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Exacerbating the backlog in immgration

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has suspended immigration proceedings while the country practises social distancing in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. But that could create access-to-justice issues for applicants and lawyers.

Canadian flag and COVID

To paraphrase the great Thomas Paine, who was writing during a time of crisis more than 200 years ago, these are the times that try men’s souls – as well as their ability to adapt to reflect the new reality.

One of the places where this adaptation is necessary is at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, which faces backlogs at the best of times. Given the suspension of most immigration proceedings due to COVID-19, that backlog could become crippling.

The CBA’s Immigration Law Section has written to the IRB’s Immigration Division and Immigration Appeals Division, as well as the Canada Border Services Agency, asking that alternative measures be put in place to allow some hearings to proceed while social distancing continues.

The Section says it is “encouraged” by the progress the Immigration Division has already made but suggests even more activities could be done remotely.

“The ID and IAD could consider allowing alternative dispute resolutions and conducting some hearings (by) videoconference or teleconference,” the Section writes. “Other matters such as jurisdictional or legal questions could be addressed in writing. The CBSA could scan and file the record electronically and both parties could scan and file their disclosure electronically.”

Any new process would have to be voluntary, as some parties may not have access to the tools needed to proceed remotely.

While all stakeholders will benefit from a reduced backlog once regular proceedings return, some stakeholders will surely suffer if the suspension continues.

“A prolonged suspension of activities could … compromise both the financial circumstances of applicants and the viability of law firms, making it more difficult for applicants to obtain legal representation when the ID and IAD’s regular operations resume.”