The Legal Services Society (LSS) welcomes the news that the federal government will provide substantial additional funding to British Columbia for immigration and refugee legal aid services this year.
The Prime Minister recently announced a one-time investment to participating provinces of nearly $27 million in 2019/2020. Of this, about $1.2 million was committed to British Columbia, topping up existing federal funding of $1.9 million for the year. In addition, the BC government has provided LSS with $800,000 in immigration legal aid funding for 2019/2020.
The injection of new money comes at the right time for LSS.
“We appreciate the ongoing support of BC’s Attorney General and the Prime Minister for services that address the needs of this particularly vulnerable group -- people who come to Canada in increasing numbers, traumatized due to persecution and other forms of abuse in their home countries,” said LSS CEO Mark Benton, QC.
“We were concerned that we would run out of money for immigration and refugee legal aid before the end of the year, which would force us to shut down services for people seeking asylum,” Benton added. “Barring any unforeseen events, the federal government’s additional funding and continued provincial government support means we won’t have to do that, for which we are thankful.”
LSS has seen an upward trend in refugee claims for several years. The organization experienced a 264% increase in claims from 2015 to 2018. So far this year, claims are up another 30%, mostly from Iranian nationals. That equates to 545 refugee cases since April 1, 2019, the start of the society’s fiscal year.
LSS funds private lawyers to represent financially eligible people who have meritorious refugee claims or who face immigration proceedings that would result in their removal from Canada in circumstances that put their personal safety at risk.
LSS also funds immigration duty counsel – lawyers who are stationed at the immigration office in Vancouver – to provide advice to people detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.