Newcomers arriving in London, and elsewhere in Canada, need better information about legal services — and affordable options to tap into them — to adjust to life in their new land.
Those are among the conclusions stemming from a study led by a Western University researcher looking at the legal challenges immigrants face when arriving in Canada.
“One of the things we found was that newcomers aren’t always familiar with Canadian law and their rights, and it makes them more vulnerable to manipulation and mistreatment,” said Victoria Esses, director of Western’s Network for Economic and Social Trends.
“Sometimes they do know that, but they don’t also know where to go for help.”
As part of the study, researchers interviewed 21 newcomers in London and Toronto who faced legal challenges about their experiences accessing services and getting support.
It showed that, besides immigration-related legal issues, problems related to housing, employment and government services were among the most common legal troubles immigrants faced in their first years in this country.
The situation of some of the newcomers was also worsened “by the lack of or inefficient communication from the government (or) government agencies,” the study said.
In many cases, newcomers learned they were being taken advantage of and how to seek help from people in their close circles, including their doctors or teachers, and not “necessarily the type of people who are supposed to be giving you advice about how to get legal help,” Esses said.
“It was really chance that they were connected with help,” she said.
The results of the study come at a time when the Canadian government has a goal of welcoming more than 4,00,000 newcomers a year into the country.
Esses said the first line of defence to help immigrants is giving them better information about their rights when it comes to situations like renting an apartment or how they are supposed to be treated by an employer.
“But also information about where they can obtain legal advice, maybe before they need it so that when they do need it, they’re not in a panic situation,” Esses said, adding the information should also be available in languages besides English and French.
Esses also said the cost of legal help remains a big hurdle for newcomers, whose income is generally low in their first years in Canada, highlighting the need for legal support earmarked for immigrants.
“Specifically for newcomers, we were told frequently that one of the reasons I didn’t seek legal advice was partly because of fear . . . but also because of just the economic costs,” she said.
“We need places that they can go to get legal advice that aren’t going to put them into debt.”