Please find below, a letter to Premier Doug Ford, from MCIS Executive Director Latha Sukumar, written in response to the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) funding cuts announced as part of the 2019 budget.
April 10, 2019
Honourable Premier Doug Ford
Government of Ontario
Honourable Premier Doug Ford
Re: Proposed cuts to Legal Aid funding for Refugees and Immigrants
I am writing to express my concerns about the proposed cuts to provincial legal aid funding for refugees and immigrants. Lack of provincial funding to the refugee legal aid certificate program in Ontario will throw the refugee determination system into chaos and gravely undermine the rights to a hearing for the most desperate and vulnerable refugee claimants. Refugee claimants should be entitled to a fair hearing and to legal representation. Given that most arrive with no resources and usually in desperate financial straits, denying them legal aid assistance is tantamount to denying them a proper hearing since the cuts will deprive them of competent representation. This will run counter to the intention and spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration,  1 S.C.R. 177 (“Singh”), which gave rise to the mechanisms that ensure due process for all those in Canada claiming refugee status.
I wear several hats as a lawyer, social entrepreneur, mother and concerned citizen. Today I write to you as all those things and also based on my personal experience as an immigrant/naturalized citizen who came to Canada thirty years ago, under the Skilled Worker program.
When I first arrived, I worked in telemarketing with several other newcomers like me and, like the rest of them, decided to pursue educational opportunities to advance professionally. I completed a graduate degree in Women’s Studies and attended Law School, both at York University in Toronto. While in law school, I pursued the Immigration Intensive program and had placements at the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Adjudications Division. At that time, twenty five years ago, a number of Sri Lankan Tamils were claiming refugee status due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. I am from India and generally have close associations with individuals from South Asia. Over the past 25 years I have seen the Sri Lankan Tamils emerge as one of the most commercially successful communities in the GTA. They have published directories of their businesses which run thousands of pages. They own considerable tracts of commercial real estate in the GTA and generally have thrived and greatly contributed to the Canadian economy. Their offspring are highly successful professionals scaling leadership positions in all sectors.
The point I am making is that refugees who have no place to return to are likely to commit and contribute to the societies that offer them refugee status. So our obligations under the Geneva Convention (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention) and the Singh decision aside, we must look at the tremendous potential in the long term that the refugee population represents for Canada, a country with an aging population. Canada enjoys a reputation globally as a stable and balanced society, which is a haven of compassion for refugees fleeing persecution. We must maintain that. There are economic refugees, no doubt, seeking a better life. However, there are sufficient safeguards in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (S.C. 2001, c. 27) to address agents who are paid to smuggle them in. By creating barriers for all refugee claimants we become cold-hearted, and hurt the most genuine claimants treating them like criminals, subjecting them to detention and removal, following an unsuccessful claim.
This brings me to the hat I wear as a social entrepreneur. While straddling a practice in law, I have helped grow MCIS Language Solutions (“MCIS”), a model self-sustaining social enterprise which has been relentlessly pursuing its goal to remove language barriers for about 30 years. A successful and thriving business built by and employing immigrants and refugees, to initially help victims of domestic violence access legal services with interpreters, MCIS is now a pan Canadian full service language solutions company. With 70 full time equivalents and 6000 interpreters and translators in 300 languages serving 800 customers across Canada and some in the U.S. our vision has been to connect people globally through languages. We continue to receive a small grant from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence, for which we and the individuals we serve are very grateful. By providing access to critical information and services with qualified language professionals, MCIS builds authentic, transparent and trusted bridges across communities in Canada and globally to break down silos between people and languages, fueling mobility and prosperity. So MCIS is really concerned about these cuts which run counter to our goal of creating societies where people from diverse backgrounds can enrich communities while also prospering and thriving in them.
Last but not least, as parents, we want to create model societies, which are compassionate and provide access to services for our most vulnerable. For, after all is said and done, that will be our legacy.
Latha Sukumar, M.A., LL.B (On)
MCIS Executive Director
Have you had any experience with the justice system? You can show your support and solidarity for LAO and their vulnerable clients by anonymously sharing your story at the following link: https://www.stoplegalaidcuts.ca/share_your_a2j_story