Cultural Shift at IRCC: #sunnydays

Two weeks ago, more than 500 immigration professionals descended into Vancouver for the sold-out annual CBA Immigration Conference. Minister McCallum gave the keynote address and members of his department presented on many aspects of immigration and refugee law, from overseas sponsorship applications for refugees to inadmissibility issues to the interpretation of Kanthasamy and its impact on H&C applications. Overall, the quality of speakers was superb (for the record, I was not a speaker) and the dialogue was candid and respectful. I will not get into the substantive points of the conference here but one point has stuck with me: since the Liberals have regained power, there has been a dramatic shift in the tone and candour from IRCC staff. In short, we witnessed a significant cultural shift within the department, and in my view, a positive change.

IRCC Open to Criticism

From the Minister to each and every speaker, the IRCC representatives were open to feedback and criticism throughout the conference. In particular, it was refreshing to hear Officers readily acknowledge shortcomings of the system and the concrete steps they are taking to deal with issues. In many sessions, Officers emphasized, “please remember that we are your friends” and they took every concern raised seriously. Until I hear otherwise, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that those notes will not simply gather dust.

After Minister McCallum’s speech, he was scheduled to sit with Chantal Desloges, a regular critic of Liberal policies in the media (and a personal friend of mine). Chantal was poised to ask some tough questions but instead deferred to her colleagues and let the Minister field questions from the audience. Near the end, he prompted her to ask a tough question to which she replied, “actually, I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said!”

Where Are The Defenders? 

I was reminded of this conference today while reading Lawrence Martin’s piece, The frustrations of being Governor-General. Referring to the recent Duffy decision, Martin writes:

“Mind-boggling and shocking” the judge wrote of the comportment of the office of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. “Unacceptable” in a “democratic society.”

The judge’s portrait – hello Harperland – was more affirmation of what many have been saying for years about the way these people operated. It was telling that hardly a Conservative could be found to come to the microphone to defend their former ruler against the charges.

In the same way that there are scant defenders of how Harper operated, there were also scant defenders of the Conservative policies and laws under the mandate of IRCC that are being systematically dismantled.

#Sunnydays

Clearly, we are still in a honeymoon phase with the current government. They are still open to our wish-lists of policies to amend. This phase will, of course, end at some point and we will miss these sunny days. In the meantime, it is refreshing to have open and candid conversations with IRCC Officers in public (previously, I found that the best way was to speak with them outside the office to get honest and uncensored feedback). As Chantal noted: “If I had to put it in a nutshell, I would say that what I walked away with is that people are feeling a great deal of positivity and hope with the new government when it comes to immigration.”

The question is: will this government continue to inspire positivity and hope through its actions, not just its promises?

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST HAS BEEN CROSS-PUBLISHED ON SLAW.CA.

Guest Speaker at University of Manitoba, Dept of Labour Studies

Please note that Alastair Clarke has been invited to be the Guest Speaker at the University of Manitoba in the Department of Labour Studies to give a presentation on Canadian Immigration law and how it relates to workers. This presentation will be geared towards the students in Labour Studies; however members of the public may participate by contacting Professor Simeone directly.

Topic covered include:

TFWP

  • Temporary Foreign Work Program
  • Labour Market Impact Assessment applications (LMIA)
  • Health care for workers
  • Regularizing status for temporary residents
  • Legal rights of temporary workers

The presentation will be held at the University of Manitoba on March 24th from 10:00AM to 11:30AM.

Contact our office by clicking here or contact Instructor Daniel Simeone directly for more details.

Elimination of Conditional Permanent Resident Status

I recently met with a young Norwegian professional who wanted to know how to become a Canadian citizen. After I explained some of paths from temporary status (which he had, as a visitor) to permanent resident status to citizenship, he was visibly frustrated and said, “this is too complicated. I just want the form to become Canadian.” I had to admit that he’s right: the system is complicated. (And wouldn’t it be nice to have such a form?) Our former government made things more complicated by adding even more levels to our robust hierarchy of statuses. The most significant additions were the creation of “conditional permanent resident status” in 2012 (for Applicants in a spousal sponsorship application) and, with the changes to our Citizenship Act, “second class” Canadian citizens in 2014. Those changes are now being reversed by the current government. There still isn’t any plan for a form for my new Norwegian friend but we seem to now be on a path to simplify the system.

conditional permanent residentConditional Permanent Resident Status

Within the immigration bar, there were advocates for and against the creation of the “conditional” PR status before the 2012 amendments. We had all had clients like Cindy Green who came to us after their application has been approved and their spouse had ditched them after getting status. We met them, heartbroken, and they asked us to have their spouse removed. There was not a lot we could do. Most did not carry a door on their backs to Parliament but kudos to Ms. Green for shining light on the issue. I wish I could say these cases are rare but they are not. The creation of the conditional status (for 2 years) was a sincere attempt to resolve these issues but, unwittingly, created new issues. TStar reporter, good ol’ Nick Keung (what would we do without him?), wrote a nice piece outlining some of the issues:

The proposed amendments are part of a Liberal election campaign commitment and come on the heels of a new study that found women, racial minorities and those from Muslim-majority countries are disproportionally slapped with so-called “conditional permanent resident visas,” prompting concerns that they are forced to stay in abusive relationships to avoid losing their status.

To be fair, the legislation included protections for spouses in abusive relationships. That was a key concern from the start. But there is a big difference in drafting legislation that attempts to mitigate negative consequences and then the realities of misinformation and the precarious situation of the new immigrants. Unfortunately, many of the individuals negatively affected are unsophisticated and they rely on friends and family to explain the law. “You better put up with me for me for at least 2 years or I will have you deported.” This report documented the real dangers faced by new immigrants with “conditional” status. In the end, the victims of domestic violence (generally women) found themselves in situations of compounded fear that they would be deported if they sought help.

Protect the Applicants … or the Sponsors?

Our current government announced that it will reverse the changes and eliminate conditional permanent resident status. Personally, I agree that the reversal will help to protect many victims of abuse. (I also appreciate the effort to simplify the system and shrink the hierarchy of statuses but I’ll leave this point for another post.) The question becomes: what are the Liberals going to do to help the Permanent Residents and Canadian citizens, sponsors like Cindy Green, who find themselves, heart in hand, abandoned at the airport?

I initially planned to also address the proposed changes to citizenship law and amendments to the TFWP (cover all the groups of statuses) but that is going to have to wait for another week. The Slaw-bot has reminded me that my copy is due.

Published concurrently at slaw.com

Syrian Refugees

When the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program was launched on 28 Sept 2015, Clarke Law was one of the first law firms in Canada to join. The goal of the program was to help the government reach its target of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees as part of its campaign promise. Immigration and refugee lawyers across Canada have been working and volunteering their time to make sure the applications are processed quickly, without issues.

In Winnipeg, Alastair Clarke agreed to assist the South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative pro bono (this means that legal services are provided at no cost). We are assisting a group of families who are currently in Lebanon. The Syrian refugees have each faced extreme hardship while in their home country and they have managed to make their way to relative safety in Lebanon. Unfortunately, they are still not safe. We are working to bring them to Winnipeg where they will be far from the violence and out of reach from the Syrian operatives who are still threatening their safety.

Paula Leslie and other organizers have been working hard to raise the funds to make sure the Syrian families have support once they reach Canada. News agencies, including the CBC, have been reporting their efforts:

Matthew Lawrence

Event Organizer Matthew Lawrence

Close to 350 people packed the Park Theatre on Tuesday night for a sold-out fundraising concert to help bring Syrian refugee families to Winnipeg.

The South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative teamed up with Churchill Park United Church for the benefit concert, which featured performances by The Bonaduces, Sweet Alibi and DJ Co-Op.

Event co-organizer Matthew Lawrence said the goal is to raise a total of $90,000 “so that we can hopefully sponsor three families” who have relatives already living in the city.

“We just felt really compelled to take some action,” Lawrence said.

Benefit concert co-organizer Matthew Lawrence says the goal is to raise a total of $90,000 to help sponsor three Syrian refugee families with relatives already living in Winnipeg. (CBC)

“We started by thinking maybe we could just get involved in something else, but we kind of kept waiting and waiting and nothing was happening, so we decided, ‘Let’s just start something ourselves.'”

A GoFundMe campaign launched by the South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative has already raised more than $60,000. Lawrence said he hopes the concert will raise another $10,000.

To show their appreciation, the group recently posted a testimonial on their Facebook page:Syrian Refugees

Accolades to immigration lawyer Alastair Clarke for assisting us with our applications. Alastair generously provided his services pro bono through the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. Given that SOSRI was completing the dozens of forms as representatives for the five principal applicants we had a number of questions on how to address certain issues that a sponsoring group ordinarily wouldn’t have (most sponsoring groups apply and have UNHCR families/individuals assigned to them with papers/documents/histories complete). The IRRC toll free question line has extremely long wait times! We were very fortunate to be able to simply email and/or call Alastair with any questions throughout the application process.

They also write:

Along with Alastair’s professional integrity and his breadth of knowledge it is clear that he cares deeply for the issues and people that he works with. If you need an immigration lawyer – look no further. Thank you Alastair – your time and efforts are appreciated.

This work is not done. We will continue to support this group, and other groups, to make sure their transition to Canada is without any issues.

 

Immigration Questions from Presentations

These past few weeks have been very busy and we wanted to thank everyone for their support. At the PCCM event on Jan 30th, more than 100 people came to the event. The room was full and the audience was engaged. Last night, we have a presentation at Munroe Library in Winnipeg and, again, the room was packed and there was active participation. We met folks from Ukraine, Philippines, India, Pakistan, the USA, Nigeria, Egypt, Australia, El Salvador and many others. We answered many immigration questions. Here are some of the questions that Mr. Clarke answered during the 5 hours of presentations:

  • If my Super Visa is going to expire but my husband has submitted an In-Canada Spousal Sponsorship application, do I need to apply to extend my Visa?
  • Can I sponsor my brother in Punjab?Immigration Questions
  • If my MPNP application is refused, how do I appeal the decision?
  • I want my mother from the Philippines to come and take care of my children. How do I bring her to Canada?
  • MPNP is no longer accepting applications from Nurses and my sister is a Nurse. How I can I help her come to Manitoba?
  • My son married a woman from Wisconsin and she has children from a previous marriage. Do the children become Permanent Residents too?
  • What are the benefits of becoming a Canadian citizen?
  • If I become a citizen, do I lose my American citizenship?
  • My brother was refused entry to Canada but we don’t know why. How can we find out?
  • How long does it take for a MPNP application?
  • How many people can I support for MPNP applications?
  • My brother wants to come to Canada but he is not sure if he will come to Manitoba. He is interested in Toronto. If I help him with his MPNP application, can he move to Toronto? Can Manitoba come after me?
  • How long does it take to process a Parental Class application?
  • How many times can I extend my visa?
  • And many more!

If you have any of these questions or you have other immigration questions, please come to the next presentation or contact our office. Click here for information on how to schedule an appointment.

Winnipeg Readers: Feb 8th Free Presentation

Immigration Presentation

Repost: Reactive Legislation from Denmark

The following was originally published on Slaw.ca and written by Alastair Clarke:refugee law

Denmark has been receiving significant attention for its so-called “Jewelry Law” that passed 81 to 27 on January 26, 2016. This new law gives authorities the power to seize valuables from asylum seekers (refugee claimants) who enter the country. Legislators included exceptions for items of “special sentimental value” such as wedding rings and medals; however, items such as cell phones and computers may be seized.

Based on reports from UNHCR, CCR and other organizations, the refugees flowing into Europe have been using their cell phones to communicate and exchange information about where to find shelter and safety, which borders are accessible and to maintain contact with family and friends. When they take selfies, for example, they may be letting their family members know that they are safe. By seizing cell phones, Danish authorities are putting these people at risk and cutting them off from the diaspora. In essence, the Danish government passed a law to take away the lifelines of the desperate refugees entering their country. 

Since the law passed, Denmark has been getting significant negative press. The law has been described as a “quick fix” and “reactionary legislation” to a huge problem faced by governments around the world. UNHCR warns that the law could fuel xenophobia. The law is abhorrent on multiple levels. First, seizing the scant assets from people fleeing their homeland is simply deplorable. Second, Danish politicians have stated that the purpose of the law is to protect their “advanced welfare system”. The stated purpose of this law, unfortunately, fails to address the underlying systemic problem and contradicts a central objective of a welfare program: to improve the lives of vulnerable people. 

Digging down, this legislation is only one example of the erosion of the 30-year-old Schengen Agreement and the breakdown of European cooperation. The central tenet of the Schengen Agreement, the so-called “passport-free” zone, was designed to allow for only temporary suspension. According to European law, the European Commission can allow countries to reimpose controls for six months no more than three times until May 2018.  Now, they are revisiting this limitation on border controls to allow European countries to opt out of the passport-free condition for 2 years.

It is not a coincidence that much of the bad press is coming from this side of the Atlantic. There is no doubt that European countries have been reeling from the influx of Syrians refugees escaping northward. The Danish government rightly points out that it has accepted a huge number of refugees per capita. In 2013, the country of roughly 5.6M accepted more than 21,000 refugees. By comparison, if Canada accepted the same number per capita, we would be accepting more than 133,000 refugees. The Liberal government is certainly to be commended for its efforts to settle 25,000 Syrians in Canada but it is a very small number of those in need.

If Canada is truly committed to restoring our humanitarian reputation, we could spearhead an initiative for greater global cooperation through international law. After past major disasters, the global community has come together to draft agreements and build on the foundations of international law. In my own practice, I have quoted the Geneva Conventions, for example, too many times to count. 

At this point, we need the Big Thinkers to come together and organize long-term solutions. It is disappointing that Europe has not been able to come together and, instead, legislators across the continent have been focused on drafting NIMBY laws to make their particular jurisdictions less attractive. In my view, we need a systemic, organized approach to the situation; an approach that can be applied to this problem and to any potential future catastrophe that leads to large migrations of families. Canada could seize this role and regain its stature on the international stage.

Law in the Library: Feb 8th Registration

Winnipeg Public Library has opened the registration for the Feb 8th presentation. For more information, CLICK HERE.

LAW IN THE LIBRARY

Winnipeg Readers: Jan 30th Presentation

FREE IMMIGRATION JAN2016

News: Alastair Clarke joins Slaw.ca

Expansion

Slaw Bloggers

After an invitation from Steve Matthews, the Publisher of Slaw.ca, Alastair Clarke has joined the site to write regularly on immigration news, events and updates in the legislation. Canadian immigration and refugee law is constantly shifting and changing. With the Liberal government, we expect many changes in the near future. Alastair is honoured to be invited and to contribute to Slaw.ca, one of Canada’s top legal websites.

About Slaw.ca:

Slaw is Canadian, co-operative, and about any and all things legal.

Slaw has been growing for almost 10 years:

Slaw dates back to June 2005, when Simon Fodden extended an invitation to a small group of early Canadian law bloggers. Our “founding four” (Simon Fodden, Simon Chester, Connie Crosby and me) all continue to write for Slaw in some capacity; Simon F’s vision of a grassroots web-publication for the legal industry thrives to this day.

The content on Slaw started with a narrow focus and it has expanded over the years.

Slaw’s early writing focused on legal information, research, and technology, and while those topics are still addressed regularly, our coverage has expanded to include most aspects of legal practice.

Our ranks have swelled over the years, too. As of summer 2014, we routinely operate with a crew of 22-25 weekly bloggers and 60-70 regular columnists. Together, we have published almost 12,000 entries, generated more than 15,000 approved comments, and draw nearly one million page views every month. While our core of writers remain Canadian, we have strategically recruited expert contributors from all around the globe.

Alastair plans to publish on Slaw.ca regularly on Fridays. Check out the site for more information.