6 February 2004


Montreal. The Canadian Council for Refugees today called on the British Columbia and federal governments to reverse the radical cuts recently announced in legal aid to refugee claimants in BC.

“We find it shocking that the BC government is treating legal aid for refugee claimants as an optional extra.  Refugees’ lives are on the line,” says Nick Summers, CCR President.  “The refugee claim process is highly sophisticated - most Canadians would find it impossible to negotiate on their own, let alone someone who is traumatized and who speaks neither English nor French.  Fair treatment of refugees means ensuring claimants have access to competent counsel.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that a refugee claimant’s right to life, liberty and security of the person is at stake in a hearing.  Denying legal aid to claimants who cannot afford to pay a lawyer significantly increases the risk that mistakes will be made and refugees sent back to face persecution, including torture and even death.  It is important to note that because the federal government did not implement the refugee appeal, the fate of refugee claimants in Canada is now determined by a single decision-maker.

The CCR is concerned that, if legal aid coverage for claimants is cut in BC, other provinces will be tempted to follow their example.  The result would be a breakdown in legal representation, one of the crucial elements in refugee protection in Canada.

“Refugees are being sacrificed in a quarrel between the provincial and federal governments about who should pay,” said Summers. “We should remember that for refugees what is at stake is priceless: their lives.”

Nick Summers, President, 709-753-7860 (ext. 333) or cell. 709-682-9329
Janet Dench, Executive Director, 514-277-7223

The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. The membership is made up of over 175 organizations involved in refugee sponsorship and protection and in newcomer settlement. The CCR serves the networking, information-exchange and advocacy needs of its membership.