It is a very good idea to have a legal representative who can help you throughout the refugee claim process. Immigration and refugee law is very complex, and gathering appropriate evidence is difficult. A legal representative can help you to put forward the strongest case possible and guide you through the different steps of the process.
When should I get a legal representative?
Try to get a legal representative before starting your refugee claim. If you have already made your claim and do not have a legal representative, make every effort to contact one. We strongly advise that you have a legal representative at your hearing.
What can a legal representative do?
- Help you understand whether or not you are eligible to make a refugee claim, and the pros and cons of making a refugee claim
- Advise you on the legal meanings of Convention Refugee and Person In Need of Protection and which parts of the definitions apply to you
- Help you understand what parts of your experience are relevant and important to include in your BOC Form
- Advise you about what evidence you should gather to support your case
- Submit your evidence to the IRB-RPD
- Communicate with the IRB-RPD (and the Minister if they are intervening) on your behalf
- Prepare you for your hearing and help you practice answering questions that may be asked of you during your hearing
- Represent you at your hearing
- Advise you about having a Designated Representative if needed or eligible
Who can represent me?
There are different kinds of legal representatives who can represent you for your refugee claim:
- Immigration consultant
- Notary public (only in Quebec)
- Licensed paralegal (only in Ontario).
It is important to work with a legal representative that you trust so that you can ensure they are guiding you correctly and giving good advice. One way to do this is to check that they are a certified member of their professional organization.
Here is the link to the law society in your province:
- If you hire an immigration consultant, make sure he or she is a certified member of The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants.
- If you hire a paralegal in Ontario make sure he or she is in good standing with the Law Society of Ontario
- If you hire a notary make sure he or she is a member in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec
Representative without a fee
Someone you trust who is not a legal representative may assist you with your refugee claim if they do not charge any fee. This person is known as a “representative without a fee”. This person is usually a family member or friend who you know and trust. Using a representative without a fee should be done only as a last resort as it is extremely important to be represented by a qualified legal representative in your refugee claim.
How do I get a legal representative?
- Some lawyers are provided for free or at a low-cost through Legal Aid or non-profit legal clinics
- Ask your settlement worker, or someone from a settlement agency that is supporting you, if they have a list of legal representatives
- If you are looking for a legal representative, read reviews about them. You can also speak to a few different legal representatives to find out more about how they work so you can assess your level of comfort with them.
Legal Aid and non profit legal clinics
You may be able to get a legal representative for free or at low cost through Legal Aid or a non profit clinic. This will depend on which province you live in and your specific situation. Click on your province below to find what low cost or free legal services are available to you.
Contact Legal Aid BC (LABC) as soon as possible and apply for legal aid. You can contact LABC before you have submitted your refugee claim to ensure that you have legal support as early as possible in the process. You are also able to contact LABC after you have submitted your refugee claim application if you were not able to do so before.
Legal Aid BC covers:
- Your refugee claim – from before your claim is submitted to when a decision is reached
- Your refugee appeal, depending on your circumstances
- Any legal advice and representation at detention review hearings, if you are detained.
Suite 400 – 510 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 3A8
When you apply, LABC will ask you questions to determine if you are eligible for free legal representation. They will assess the strengths of your refugee claim and your financial situation. You may be asked to provide documents which demonstrate your financial situation or which support your refugee claim.
If you are granted legal aid you can either tell them which lawyer you want to work with if you have a lawyer in mind, or you can ask them to pair you with a suitable lawyer. You can speak to your settlement worker if you would like a list of legal representatives.
Appealing a Legal Aid BC refusal:
If LABC decides that you do not qualify for legal aid, you can ask for a review of the decision. You should write a letter explaining why you disagree with the decision and send it back to LABC as soon as possible. You can provide any documents you think will support your appeal.
If you still do not qualify, a settlement agency can refer you to other resources in your community. There may also be other legal clinics or resources that can help you.
Free Legal Advice Clinics
Refugee claimants seeking legal advice and/or representation who have been denied legal aid may apply for services at:
Refugee claimants seeking a half hour consultation with an immigration lawyer may contact:
Get legal advice and assistance in completing the BOC at Calgary Legal Guidance. Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) does not provide lawyers to assist in completing the BOC.
Contact LAA to request a lawyer to represent you at your refugee hearing once your BOC has been submitted. When you apply, Legal Aid Alberta will ask you questions to determine if you are eligible for legal representation. They will assess the strengths of your refugee claim and your financial situation. You may be asked to provide documents which demonstrate your financial situation or which support your refugee claim.
Get legal advice about completing the BOC at Edmonton Community Legal Centre (ECLC). Legal Aid Alberta does not provide lawyers to assist in completing the BOC.
Contact LAA to request a lawyer to represent you at your refugee hearing once your BOC has been completed.
Call CLASSIC Walk-in Advocacy Clinic in Saskatoon to make an application for legal assistance in completing your BOC and for representation at your refugee hearing. Services are provided to low income members of the Saskatoon community. The decision to accept a case is made by a supervising lawyer.
Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan
Call the Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan (PBLS) to schedule an hour of free legal advice with a lawyer at one of their many Free Legal Clinics across the province (except Saskatoon). You must meet income eligibility requirements. You may request multiple appointments for the same issue, if you qualify for services. These clinics provide advice and information, they do not complete the BOC, nor do they provide representation at the refugee hearing.
You may be referred from one of the PBLS Free Legal Clinics to the Immigration and Refugee Panel Program, where assistance with the BOC and representation may be provided to you, depending on volunteer lawyer availability and the strength of your refugee claim. There is no guarantee that you will be matched with a volunteer lawyer.
1650 – 2002 Victoria Avenue
Regina, Saskatchewan S4P 0R7
Contact Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (Welcome Place) for assistance with your BOC and other forms required to make a refugee claim. Welcome Place can help you apply for a lawyer through Legal Aid Manitoba (LAM) to represent you at your refugee hearing. LAM will pay for a lawyer or a staff Immigration Consultant under the supervision of a Staff Lawyer to work on your case.
You may also apply for legal aid with a private lawyer before you do your BOC or once your BOC has been submitted.
If Legal Aid Manitoba decides that you do not qualify for legal aid because your refugee claim has no merit or because you do not meet the financial need requirements, you can appeal the decision through the Legal Aid Manitoba appeal process. In some cases you may have to pay back all or part of the legal aid expenses to Legal Aid Manitoba, depending on your financial situation.
Welcome Place, Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council
521 Bannatyne Place
Call or walk in to make an appointment.
Contact Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) as soon as possible and apply for legal aid. If you are eligible for legal aid, LAO will pay your legal fees and will give you names of lawyers who may represent you. If LAO decides that you do not qualify for legal aid, you can ask for a review of the decision. If you still do not qualify, there may be other legal clinics that can help you. A settlement agency can refer you to other resources in your community.
Toronto – Refugee Law Office
20 Dundas Street West Suite 202
Toronto, ON M5G 2H1
Contact the Québec Legal Aid Immigration Office or PRAIDA as soon as possible. They can provide, or assist you in finding, a lawyer who can represent you free of charge, if you qualify for legal aid. It should be possible to find a lawyer to represent you on Legal Aid in Québec. However, if you are unable to do so, you must complete your own BOC Form and represent yourself at your hearing.
Québec Legal Aid – Immigration Law Office
425 Maisonneuve Boulevard West Suite 400
Provides representation to a limited number of eligible claimants and issues legal aid certificates to private practice lawyers who accept to do legal aid cases.
35, rue Port Royal Est,
Provides referrals to legal counsel.
Open Monday–Friday, 9–5.
Call or email the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic for assistance before you make your refugee claim, if possible. Free legal representation through the refugee claim process is available to those who meet the eligibility guidelines.
Call the Halifax Refugee Clinic for assistance before you begin your refugee claim, if possible. Free legal representation through the refugee claim process is available to those who meet their financial eligibility guidelines.
Contact Legal Aid Newfoundland to make an application for legal aid to complete your BOC and for representation at the refugee hearing. Eligibility for legal aid is based on both financial and merit considerations. If your application for legal aid is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. Apply on-line, through the mail, via fax or in person at your local legal aid office. A lawyer will call you and decide if legal aid can take your case. Go to Legal Aid Newfoundland to access the online and printable application as well as local legal aid office contact information.
Choosing a legal representative is very important. This section outlines what you can expect your legal representative to do and what they should not do, what your role is, and what to do if you believe you are being misrepresented.
Your legal representative’s role
You should expect your legal representative to do the following:
- Set a date to meet with you and discuss your case. In general, in this discussion your legal representative should:
- Tell you about their legal experience
- Ask you about your case and listen to your story
- Explain to you how the law impacts your situation
- Tell you about your options
- Give an estimate how long they think your case will take
- Explain what the next steps are
- Outline expectations for communication, and try to meet communication timelines has indicated (i.e. respond to emails or call within a certain amount of time)
- Keep you informed at each stage of your case and discuss all important decisions with you
- Instruct you on the types of evidence you should gather for your case
- Contact any witnesses that will participate in your hearing and help them prepare for your hearing
- Review and organize your evidence, and then submit it to the IRB-RPD
- Meet with you before your hearing to discuss what will happen at the hearing
- Help you prepare for your hearing
- Demonstrate that they are ready and prepared for your hearing
- Ensure you get an interpreter if you need one for a meeting or your hearing
- Let you know if they forgot to do something important or made a mistake.
Your role as the client
It is important to remember that although you may have legal representation, this is still your claim for refugee protection. You should:
- Be aware of how much time is contractually allocated to your case. The time includes all communication with your legal representative, including emails, phone calls, and meetings. It is advised to be prepared before contacting them in order to prioritize what your legal representative’s time is best used for
- Be honest with your legal representative. They will be informing you what to do based on the information that you provide them
- Take notes of your discussions at meetings and on phone calls. Write down any tasks you agree to do and when you expect to finish them. If you are not able to take notes or write down tasks during your meetings, then ask your representative for a copy of their notes and to provide you with a list of tasks
- Follow advice or directions provided by your legal representative. Do what you can to be prepared and ask for help when you need it
- Give them any evidence and documents about your case they ask for and any new information you have. Do not submit evidence to the IRB-RPD without discussing it first with your legal representative
- Stay up-to-date about events happening the country that you seeking protection from and share this with your legal representative
- Communicate with your legal representative about timelines and any upcoming deadlines
- Make sure your legal representative has up-to-date contact information for you and let them know where they can leave messages
- Discuss any disagreement you may have with them.
Your legal representative should not
- Fail to communicate with you or keep you up-to-date on your case
- Submit any application for you without identifying him or herself as your legal representative
- Tell you to lie or leave out information on your application
- Suggest that you use false documents or evidence
- Ask you to sign a blank or incomplete form that you’re required to submit
- Refuse to explain what they are doing, answer your questions, or provide you with copies of your documents and forms
- Refuse to follow what you want to do in your case without good reason or cause
- Conduct themselves in a manner that is unprofessional
- Guarantee you will be successful in your refugee claim. No one can guarantee an outcome for your case. Be careful also if they say that they have special contacts within IRCC, IRB-RPD, or a Canadian embassy.
What to do if you think your legal representative is misrepresenting you
If you think that your legal representative is misrepresenting you or has not fulfilled their responsibilities, communicate directly with them to try to solve the problem, if you feel comfortable. If this does not resolve the issues you are experiencing, you can do the following:
- Contact your local legal aid office, if you have been assigned a legal aid lawyer. In limited circumstances, you may be able to change your legal aid lawyer. You must provide good reasons that are based on reasonable and fair expectations. The local legal aid office will let you know if you are approved. If you are approved, you must communicate this to your lawyer in writing and your lawyer will transfer your file to the new lawyer
- Ask a more senior person or supervisor to assist you to resolve the issue, if your legal representative works in a private company
- Contact the organization that governs your representative’s profession to find out what your options are.
If you cannot find a legal representative or representative without a fee to help you, you must complete and submit your own BOC Form and represent yourself at your hearing.
If you do not have legal help:
- Review the Claimant’s Guide
- Review Legal and Policy resources
- Review the National Documentation Package for your country
- Attend a Ready Tour
- Revisit this My Refugee Claim website regularly
- Read carefully all correspondence sent to you by CBSA and IRB-RPD and follow the instructions provided
- Be very familiar with your BOC, any narrative you have submitted, and your evidence. Make sure everything contained in these documents is true and correct
- Get help where you can from family, friends or other trusted members in the community. For example, people who might be good at reading and writing, who would be willing to spend time reviewing materials with you.
You may work with a number of different interpreters (if you require one) during the refugee claim process, at:
You will be provided a professional interpreter in your language of choice at your eligibility interview with IRCC or CBSA and at your refugee hearing at the IRB-RPD. You may not select the interpreter. There will be no cost to you for this interpreter.
If you were assigned a legal aid lawyer, the cost of some interpretation may be provided by legal aid. When you hire a legal representative you will likely need to pay for interpretation services. In other situations, such as in free legal clinics, you may be assisted with interpretation by a friend, volunteer or staff member of the law office or clinic.
What your interpreter should and should not do
The interpreter plays a vital role by providing clear communication between you, your lawyer and the other participants in your eligibility interview or refugee hearing.
Your interpreter should fulfill the following responsibilities:
- Accuracy: The interpreter is meant to translate word-for-word, or to communicate your words as closely as possible. They should not add anything more or leave anything out
- Impartiality: The interpreter should remain objective and impartial. This means the interpreter should not be involved in your case or indicate if they agree or disagree with what is being said
- Confidentiality: The interpreter should never discuss anything that was communicated outside of your interview or hearing.
Your Interpreter should not:
- Give you legal advice or provide any explanations to the legal proceedings or implications related to your case
- Add their own interpretation to your words or summarize, paraphrase, condense or exaggerate what you say.
If you think the interpreter made a mistake or you do not understand something that has been said at your hearing or interview, tell your legal representative, the Member or the Officer.