Ottawa is being urged to offer redress to the Roma refugees who were the clients of three disciplined Toronto lawyers and subsequently had their asylum claims rejected by Canada.
Now that the last of the three lawyers has been slapped with penalties for professional misconduct over their handling of Roma refugee cases, a community coalition has asked Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to create a special program to grant permanent residency to their affected clients.
“While the Law Society of Upper Canada sanctions recognize the lawyers’ misconduct, they don’t assist the victims. We need a specific program to provide redress to this group of vulnerable people,” said lawyer Maureen Silcoff of the Redress for Roma Refugee Coalition. “They continue to face harassment and persecution back home.”
This month Joseph Stephen Farkas was suspended for six months, ordered to pay the law society $200,000 and placed under supervision by a refugee lawyer for at least one year after a disciplinary tribunal found he had failed to properly supervise his non-lawyer employees when serving some Roma clients.
It followed similar disciplinary actions against lawyers Viktor Hohots and Elizabeth Jaszi. Hohots was suspended for five months and barred from practicing refugee law for two years. Jaszi was fined and disbarred. An Osgood Hall Law Journal article estimated the lawyers represented 986 Hungarian Roma refugees between 2008 and 2012. Many were denied asylum and deported, the article said.
The recent sentencing of Farkas marked an end to the six-year fight by members of the Roma community and their supporters to get the law society to investigate and act on their complaints, which started as early as 2011.
“The findings of professional misconduct of the three lawyers have not brought any justice to the claimants and families who were directly represented by these lawyers. The penalties do not reflect the damage and harm caused to them,” said Gina Csanyi-Robah of the Canadian Romani Alliance.
“The persecution against the Roma in eastern Europe is worsening by the day. We are asking the government to right the wrong done to these people. These penalties against the lawyers can no way be compared to what these deported families are suffering.”
Canada’s acceptance rate of Hungarian claims, most of them Roma, now hovers at about 70 per cent, compared to just 16 per cent in 2012. Csanyi-Robah said the increase is an indication of the threats faced by Roma refugees, the inability of the Hungarian government to properly protect them and the improved quality of legal representation they’re receiving in Canada.
In an affidavit provided in a letter to Hussen, one deported Roma family from Miskolc, Hungary said they could only find housing in a segregated neighbourhood, which has no running water, electricity or paved roads. Instead of enrolling their three children in appropriate grades, the school authorities sent them back to several grades, the family said.
“My 17-year-old son was sent to Grade 5 and my youngest daughter was sent from eighth grade to third grade. My son was deeply embarrassed about being sent back to Grade 5 as a 17-year-old and he ended up quitting,” said the mother of three, whose family was represented first by Jaszi and later by Farkas, and spent three years in Canada before being deported in 2014.
“No matter where we move, we face the threat of being forcibly evicted because we are Roma. My family is falling apart physically and emotionally, especially my husband and children.”
Silcoff said the coalition has kept in touch with some of the former Roma clients of the three lawyers who have been deported. She estimated that no more than 150 families or 600 people would apply to return to Canada under the proposed program.
The coalition said the Canadian government could either admit these people as permanent residents or grant them temporary resident permits to return to Canada and be reassessed for permanent status under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Silcoff said the coalition requested in February a meeting with Hussen and didn’t hear back from his office until last week after an inquiry by the Star about the proposal.
A spokesperson for the immigration minister said a meeting with the coalition is yet to be scheduled and offered no further comment.