Daphne Bramham: Bridging the gap between goodwill and caution that separates sponsors from refugees

 

 
 
 
 
A family of Syrian refugees is interviewed by authorities in hope of being approved for passage to Canada at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan.
 

A family of Syrian refugees is interviewed by authorities in hope of being approved for passage to Canada at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan.

Photograph by: Paul Chiasson, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Many Canadians rushed to find a way to do something to help Syrian refugees in the days after photos were published showing little Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach.

It’s who we are, and why Canadians bear the national stereotype of being nice. Do-gooders, even.

Phone calls, emails and texts ping-ponged among friends, including my own. Maybe we can sponsor a family. How hard could it be?

Well, it can be daunting. And that’s according to people involved in refugee settlement.

There are the so-called Groups of Five (five being the minimum number of individuals who can sponsor refugees), as well as “constituent groups” who work with “sponsorship agreement holders”.

But for now, let’s just focus on G5s — those nice people unaffiliated with a faith group or other sponsorship agreement holder.

G5s “must agree to give emotional and financial support to the refugee(s) for the full sponsorship period — usually one year,” according to the government’s website (www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/sponsor/groups.asp). But what does that mean?

Then, the G5 need to provide a settlement plan and prove that the group can afford the sponsorship.

Before potential G5 members even get to the application, they are urged to go to the refugee sponsorship training program website (www.rstp.ca/en/)

The application itself makes the long-form census appear like a walk in the park, a superficial glance at people’s private lives. Among the documents that must be filed by at least three of the five members of the group are: the most recent T4; the most recent notice of assessment from Revenue Canada; proof from your employer confirming financial details or a letter from an accountant if you are self-employed; proof of any other income.

Faced with this, that other national trait of Canadians kicked in. Caution. (There is a reason why Canada’s insurance companies have done so well over the years.)

It all seems a bit more than what a few people of goodwill are willing to plow through aided only by a website.

So, a group of powerful and well-connected lawyers has stepped in to bridge that gap.

It began as a conversation between Jennifer Bond, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s law school and faculty director of its Refugee Hub, and Jacqueline Swaisland, a Harvard-trained, Toronto lawyer who teaches a course in immigrant and refugee law at UofO.

They decided to expand the Refugee Hub’s existing sponsorship support program at refugeessp.ca by training 15 students to advise groups in the Ottawa area about the process, the liabilities and legal responsibilities. But other lawyers expressed interest and were trained as well at a five-hour workshop in October.

The next night at a forum hosted by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, they held a pop-up clinic for wannabe sponsors. More than 450 people showed up and close to 60 lawyers helped them.

Bond — who has an arts degree and a commerce degree from the University of Calgary as well as a bachelor of law from the University of Victoria and a master from Yale — decided to expand the program nationally.

Going through her contacts list, she tapped Kassie Seaby, an articling lawyer who recently graduated from UofO in June.

The Kitimat native immediately agreed. Today, she is helping to launch a campaign urging anyone with legal questions about what’s required and expected of refugee sponsors to email rsspvancouver@gmail.com if they would like to get free legal advice from the more than 25 trained lawyers.

“My whole life, I’ve been interested in immigrants and refugees. I fell in love with the subject matter — the stories and what we could do to make a difference — when I was young,” Seaby said.

“Everyone has known about what’s going on in Syria. But by August or September, I just had to do something.”

When she is not working at her paid job, Seaby said she is contacting lawyers here and across the country as well as B.C. settlement societies, church and community groups.

Bond connected Seaby with her youthful exuberance to the wisdom and experience of Vancouver-based Susan Bazilli.

Bazilli heads the International Women’s Rights Project and is an associate fellow at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies. A lawyer, author, filmmaker and advocate whose list of accomplishments is exceeded only by her list of contacts made over more than 30 years of working in countries from Mongolia to Uganda to former Soviet satellite states in eastern Europe.

Early in November, Bond and other trainers came west to train lawyers in Calgary before moving on to both Vancouver and Victoria.

The bottom line is that across the country, there are now 600 lawyers trained to help Canadians fulfil their desire to sponsor Syrian and other families, and are willing to do it for nothing.

And, in this case, it seems safe to ignore the cautious adage that free advice is worth what you pay for it.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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A family of Syrian refugees is interviewed by authorities in hope of being approved for passage to Canada at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan.
 

A family of Syrian refugees is interviewed by authorities in hope of being approved for passage to Canada at a refugee processing centre in Amman, Jordan.

Photograph by: Paul Chiasson, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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