I have a tradition every year of listening to the same Death Cab for Cutie song, The New Year.
“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions”
The pursuit of ‘easy’ seems to be the antithesis of my current path. In 2021 (after a late 2020 move), I started a new Firm and had a new baby, each of which has taken it’s relative toll. I’m ready for a reset, a change of focus, and a quieter year. I look forward to announcing those details in early February.
Gratitude for another Clawbies Win
I was definitely pleasantly surprised that I received another Clawbies (my third!) for Best Law and Commentary Blog in Canada. This year’s award is dedicated to my readers. Without the engagement, I’ve received on topics such as Chinook and our broader policy discussions, I would not have had the motivation to write. This year, my writing was split largely between this blog and my Firm’s blog.
I suspect 2022 to bring similar things, but I definitely realize how much I miss regular writing after my brief hiatus. I am going to try my best to spend my mornings writing – as regularly as I can amid my year focused on system-building, conference organizing, and too much creative day-dreaming (more on that to come too).
Question of 2022: Question of Inequity, Technology, and If (or How) the Courts Will Respond
If I were to crystal ball the central and most pressing issue in 2022, I would suggest it is that of the inequity, particularly technology facilitated inequity, that the current Canadian immigration systems have created. The follow-up question will be how (if at all) the Courts will choose to respond to these arguments, which should be brought forward more.
The Supreme Court of Canada in Vavilov has emphasized the importance of individual’s affected by a decision to be able to present their case fully and fairly. What does that mean within a system that appears to be molding what that means.
 The principles of justification and transparency require that an administrative decision maker’s reasons meaningfully account for the central issues and concerns raised by the parties. The principle that the individual or individuals affected by a decision should have the opportunity to present their case fully and fairly underlies the duty of procedural fairness and is rooted in the right to be heard: Baker, at para. 28. The concept of responsive reasons is inherently bound up with this principle, because reasons are the primary mechanism by which decision makers demonstrate that they have actually listened to the parties.
Let me give just a few examples of where I think there is clear system-built inequity. Study plans – for many of my clients in the Global South are not required documents for all applicants. Indeed, my colleague Patrick Bissonnette and I are preparing for a webinar in March where we will explore how there appears to quite a discrepancy between the instructions directed at applicants depending on visa office. Even more troubling, some applicants from high refusal visa offices are not given clear and complete instructions on what such letter should even include, or ultimately recommended to keep their plans to 1 or 2 pages. On the back end, cases (both where IRCC was successful and unsuccessful) are increasingly going after the ‘vague’ nature of the study plans submitted. This vagueness is entirely created by the system, but with ultimate consequences being borne by the Applicant.
I would suggest the same concern is raised about IRCC’s temporary resident portals, limiting uploads to 2MB for applicants. The reality is that 2MB isn’t fair where each visa office has vastly different requirements. In addition to study plans, many applicants from high refusal countries also need to add additional documents about their parents, sources of income, and ties. As we uncovered in our discussion of VESPA for TRV-exempt countries, cases are prima facie approved at a rate of 95+%. For those clients from high refusal countries, they struggle to be able to legibly combine documents and even properly categorize them under the new portal. I have spent much of the later part of 2021 having to re-apply and pursue legal remedies for folks who used the temporary resident portals, where their submissions were reduced and attachments had to be randomly submitted in a way a visa officer would likely have missed.
The other big question comes in the rollout of the use of AI (the China and India TRV model) to other visa officers and lines of work. For IRCC these systems have been working great, but on the other side we’re seeing only the back end of either quick approvals or refusals with very limited justification (as a result of Chinook’s use on the back-end). My hope is that in addition to a bit more transparency (and independent oversight) on the AI system expansion process, that IRCC can do proper outreach on the ongoing use of Chinook or Chinook’s pending replacement.
We have to remember that the Courts too are (and I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised, some what crushing) the recent move to technology. Still, AI and the administrative choices surrounding use of technology will be a whole new conversation to be had. My hope is that this conversation is not simply about deference to the experts. The experts themselves need to ensure their systems do not reproduce yesterday’s inequities.
I will be doing a lot of writing on this in 2022 and cannot wait to share what I uncover!
Ttfn. 2022 let’s go.