Refugee rights advocates call on Federal government to take measures for former refugee claimants who did not receive adequate legal counsel

Toronto, Ontario, September 20, 2016

The Law Society of Upper Canada has found lawyer Joseph Farkas guilty of professional misconduct. 

In the long-awaited decision, which was released late last week, a  Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) panel made findings of professional misconduct as alleged in the Notice of Application. Therefore, it was held that the legal services Farkas provided failed to meet standards of competence.

The decision related to complaints made in 2011 and 2012 by ten of Farkas’ former clients, all of whom were Hungarian Romani refugee claimants. A disciplinary hearing is yet to be scheduled.

Gina Csanyi-Robah, a witness at the Farkas hearing held on November 26, 2014 at the LSUC, testified that although few people were willing to make official complaints to the LSUC, during her time as executive director of the Toronto Roma Community Centre, hundreds had brought forward serious concerns about Farkas’ legal services.

Joseph Farkas is the third lawyer to be found guilty of professional misconduct in relation to services provided to Romani asylum seekers. In 2015, lawyers Victor Hohots and Elizabeth Jaszi were also found guilty of misconduct. Hohots was suspended as a result, whereas Jaszi was fined and disbarred.

 A report entitled "No Refuge: Hungarian Romani Refugee Claimants in Canada" published by the Osgoode Hall Law Journal showed that between 2008 and 2012 these three lawyers represented 985 Hungarian Romani refugee claimants combined. The vast majority of the claimants have since been deported back to Hungary. The lawyers were operating during the era of the Harper government, when Roma were targeted as “bogus refugees.” Bias against Roma was enshrined in the Canadian refugee determination process via legislative reform, such as the Designated Country of Origin (DCO) list and the elimination of refugee health care, both of which are now deemed unconstitutional.

Refugee and Romani rights organizations are requesting that the former clients of lawyers Farkas, Hohots, and Jaszi be granted an opportunity to have their cases reheard. They are calling on Federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum to enact a special measures process to permit those whose refugee claims were rejected as a result of this  legal misconduct to have their claims adequately prepared and presented. 

“If there is one thing that a refugee claimant is entitled to in Canada it is a fair process, and many former Romani refugee claimants from Hungary did not get this. Without a fair process, it is impossible to know if some of these families have been wrongly deported back to persecution. That is why we are calling on the Liberal government to create an opportunity for former clients of Farkas, Hohots, Jaszi to have their claims for protection in Canada reassessed” said Jennifer Danch, an Advisor with the Canadian Romani Alliance and co-author of the “No Refuge” report.

Human rights advocates were encouraged when the Liberal government recently granted special consideration to refugee claimants who were once clients of Hohots. Ideally, as other victims of these negligent lawyers come forward, we urge their claims to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and new refugee claims allowed if legal misconduct is easilyidentified.

The Canadian Romani Alliance and Romanipe are also asking the Canadian government to demonstrate its commitment to welcoming refugees by reversing the policies created by the previous government which discriminated against Roma, by eliminating the Designated Country of Origin list. It was never drafted by an independent panel of human rights experts and failed to recognize the persecution of Roma people in many parts of Europe.

For more information please contact:

Gina Csanyi, Founder, Canadian Romani Alliance,

Jennifer Danch, Advisor, Canadian Romani Alliance and Member, Toronto Roma Community Centre,

Dafina Savic (for Francophone inquiries or inquires in Quebec), Founder, Romanipe Montreal,

Mary Jo Leddy, Founder, Romero House,