Study aims to understand impact legal problems have on immigrants in Victoria area

Study aims to understand impact legal problems have on immigrants in Victoria area
Nicholas Pescod/CHEK News
The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) is leading an online study that will examine how immigrants navigate the Canadian legal system and the impact serious legal problems have on immigrants in Canada.

Immigrants living in the Greater Victoria region that have experienced serious legal issues are needed for a unique study.

The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) is leading an online study that is designed to learn more about how immigrants navigate the Canadian legal system, what barriers they face and the impacts serious legal problems have on them.

Commissioned by the federal government, the study will focus on immigrants in Vancouver and Victoria as well as Toronto and London, Ont., and results are expected to be released next year.

The study is part of a series of studies the federal government has commissioned that focus on the legal needs and issues facing minority groups in Canada as well as the economic and socio-economic impacts of those issues. Other studies will focus on access to justice for Indigenous people, people with disabilities, Black Canadians, and the LGBTQ community.

Florentien Verhage, the coordinator of the Greater Victoria Local Immigration Partnership who is conducting the immigrant study in B.C., said the government wants to understand and address the issues immigrants – particularly new immigrants – face when navigating and accessing information about the legal system.

“There is a real worry about newcomers because they are often very isolated. If a legal issue arises soon after they have arrived, they do not have a support system,” she said.

Not only do newer immigrants often lack a support network of friends or family that can help them when a legal issue arises, but they are far more likely to be unfamiliar with the Canadian legal system or understand what their legal rights are in Canada, according to Verhage.

“It’s partly because of language barriers and it is partly because it is hard to navigate a whole system and for what issue,” said Verhage. “There might be preconceptions about whether you can or cannot get legal aid. People tell me they don’t even know legal aid exists in Canada.”

Another area of concern, said Verhage, is that some immigrants are from countries where services such as shelters for victims of domestic violence don’t exist and may not know such services are available in Canada.

“For many of us, I think that would be difficult,” Verhage said. “But I think if you’re an immigrant here by yourself, if you do not speak the language, if you’re not very aware of the culture and how the whole legal system works, then it is much more difficult.”

The study is already underway but Verhage is looking for more immigrants from the Victoria area in order to get a “good cross-section” of individuals who have experienced a range of legal issues from family to financial.

“It could be finances, debt, money owned, purchases, family situations, a whole diversity of problems that they might be facing,” said Verhage. “Part of the questions I will be asking people is where did you go? Did you get legal representation or was there some remediation for what was happening at the time and how did you find that?”

Verhage said the study isn’t just about finding what barriers immigrants experienced within the legal system but also examining the financial and social costs associated with their experiences.

“We also want to know what the consequences have been for people. Have they had financial costs? Have they lost a job, have they lost income, have they had legal fees to pay?” she said. “We also want to know what the health costs have been, whether it is physical or mental health, and may have had to be hospitalized based on whatever happened. We’re not just looking at how people navigated the system but what the actual effects have been on the individual or the family.”

The study also presents an opportunity for immigrants to have a voice – something Verhage said many feel they don’t have in Canada.

“Part the study is also to allow people to tell their story,” she said. “One thing we often hear is people feel they don’t have a voice.”

Participants in the study will receive $30 in compensation. Interviews will be conducted using ZOOM and will take less than two hours to complete. Interpreters can be provided if needed available and information provided will be completely confidential.

Those interested in taking part must fill out an application form at For more information, visit

[email protected]


Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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