Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario: Support for Redress for Roma Refugees Coalition


12 April 2017

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1 L 1

By mail and electronic mail

Honourable Minister:

The Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario supports the recommendations submitted by the Redress for Roma Refugees Coalition, set out in the briefing it provided you dated February 14, 2017.

The RLA is a voluntary association of approximately 300 lawyers representing refugees. We have long advocated for appropriate and enforced professional standards in the representation of refugees, both with respect to the Law Society of Upper Canada's Rules of Professional Conduct and the standards of our provincial Legal Aid Plan (Legal Aid Ontario). Legal Aid Ontario has implemented detailed professional standards and reformed its Immigration and Refugee Lawyer panel in response to advocacy by community groups and the RLA.

As the Redress coalition sets out in its briefing, the injustice suffered by Roma refugees was systemic. The former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, led a concerted campaign to vilify Roma refugees, poisoning the adjudicative environment for these refugees.

This was all the more so as the Immigration and Refugee Board, though independent in law, depended in practice on ministerial funding and on the appointment of Board Members through a process which allowed for political factors to influence appointments, re-appointments, and gave no long-term security of tenure.

Roma refugees also became the victims of systemic failure to ensure competent representation. Efforts by Legal Aid Ontario to avoid such injustice in future came far too late for the Roma refugees. The Law Society of Upper Canada, though it has conducted disciplinary hearings for some of the lawyers at fault, has no jurisdiction to provide any redress to the victims.

It is also very troubling that the Roma people, who suffered a campaign of genocide and widespread hate propaganda under the Nazi regime, and who have remained a vulnerable and marginalized people, were the objects of a campaign of vilification echoing that past. It is submitted that this is a special circumstance calling for an extraordinary gesture to redress a wrong done by our government. Your Public Policy authority enables you to take immediate action, in your discretion.

We urge the government of Canada to adopt the measures set out by the Coalition -both as redress for the Roma refugees the Coalition identified as direct victims- and as a gesture demonstrating that our government rejects hate and takes action to affirm our most deeply held values.

Yours truly,

Raoul Boulakia

Member of the Executive, Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario
31 Prince Arthur Avenue Toronto, Ontario
M5R 182
Tel: 416 963-4488 ext 135 Fax: 416 960-5456