by Delia Luca and Jacob Webster
The final panel of the Asper Centre Immigration Detention Symposium held on March 15, 2019 focused on the Immigration Detention Toolkit (Toolkit) recently launched by the Canadian Association of Refugee Laywers (CARL) and the Asper Centre Clinic’s Compendium of jurisprudence related to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s (IRB) External Audit, soon to be available. In conjunction, the panellists advanced strategies for addressing the ongoing challenges in Canada’s immigration detention system and illuminated the discrepancies between the expectations articulated by the courts and the practice of the IRB’s Immigration Division (ID). The panelists were Jamie Chai Yun Liew, Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa and co-leader of CARL working group on Immigration Detention, Aris Daghighian, an Associate at Green and Spiegel LLP and member of CARL’s Working Group on Immigration Detention, Devon Johnson, a JD Candidate at UofT Law and Asper Centre Clinic Student and Jim Molos a JD Candidate at UofT Law and Asper Centre Clinic Student. The panel was moderated by Enbal Singer a 3L at UofT Law and co-leader of the Asper Centre’s student working group on Immigration and Refugee Law.
The Immigration Detention Toolkit
The Immigration Detention Toolkit was devised by CARL in order to provide recommendations on the steps counsel can take to ensure the fairest process possible outcomes for their clients in immigration detention. The panelists modestly acknowledged that the Toolkit is a “living document”, an evolving document, that ought to be updated to reflect criticisms and recommendations. The Toolkit is the product of laudable advocacy across the country, in response to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s (IRB) External Audit. The panelists cautioned that the Toolkit should not be used in isolation, as it is meant to be employed by counsel in conjunction with the Chairperson’s Guidelines.
While touched on throughout the panel, the need to ensure fair representation for clients in the face of relatively unprincipled judgments strikes us as meriting a more elaborate discussion. How should counsel approach discrepancies and a lack of transparency with respect to the immigration detention system? The Toolkit seeks to aid counsel in discerning what they should demand of the ID. For instance, counsel must ask for sufficient disclosure in order to hold the Canada Border Service Agency’s (CBSA) officials accountable, CBSA should provide reasonable notice of the evidence or information that will be relied upon at the detention review, including any evidence that may exculpate the detainee. Knowing the right questions and making appropriate demands on behalf of clients is especially relevant in a legal forum where government officials and the ID have seemingly broad discretion.
The panel also touched upon the question of how to properly articulate detainee’s mental illness, addiction and other vulnerabilities. As legal practitioners working with vulnerable clients, one must acknowledge and represent their client’s circumstances in a manner that does not disaffirm their agency and active role throughout the process. Despite societal efforts at creating a safe environment where said vulnerabilities may be discussed openly, detainees’ suffering from various conditions continue to be stigmatized. In such cases, counsel must assess their client’s situation, identify the need to appoint a Designated Representation (DR) and inform the ID accordingly.
The Toolkit advances recommendations of how to relate to the vulnerability of detainees and encourage the courts to consider their vulnerability in a substantive, rather than merely procedural manner. Counsel must demonstrate that their client’s vulnerability should not be taken as a flight risk or risk to the public. Furthermore, counsel must highlight that the detainee’s mental health or addiction is not voluntary and may inhibit one’s capacity. In doing so, counsel must not severely victimize the client in a manner that strips the client of their perceived ability to improve their condition. This issue invokes the rising demands upon immigration lawyers to think creatively, as evidenced by the advent of using habeas corpus under section 10(c) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”) on behalf of clients, to grant them relief from arbitrary state detention. All in all, in the face of broad discretion, counsel must challenge Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) submissions and force adequate disclosure. As per the words of one of the panelists, counsel has the duty to “put CBSA’s feet to the fire” in hopes of facilitating a fair and just process.
A Compendium of Federal Court Jurisprudence
As clinic students at the Asper Centre last term, Jim Molos and Devon Johnson conducted a survey of relevant Federal Court case law and compiled a compendium of jurisprudence to assist practitioners in martialling precedent to advocate for their clients’ best interests in immigration detention hearings. Their presentation emphasized the minimum standards for lawful immigration detention and their interpretation under section 7 of the Charter in Charkaoui v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2007 SCC 9. Molos stressed the importance of effective advocacy. Although the constitutionality of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) has been affirmed by courts, particular detentions may still be unconstitutional. With relation to disclosure, it was stressed that section 7 of the Charter protects the right against having a case brought on undisclosed evidence. Thus, counsel should ensure that the Minister’s case is challenged effectively.
The latter half of Molos and Johnson’s presentation focused on alternatives to detention under section 58(3) of the IRPA. The panellists emphasized that all conditions imposed on release should be viewed as an imposition of liberty and thus must be subject to ongoing review in a way that ensures that the impositions do not deprive liberty disproportionate to risk.
In the question and answer period that followed the panel, an audience member questioned whether the CARL Toolkit is written in a manner accessible to unrepresented detainees or published in multiple languages. Liew and Daghighian acknowledged that this was an important suggestion and that while the Toolkit was written in an accessible manner, it was probably not accessible enough for a self-represented litigant. This speaks to the evolving nature of the document.
The CARL Toolkit is available here and the Asper Centre Federal Court Case law Compendium is forthcoming. The presentation used by Liew and Daghighian during the panel is available here and the presentation used by Molos and Johnson is available here.
Delia Luca and Jacob Webster are both 1L JD Candidates at the Faculty of Law and members of the Asper Centre’s Immigration & Refugee Law student working group.