Ontario Paralegal and Law Society on Same Immigration Page

Since many Ontario paralegals are licenses and practice independently of attorneys, issues can arise over potential competition between the two. As previously discussed here, some paralegals there object to the fact that paralegals are regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada on this basis, i.e., lawyers regulate their competition. I’ve argued that in the United States, licensing paralegals for limited tasks would help solve the access to justice prob lem without causing competition because most of people with an access to justice problem simply cannot afford attorneys and are not serviced by them in any case.

A recent article in the Law Times, however, indicates that the Law Society of Upper Canada has successfully lobbied MPs to exempt paralegals from regulation as immigration consultants. According to the report, the paralegal society and the law society were “on the same page” on this. This may just be an example of the “common enemy” rule in practice, though. The issue is who is going to regulate paralegals providing immigration services. According to the article,

Bill C-35, the cracking down on crooked consultants act that’s currently winding its way through Parliament, is the federal government’s response to a string of controversies involving unqualified and unethical consultants who exploited prospective immigrants to the country.

The bill tightens up the rules on who can charge fees for immigration advice. In the meantime, hearings are underway to find a governing body to regulate consultants and thereby replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.

So people providing immigration services are going to be regulated by someone and the Law Society was essentially saying the turf was already covered:

After the government announced the legislation in June, the Paralegal Society of Ontario wrote to the federal government to request an exemption given the LSUC’s regulation of paralegals.

“We provide a valuable choice for the public and are recognized as a valuable provider of legal services,” wrote paralegal society president Chris Surowiak.

“Individuals wanting to immigrate to Canada can be assured they will have a qualified representative when they retain the services of a paralegal member of the law society.”

Last month, the law society backed him up, sending Treasurer Laurie Pawlitza to make the pitch for paralegals at the standing committee on citizenship and immigration.

She pointed to the law society’s 200-year track record of successful regulation and discipline and noted paralegals must carry professional liability insurance.

Surowiak tells Law Times the exemption will save paralegals who practise immigration law more than $3,000 per year in fees paid to remain members of CSIC.
Of course, not everyone is happy.

 “Sergio Karas, a past chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s citizenship and immigration section, sees the whole bill as an erosion of lawyers’ territory but finds the law society’s move on paralegals particularly galling.

“I think it’s a scandal because it is invading areas that are traditionally the province of lawyers,” he tells Law Times. “The law society is undermining the role of lawyers.”

One does wonder how many people have not had access to justice for fear of “undermining the role of lawyers” and an unwillingness to buck tradition.

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