Western News – Report explores legal challenges of new immigrants to Canada

A new report from Western’s Network for Economics and Social Trends (NEST), in partnership with Pathways to Prosperity, provides a detailed portrait of the serious legal issues and disputes immigrants face in their communities and provides recommendations for newcomers to Canada who ask for help.

Funded by the Department of Justice Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, this qualitative study examined the experiences of immigrants living in Toronto and London, Ontario, and identified some of the most common challenges faced by newcomers . These issues include immigration issues, family and relationship issues, housing issues, employment issues, and difficulty obtaining government services.

Victoria Esses

“This report provides insight into some of the challenges new immigrants to Canada face as they strive to integrate into the community,” said Victoria Esses, Director of NEST, who co-wrote the report with Alina Sutter, NEST Postdoctoral Fellow. “These findings will help create programs and services that more effectively address some of the real challenges facing new immigrants.”

The study included 21 interviews with recent immigrants and a few people applying for permanent residence, conducted between August and December 2020. Partners in this project included the South London Neighborhood Resource Center and COSTI Immigrant Services in Toronto.

Research Highlights
Those interviewed for the research shared some personal experiences that led to serious difficulties. For example, an immigrant was sponsored by family members who harassed and verbally abused him and forced him to work for less than minimum wage. These sponsors opened credit cards in his name without his knowledge, putting him heavily in debt and eventually kicking him out of their house. Unable to find help, he attempted suicide.

Alina Sutter

“Factors contributing to these types of serious problems include lack of knowledge of Canadian laws and individual rights, lack of knowledge of basic Canadian customs and norms, self-reported discrimination, ineffective communication from government and government agencies, and factors associated with the pandemic,” Sutter said.

Often respondents did not know where to go for help. They said they have limited connections in Canada that could help them navigate the system to solve their problems.

Nearly 60% of respondents eventually sought legal advice and representation from legal aid, paralegals, immigration consultants and attorneys. Those who chose not to seek legal advice or resolve their issues through the court system indicated that they feared the consequences of pursuing legal action and worried about the associated financial costs.

The challenges these immigrants face are multifaceted and impact their economic, social, psychological and physical well-being, Esses said.

The report offers recommendations focused on providing more information to newcomers about how and where they can get legal advice, and increasing the availability of affordable professional legal services for immigrants.

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