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  • My Legal Briefcase

    British Columbia and ImmigrantsÂ’ Access to the Legal System
    Posted: 2011-07-19 05:30:15

    Nick Grillo, as a boy in Italy, dreamed of America and its opportunity, Southington, Connecticut. He saved enough money for boat passage to this country. Today, after 22 years, he is one of the world's outstanding flori-culturists, developer of the famous As a company that provides services to simplify the small claims process, My Legal Briefcase has a strong interest in access to justice. Unequal access to justice is a big issue faced by new immigrants to Canada. Why is such access unequal?

    One reason that comes to mind is language ability. Canada's 2006 census revealed that 70.2 per cent of immigrants to Canada had a mother tongue other than English or French. A second and  perhaps more important reason is new immigrants’ tendency to have low incomes. Between 1980 and 2000 there was a 45 per cent increase in the proportion of new immigrants who were low-income. Legal fees have not changed accordingly, so the impact of low income on access to justice is growing. Also of concern is the fact that newcomers are statistically unlikely to make use of formal dispute-resolution mechanisms when in a dispute. This might be due to insufficient knowledge of their legal rights or of ways to access the justice system. The services mentioned below are helping to give new immigrants the knowledge they need to use the legal system to which they are entitled.

    Last time, I mentioned a report, by British ColumbiaÂ’s Ministry of Labour, CitizensÂ’ Services and Open Government, about online dispute resolution as it relates to new immigrants. It concluded that there are still many obstacles to new immigrants accessing ODR services, and that those obstacles are opportunities for the private sector to engage new immigrants. Such a report is highly appropriate for British Columbia, as it is a big hub for new immigrants. Eighteen per cent of Canada's immigrant population lives there and first-generation immigrants comprise roughly twenty-seven percent of its population. Legal information and services tailored to immigrants are therefore very important to have. As the two programs below show, the non-profit sector (with the help of provincial and federal governments) has taken the lead in connecting new immigrants with legal services: touts itself as "BC's Immigrant Legal Toolkit". It provides both practical information about the law (focusing on areas most relevant to immigrants) and an introduction to the values that underlie Canada's legal system. Print and multimedia resources, including fact sheets, FAQs and videos of law-related workshops, are provided. I like that has a simple and inviting interface featuring lots of photos of people. Having to deal with the justice system in a new country can be a scary idea for anyone, and the look of the site might lessen the anxiety new immigrants might feel about Canada's justice system. Most of the print sources are written in plain English, and some are translated into several languages, including Vietnamese, Spanish and Punjabi. The site is run by the Immigrant Public Legal Education and Information Consortium.

    Multilingual Legal Glossary
    Although it is operated by Vancouver Community College, this online glossary of terms used in Canadian law and courts is meant to serve people anywhere in Canada. One enters an English term or phrase, and can have it translated into any of seven languages (counting traditional Chinese script and simplified Chinese script as scripts of one language). Direct translations are accompanied by plain-language definitions and related words in both English and the target language. To help users understand a term's use in English, example sentences using the term are given. Translations are provided by certified translators and current or retired members of the legal profession in Canada and abroad. Legal professionals can use this resource to help immigrant clients understand important terms better. And immigrants can use this to help themselves further their knowledge of Canadian law.

    Other provinces and states can certainly take some cues from British Columbia. Next time, we'll look at immigrant-focused legal programs in the province that attracts the most immigrants: Ontario.

    Photo credit: Flickr - Library of Congress

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