Halifax has long had a reputation as a gateway to Canada, and these days The Salvation Army is playing a key role in the journey of many new Canadians.
Atlantic Refugee & Immigrant Services (ARIS) is a project of The Salvation Army run out of the Spryfield Community Church and Family Resource Centre.
“Basically, we try to help refugees and immigrants who can’t afford to go to a private lawyer and pay the legal fees,” says Marie Kettle, ARIS Settlement Coordinator.
Simply put, ARIS helps newcomers to Canada wade through the complex and sometimes confusing sea of paperwork that comes with immigration issues. This can include making refugee claims, assisting with citizenship applications, humanitarian and compassionate applications and spousal sponsorship applications. The program also helps with more tangible needs like finding temporary shelter and scheduling medical appointments.
ARIS is unlike other programs available to refugees and immigrants in the city that are usually very targeted and require people to fit specific criteria before receiving aid.
“What we offer is a very open and generous program. We don’t turn anyone away and they don’t have to fit into any particular category,” Kettle says.
ARIS began its work as an independent non-profit society, but soon found itself struggling for funding. Having had a relationship with The Salvation Army, the Spryfield Corps offered Kettle free office space to continue her work. After a few months the relationship was cemented and ARIS was brought on as an official project of The Army two years ago.
For her part, Kettle has an extensive background in the field, including work with another refugee service agency for nine years as well as two decades in the legal field in Halifax and Toronto. She also has first-hand experience, emigrating herself from Dundalk, Ireland.
“Having come as an immigrant and gone through a process in Toronto dealing with the Immigration Department and forms and applications makes me a lot more sympathetic, I think, to people going through the same process,” she says.
The Salvation Army also offers immigration services in other cities, such as Montreal and Toronto, but one important distinction is that, unlike those centres, Nova Scotia does not provide legal aid to refugees and immigrants. And fees can mount quickly for people trying to bring family members into the country once you factor in application costs, medical fees, photographs, document translations and legal fees.
Kettle says that perhaps the biggest challenge facing ARIS is the coordination of this legal aid when needed.
“We do have a number of great volunteer lawyers, but it is always a stress for me to ensure that there is going to be someone available at that particular time to take on that hearing,” she admits. “So my ideal would be to have the funding to have a lawyer on staff, even on a part-time basis, so that we would know that someone was there and would be available.”
Kettle has made applications to the Nova Scotia Law Foundation and the Ontario Law Society in an attempt to gain funding for a lawyer, but has yet to be successful. Undeterred, she plans to file paperwork again this September.
“I enjoy doing the work,” Kettle says of her role. “It’s a good service and I think it’s really needed.”