The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Third time’s the charm: Once more on immigration consultants

September 5 2017 5 September 2017

The CBA’s Immigration Law Section applauds the emphasis in a recent report on immigration consultants by the Citizenship and Immigration Committee on protecting individuals who want to immigrate to Canada. Still, it feels the Committee’s recommendations “have missed the mark in a number of key areas” by not addressing fundamental issues that have led to the failure of two separate regulatory bodies for consultants.

The Section endorses a number of the report’s recommendations, those which it says will, among others, improve access to justice, reduce language barriers, increase fines for ghost consultants, and give more financial support to settlement agencies.

But in its third submission on the topic of immigration consultants this year (the other two were in March and in May), the Section once again asserts that the best interests of the public are served if only lawyers are authorized to act as paid representatives in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

“Our most significant concern is the recommendation that a government oversight body model be adopted as the framework to regulate immigration consultants and paralegals,” the Section writes.

The report notes that prospective immigrants are often unaware of the difference between regulated and unregulated consultants, paralegals and lawyers.

“One way to effectively combat this confusion, and ensure that applicants receive the best possible representation, is to amend IRPA section 91 to restrict paid representation in IRPA to lawyers. Lawyers, who are ultimately responsible to their law society or the Chambre des notaires du Québec, could then supervise certified immigration consultants working as specialized non-lawyer staff in law firms.”

The lawyers in this case would be responsible for any work performed, and held accountable in the event of a complaint. The Section suggests a transition period to allow the federal government to establish an effective training and certification program for consultants.

Another recommendation, which would give applicants the opportunity to correct errors made by unscrupulous consultants, is of concern because it is inconsistent with existing case law.

The Section also continues to be concerned by the “marginalization and negative portrayal” of lawyers on government websites.

“An overview of IRCC web pages reveals the overall tone of messaging about representatives, including lawyers, is consistently one of caution. Lawyers are usually listed after consultants on these pages in a way that downplays their education, training and professional standards to the point of misinformation.”

Not only do the pages not present an accurate description of the benefits lawyers can offer, the submission says, they include lawyers in warnings of potential fraudulent activities by representatives.

“This is akin to the government warning people not to go to their family doctor when they are sick for fear of malpractice,” the Section writes.

The report also frequently refers to immigration consultants and paralegals together, when in fact they have different roles and training. While there is some overlap in function, they are not one and the same.

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