August 18, 2021
The Honourable Marco Mendicino, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
365 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, ON K1A 1L1
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
281 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
Further to our letter of August 5th, 2021, we would like to convey our satisfaction in learning of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s decision to remedy the issue of access to counsel for various lines of business. While this alleviates some immediate concerns, direct access for lawyers across all programs, as well as the portrayal of lawyers by IRCC, continues to be a significant issue for our organization.
Our concerns follow years of IRCC and its predecessor Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) failing to acknowledge the critical role lawyers play as an important stakeholder. Despite excellent relations on multiple stakeholder initiatives, the value that lawyers bring to the system is minimized in IRCC’s public facing messaging. Furthermore, our involvement directly supports departmental operations and results in more complete applications being received, thereby reducing government resources dedicated to processing deficiencies.
As immigration lawyers, we have made significant contributions to the evolution of Canadian immigration law and policy and can substantiate that legal representation can make the difference between being welcomed to Canada or not. While the pandemic has propelled the need for new technologies to be adopted by government quickly, the right to legal representation remains paramount for those making applications under complex legislation. We take this opportunity to highlight some of the most current and pressing issues.
Firstly, delayed access for lawyers to the online Citizenship platform until 2022 is a serious right to counsel issue for applicants. This can create both a disadvantage and disincentive for those who have chosen to work with lawyers and generates a two-tiered citizenship application program that ultimately undermines rather than strengthens program delivery.
Secondly, prior to the opening of the TR to PR pathway program on May 6, 2021, lawyers were informed that they would be able to submit TR to PR applications on behalf of clients, like the Express Entry platform, online provincial nomination programs and the third-party representative portal. IRCC’s decision to exclude counsel on the eve of implementation resulted in real barriers to legal representation vis-a-vis a unique program that offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply for permanent residence.
Lastly, limiting access to new digital application platforms also engenders opportunities for unscrupulous actors to fashion email addresses and disguise themselves as clients. This hampers IRCC’s goal of eliminating ‘ghost’ representation.
Given the important role of lawyers, CILA seeks a new and shared way forward. We welcome the opportunity to share our experiences and research to strengthen the integrity and delivery of citizenship and immigration law, policy, and processing.
On Behalf of the Steering Committee of CILA