHRIS VEEMAN] Engagement. It is hard to pick one word that captures the year 2022, but I think engagement is apt because as a new organization, CILA found its feet quickly – interacting with various institutions and other actors who play a role in immigration and citizenship. Many lawyers in this practice area are happy to see CILA play a timely, thoughtful and productive role in this way. Timely because CILA is able to react nimbly to developments in programs and processes. Thoughtful, because CILA strives to contribute to the debate in a reasoned way. Productive, in that CILA’s goal is to improve Canada’s immigration system for the benefit of the Canadian people.

Any final words?

[BETSY KANE] On behalf of the Steering Committee, we wish to thank our administrator Dinah Singh for her contribution to the success of CILA this year. Dinah brings tremendous value to our organization. She plans our meetings, manages membership, fields inquiries, translates communications, and helps with our IT functions. Most importantly she takes a genuine interest in helping CILA reach its goals. We wish Dinah a happy and lawyer-free holiday.

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