Immigration program fees not a law society issue

{mosinfo by=(donalee Moulton) divider=(default) date=(Friday, 13 February 2009) class=(default)}HALIFAX - Nova Scotia’s controversial immigration program, which required immigrants to pay roughly $130,000, is back in the news.

Local lawyer Blair Hodgman, of Allen & Hodgman, has taken her concerns about the agent fee often paid to lawyers to the press. Going public was her second step. First she went to the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

The society president spoke with Hodgman about the issue, says NSBS executive director Darrel Pink. That was about all that could be done, he adds.

“There wasn’t a complaint per se [and] we don’t usually have any role in issues of fees.”

The economic stream of the provincial nominee program for immigrants has been shut down by the government but continues to make headlines. Several lawsuits filed by the private firm contracted to oversee the initiative are now wending their way through the court system. The provincial auditor is also doing his due diligence.

Two special reports were issued last year by Auditor General Jacques Lapointe. The second of those focused on the experiences of nominees and the role of mentors, agents, and brokers. “Although not required by the program, most nominees used the services of an immigration agent to assist them in preparing their application. $20,000 of the nominees’ economic contribution under the [Nova Scotia Nominee Program] was intended to pay agents’ commissions. However most nominees interviewed were not aware of this. Most agents we spoke with indicated they also charged nominees additional fees for their services,” Lapointe noted in his report.

He also pointed out that fees remain in a trust fund and cannot be disbursed until the legal ball of wool is unravelled.

Hodgman believes the large agent’s fee - larger than what she calculates legal services alone would cost - could have swayed lawyers to direct clients into the economic stream as opposed to other options, thereby firmly placing lawyers in a conflict-of-interest position.

But hypothetical situations can’t be assessed, notes Pink. “Each conflict-of-interest question is resolved on a case-by-case basis.”

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