After I completed my articles at the Federal Department of Justice, I applied for and obtained a position as a Refugee Protection Officer at the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2002. After working there for almost 2 years, I left in 2004. During that time, and the nine years subsequent as an immigration lawyer, I learned a lot about how immigration works. Here's what I learned in that time:
1. The Government (and here I mean Citizenship and Immigration or Canada Border Services Agency) is not in the customer service business.
Sure, there's been some efforts, and now there is a veneer of customer service. There's an online portal. There's a call centre. But it's near impossible to speak to someone who is directly handling your file. Local walk-in service has been discontinued. CPC Vegreville and CPC Mississauga are like black holes. You send your application in and hope for the best. Overseas visa offices are similarly full of obstacles.
Examples abound. Frustration and delay seem to be by-words when you are dealing with either department.
CIC or CBSA officials saw Robert Dziekanski wandering around the airport for hours, but no-one bothered to ask if he needed some guidance in navigating and getting out of the customs area. Perhaps a life could have been saved.
There's a reason that mandamus applications have spiked at the Federal Court.
So - either go to the Federal Court or be patient - they'll get to you when they get to you.
2. The Government uses hammers to open egg shells
There are 350,000 applicants for citizenship in a backlog because CIC decided that residency fraud was a serious problem. In reality, only a handful of individuals have had their status taken away from them.
This government deleted over a quarter million applications for permanent residence because it was easier to do that than process them.
3. For a lawyer or immigration consultant, reputation is everything.
Certain counsel were in bed with their clients. Not literally, but it was obvious when a client was inappropriately coached. Or they were incompetent or simply lazy. These counsel inevitably provided late disclosure with little or no justification. They were unfamiliar with the facts or the law because they didn't bother (or couldn't grasp) the facts or the applicable law. They probably didn't care, but they were the topic of discussion by adjudicators and other staff.
In Shahin v. MCI, the applicants hired an immigration consultant that submitted false language test resuts on their behalf. Even though the applicants submitted genuine tests after they became aware of the misrepresentation, they were still denied entry to Canada.
Clients pay the price for their choice of counsel.
4. For a Lawyer or Consultant, experience counts.
Pick a lawyer who has been there before. There's information and knowledge that can't be imparted by reading case law. We call it the practice of law because it's experiential; implicit knowledge can only be gained by first hand experience. One of the benefits of the hearings officer position was that it allowed me an opportunity to participate in hundreds of hearings.That's experience not readily gained starting out in private practice.
5. Presentation is key.
I once saw a lawyer wear running shoes to a hearing. No. I'm not joking. If you don't take yourself seriously, no-one else will either.
6. Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.
I repeated that three times, because it's really really important. Most victories/losses are determined prior to the actual hearing date. It's really ackward when you see a lawyer's mouth drop at an unexpected answer by his or her client. These things can be avoided with assiduous preparation.