Judicial Review and Immigration Appeals: Why I Love This Area of the Law

As Canadian Immigration laws in Canada get tighter and tighter, it appears that judicial review (JRs) and immigration appeals work gets more and more important in the overall process of assisting an individual is coming to or staying in Canada.

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I’d like to provide my own quick summary of the processes and my own experiences in this piece. I will not delve very deep into the legal or procedural requirements in this post, it is more to summarize the process and highlight aspects I find interesting. As always, none of the below should be construed as legal advice.  

Who can do JRs and Immigration Appeals?

Right off the bat, there are a few things you should know about Judicial Review. Aside from the individual themselves, only a lawyer called to a provincial bar in Canada can represent an applicant in this process.

Immigration Appeals  can be done by both lawyers and consultants.

What are JRs and Immigration Appeals?

Judicial Review

Judicial Review is an administrative law process where Applicants can ask the Federal Court of Canada (and in some jurisdictions  other Courts) to review the decision of a tribunal or government-authorized decision maker’s decision (i.e visa officer, minster’s delegate, etc) on the grounds that it was either (1) unreasonable or (2) was incorrect and breached the Applicant’s procedural fairness.

Where reasonableness is the standard of review, the Federal Court is expected to show deference to the Administrative Tribunal or decision-maker. Where correctness is the standard of review, there is no deference and Federal Court can replace the decision of the Administrative Tribunal or decision-maker.

The process of filing a JR is key. I will differ to the Federal Court of Canada to explain this process step-by-step (including important statutory timeline issues): http://cas-ncr-nter03.cas-satj.gc.ca/portal/page/portal/fc_cf_en/ApplicationIMM 

From my experience a lot of practitioners who aren’t as successful at obtaining leave for judicial review fail to put in the early effort into putting together a strong Applicant’s Record, including effective affidavits laying out the facts and a detailed memorandum of argument laying out the standard of review and legal arguments for why that the decision failed to meet that standard (be it reasonableness or correctness). One of the common flaws, as a Federal Court judge once expressed in a speech she gave, is a lack of facts to establish the factual basis and too much irrelevant case law to try and argue a point. When you start throwing in a dozen cases (without citing specific factual differences), you have a bunch of authority with no factual or casual link to your own case at bar.

Judicial review is not, and I repeat is NOT, an opportunity to argue that the decision maker’s decision was wrong and that the decision maker should have done X or Y instead. As long the decisionmaker’s decision was within the ‘range of possible outcomes’ the Federal Court will not interfere with the decisionmaker’s decision. Even insufficient reasons in a decision is no longer automatic grounds for a decision to be unreasonable.

Also remember that affidavits that are filed cannot include information that was not before the tribunal or panel making the decision, subject to some carved out exceptions. For a good case on exceptions check out:  Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the University of Manitoba and the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency 2012 FCA 22 at para 20  (http://canlii.ca/t/fpszj)

After filing your Applicant’s Record containing your affidavits and memorandums, Minister’s Counsel (represented by the Department of Justice) will assign a counsel to your case. Minister’s Counsel can do one of three things after receiving instructions from their client : (1)They may choose to consent if the decision is prima facie in error or procedurally unfair; (2)They may also choose to file a memorandum in response opposing your application for leave and stating that there is no arguable case at leave; or (3) they make take no position.

Taking no position does not necessarily mean you have won the case. It can be a positive thing – meaning they think you have an arguable case, but it is just as likely that they may wish to respond further after leave or that they require memorandums or further client instructions in order to adequately respond. Ps. I am purposely not going into the Stay process (a blog post in itself)

If Minister’s counsel does respond, you will likely need to make a further reply, in which you clarify your grounds and emphasize why you still have an arguable case at leave.

The decision then goes to a Federal Court judge who decides whether or not to grant leave. Even though the threshold is quite low, Leave is granted in only approximately 30%-38% of all cases by latest estimate.

If leave is granted, there is another round of affidavits and memorandums, with the Applicant being asked to file first. There is no final reply if Minister’s Counsel does file a Final Memorandum as at the oral hearing (statutorily scheduled no later than 90 days after the Minister’s) you will both have the opportunity to respond.

The Oral Hearing involves Counsel for the Applicant presenting their case first, discussing the unreasonable and procedurally unfair elements of a decision. Minister’s Counsel then makes submissions, followed by a brief opportunity for Applicant’s counsel to reply. In the case of a Federal Court Judge who is more passive, this may all go very much according to script. However, I’ve seen other Federal Court judges who very much want to engage on the issues and ask both Counsel questions to challenge their respective positions.

Most decisions, that are not among the rare decided by oral order from the bench, are released by the Federal Court judge. This process can take several weeks to months.

Immigration Appeals Division

Usually, Applicants hear about their right to appeal in the refusal letter triggering the 30-day appeal window. Once an appeal is applied for a hearing date is usually set.  One of the ongoing challenges right now is that it takes quite a bit of time to schedule a hearing, a problem that appears particularly bad in Toronto.

For a client this delay may not be so bad. More time, in the case of a residency appeal, criminality, and even spousals is more time arguably to show that requirements are now being met and conduct has now improved.

The most important part of an Immigration Appeals Division (“IAD”) case is that it is a hearing de novo. The member or panel that decides your case can take into account new evidence. However, there is a caveat in that this new evidence still has to go to the reasonableness of the correctness of the decisionmaker’s decision at the time it was made.  From what I have seen, recent circumstances and improvements in situation DO play a big factor into decisions, often times in the equitable jurisdiction (Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds) that the Member can consider.

During the Immigration Appeals process, there are several opportunities for the Appellant (Applicant or Sponsor, in spousal appeals) to make disclosure to Minister’s counsel (and vice vers). These disclosures can contain letters of support, photographs, and other evidence that supports the case.  I have also seen counsel use the opportunity to provide written submissions as to the merits of the case.

Rule 20 of the IAD Rules also provides for the potential of seeking Alternative Dispute Resolution. The IAD may seek ADR in specific cases, while in other cases it may be negotiated with CBSA during the period leading up to the appeal. At an ADR, a Hearings Officer may question the Appellant and may offer to consent to the appeal. If consent is not reached, a full hearing will follow.

Immigration Appeals involve the direct examination and cross examination of key witnesses to the situation being challenged on appeal, followed by legal submissions (if necessary). The opposing counsel will likely be a Hearings Officer representing either CIC or the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Hearings Officers vary from the very understanding to the very critical, and the position they take (and possible willingness to consent) is very crucial to the final outcome of the case.

If Judicial Reviews are all about Standard of Review, Immigration Appeals are all about the facts. Counsel will need to work with Applicants to ensure all the relevant facts are brought to the table, particularly those that contradict what the decisionmaker found. It is also key that all witnesses are credible and on the same page factually. Assessing an individual’s credibility is ultimately a guessing game, but many of the factual inconsistencies that go to a negative credibility finding are more readily apparent. Needless to say Immigration Appeals take a lot of preparation and require a good, honest client-counsel rapport.

Distinction between JR and Immigration Appeals

There is a distinction between Judicial Review and Immigration Appeals. There are cases where you have the right to appeal to the Immigration Appeals Division (where in almost all circumstances you must exhaust the appeal before exercising your right to judicial review), cases where you do not have the right to appeal to the Immigration Appeals Division and therefore can only try to judicial review the decision.

5.2. Distinction between an appeal and judicial review

The IRPA [Immigration and Refugee Protection Act] provides two levels of review of decisions made under the Act: review by way of statutory appeal to the IAD and review by the Federal Court.

Pursuant to section A63 (as limited by section A64) sponsors, visa holders, permanent residents and protected persons have a right to appeal adverse decisions to the IAD.

……

In all other cases, where no statutory right of appeal exists or those rights have been exhausted, there is a right to seek judicial review of any decision made pursuant to the IRPA by filing an application for leave and judicial review to the Federal Court pursuant to A72(1).

Section 64 of IRPA sets out there is no appeal for inadmissibility in security, serious criminality (more than 6 months imprisonment), and misrepresentation cases.

What happens if you win?

There is also a difference in both forums if you win. Generally speaking, when you win at the Immigration Appeal Division the Member will make some sort of order: “the Applicant has not lost their permanent resident status” or “the Applicant’s marriage was found to be genuine and not-entered into primarily for the purposes of immigration.” In these cases, Applicant’s may still have to file a new application or have their application go back into processing. While it is not legislatively firm in writing, from a CIC policy perspective the IAD decision usually has quite a heavily influence in the case being re-decided.

In a Judicial Review, there is an acknowledgement that the decision was unreasonable or procedurally unfair, but in most cases it will be returned to a different decision-maker for reconsideration. While Minister’s Counsel may guide their client’s in some way as to why their previous decision was flawed, the visa office or post is not influenced by the Federal Court decision nearly to the same way it is by an IAD decision. A good example of this is in cases where the insufficiency of the reasons contributed to the unreasonableness of a decision. In this situation, a visa officer can issue another refusal this time with more complete grounds for refusal or a separate, unrelated ground for refusal.

Getting Back to Why I love JRs and Immigration Appeals

In terms of engagement level, digging deep into a case, Immigration Appeals and Judicial Reviews are the forum to do so. In Appeals, I find that this digging occurs factually. Effective counsel,  through good questioning technique, can suss out the contentious factual issues which led to the refusal and use new facts or clarified facts to bolster the case. Meanwhile, Judicial Reviews are all about the legal analysis. Standard of Review arguments are getting more challenging – the line between reasonableness and unreasonableness ever so fine. Many times, judicial reviews also involve an in-depth level of statutory interpretation and case law research which is about as high-level immigration law as you can get.

Hope you enjoyed this piece about my two (arguably) favourite parts of immigration law. I’d love to help anybody currently in one of these forums and needing advice!

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