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Outcry over consultants

|Written By Michael McKiernan

The Law Society of Upper Canada has successfully lobbied MPs to exempt paralegals from regulation as immigration consultants, a move one lawyer practising in the area calls a “scandal.”

‘I think it’s a scandal because it is invading areas that are traditionally the province of lawyers,’ says Sergio Karas.

Bill C-35, the cracking down on crooked consultants act that’s currently winding its way through Parliament, is the federal government’s response to a string of controversies involving unqualified and unethical consultants who exploited prospective immigrants to the country.

The bill tightens up the rules on who can charge fees for immigration advice. In the meantime, hearings are underway to find a governing body to regulate consultants and thereby replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.

While lawyers in all provinces and territories are exempt from the requirements, an amendment adopted at the committee stage of the bill earlier this month adds paralegals belonging to the LSUC to that list.

Sergio Karas, a past chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s citizenship and immigration section, sees the whole bill as an erosion of lawyers’ territory but finds the law society’s move on paralegals particularly galling.

“I think it’s a scandal because it is invading areas that are traditionally the province of lawyers,” he tells Law Times. “The law society is undermining the role of lawyers.”

According to Karas, only lawyers should be able to advise and represent applicants in proceedings under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. “It’s very complicated.

You need to know a lot of case law and what the jurisprudence is. Immigration consultants are not equipped to do that and nor are paralegals.”

At the same time, with 300 active members of the immigration law bar in Ontario alone, Karas says consumers have enough options. “It’s not like there is a shortage of lawyers. You shouldn’t be hard-pressed to find representation.”

After the government announced the legislation in June, the Paralegal Society of Ontario wrote to the federal government to request an exemption given the LSUC’s regulation of paralegals.

“We provide a valuable choice for the public and are recognized as a valuable provider of legal services,” wrote paralegal society president Chris Surowiak.

“Individuals wanting to immigrate to Canada can be assured they will have a qualified representative when they retain the services of a paralegal member of the law society.”

Last month, the law society backed him up, sending Treasurer Laurie Pawlitza to make the pitch for paralegals at the standing committee on citizenship and immigration.

She pointed to the law society’s 200-year track record of successful regulation and discipline and noted paralegals must carry professional liability insurance.

Surowiak tells Law Times the exemption will save paralegals who practise immigration law more than $3,000 per year in fees paid to remain members of CSIC.

“The [paralegal society] and the law society were on the same page with this, and we’re really pleased with the result,” he says, adding he rejects the idea that only lawyers should be able to handle immigration matters.

“We have to show we’re competent in the area of law we practise in, and there’s plenty of courses out there to ensure that paralegals are competent to practise in immigration law. The public is protected using the services of a paralegal. They offer a lot of talent and are quite able to handle immigration matters.”

But if there is a role for non-lawyers in immigration applications, Karas says they should be able to operate only under the strict supervision of lawyers. “In the ideal world, the role of the immigration consultant should be the same as a dental hygienist who works under the dentist’s supervision.

If these people want to practise law so badly, let them go to law school.”

In its representations to the standing committee in October, the Canadian Bar Association also recommended the government allow consultants to work only under lawyers.

Still, Chantal Arsenault, a lawyer at Ogilvy Renault LLP in Montreal and chairwoman of the CBA’s national citizenship and immigration law section, noted the organization hasn’t yet taken a position on the role of LSUC paralegals.

“Immigration lawyers should be the ones providing immigration advice,” she says. “We don’t question that in other fields in terms of who are the best-equipped people to give legal advice. Why should we question it here? Lawyers have many years of training to have the tools necessary to evaluate all of the aspects of the situation, more than just one or two courses on immigration.”

Nevertheless, Arsenault says the legislation’s goal of stamping out so-called ghost consultants, who in some cases charge high prices, make deceitful promises or encourage applicants to lie, is laudable. But CSIC’s past record and the experience of other countries show self-regulation isn’t the answer, she adds.

Since its inception in 2004, CSIC has been beset with problems. Critics have accused it of turning a blind eye to unscrupulous consultants, while Arsenault says its regulation has been ineffective.

In Australia, the government designated a self-regulating body for immigration consultants in the late 1990s. But by 2009, regulation had returned to government control amid allegations of conflict of interest.

“In Canada and other countries, frameworks that have been attempted haven’t been very successful,” Arsenault says. “We are worried that we might be going down the path where we’re just repeating past mistakes.”

The process for appointing a new regulator is also flawed because CSIC is able to reapply to retain its role, Karas says. “The only group who seem willing to take on the regulatory role is CSIC, who are the people at the root of the problem. It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.”

  • Lawyers as immigration experts

    Mr. Reality
    Hiring a lawyer guarantees one gets an expert in the field of immigration? Really? That 3 hour lecture on property law in law school does not even come close to preparing the average lawyer to understand immigration law. And assuming only lawyers are 'capable' or being at that special high level to understand immigration law is simply patronizing and pathetic.
    CSIC, however, should go.
  • anonymous
    Improvements to the mandatory education for immigration consultants and paralegals is needed if both are to practice effectively in the immigration field. A few of the accredited immigration programs are pretty bad, and the paralegal programs have very little immigration education. It would also be nice to see fresh blood governing CSIC. Currently the directors play musical chairs on the various boards for CSiC and subsidiary organizations, and there is really only one ruler anyway (who is pulling all the other strings). Scary.
  • Student Paralegal

    What do you mean ... "these people..."? The article by "that guy who does the law thing" should refrain from sensationalizing outdated notions of an 'invasion' of traditional areas of practice. There's plenty of work for everyone, including paralegals with much more than an 'interest' in providing legal services at reasonable cost.
  • Morality Collapsed

    I know a consultant/para-legal who for more than a decade and half regularly appeared on south Asian TV programmes and curved out a big fortune through immigration work and would phone immigration office anonymously to give phone number and address where his clients now under deportation orders are hidding/sleeping to send then direct to Islamabad. If stayed in Canada they stayed he said would ask fee money back and would spread foul smell around in community. Who want that trouble? Fitest will survive.
  • Guest
    decade ago there was no licence to practise those areas of law, anybody could be immigration consultant or paralegal at that time. so that's why there were so many frauds, and some are still continuing from people who got the licence as a "grandparent".
  • Guest
    I agree that there is a serious problem with oversight of immigration practitioners. What our minister failed to acknowledge is that the most fraud that happens within the industry is conducted by license immigration lawyers who fairly frequently take immigration cases while the last time that they have seen Immigration regulation or Immigration Act was when they were about to pass Bar exam. Let's face it, lawyer who rarely practises immigration law is as dangerous or even more dangerous to the client than the “Sunday driver” who suddenly decides to race during the traffic time.
    In my opinion any lawyer who wants to practice immigration law should be tested on annual bases from the knowledge of the current immigration law. If we force our teachers and nurses to periodically update their knowledge why we do not keep lawyers up to the same standard? Moreover minister of immigration should set up the panel that will protect potential immigrants from unscrupulous immigration lawyers who charges huge up front fees from those applicants who have no chance of ever becoming permanent residents. Anyone who ever tried to complaint about lawyer’s services didn’t go to far simply because no lawyer wants to attack another member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. So virtually public is unprotected, there is no oversight and the most fraud that we never read about in “Toronto Star” is conducted by the immigration lawyers. Shouldn’t the public be protected from all kinds of fraud? Not only from one kind of fraudsters?
  • ABA member LLB

    Elie Hani
    there is A big problem with CSIC members who are out of control ,for many reasons;
    - first many of their members are new comers to Canada, and do not have enough experience in Citizenship and Immigration LAW and Regulations
    - many of them have been subject to RCMP inquiry for many complains have been deposited by clients who have been misguided and fraudulently exploited .and the CSIC administration never bother to investigate
    about the complains in their regards
    - many of their members have overcharged their clients with large exaggerated amounts.with ineffective consultations.
    I have witnessed these elements before the parliamentary committee,in my capacity as lobbyist
    CSIC must absolutely dismantled
  • ms

    You are not quite right as there are bad and good consultants, members of CSIC as there are bad and good lawyers, members of LSUC. The porblem is not about consultants most of whom are highly educated in their field and completed immigration programs in colleges (by the way, lawyers do not have an immigration programs in law schools), but in CSIC, a corrupted organization which drains $6,000 of fees from its members each year.
  • Registrar, College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario

    Fran Richardson
    Mr. Karas' statement regarding dental hygienists is incorrect. Under the Acts that govern dental hygiene in Ontario there is absolutely no supervision requirement. Dental hygienists do not work "under the dentists' supervision" as dental hygienists have their own regulatory college and are professionals in their own right. It is disapointing for a member of the legal profession to use incorrect statements as a means of making his arguement.
  • A dose of reality

    Mr Karas has obviously not read the SCC decision in Mangat. He is also not aware that dental hygenists can now practice on their own without the supervision of a dentist.
  • Guest
    exactly and he is a lawyer, that represents high expertise in the law. Let him practice the immigration Law.
  • the civility of it all..

    Oh please..
    I'm sure I won't be the last person to point out that this article is not about how much more effective the LSUC has been at regulating those that practice or provide legal services. I'm assuming the nexus of that possible exemption is just that. Nor is it congratulatory on a job well done to attempt to bring clarity and integrity to the process for those immigrating.
    No, this article is about pitting lawyers against paralegals. Reprinting "If these people want to practise law so badly, let them go to law school.”
    is a statement beneath ANY member of the bar and clearly a position out of touch with reality. If anyone has difficulty with competition, how about "go to marketing school".
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