Internship Spotlight: Michelle Marcus

My name is Michelle Marcus, and I am beginning my third year (U2) at McGill University this upcoming fall. As a Political Science major, and Communications Studies minor, I am particularly invested in the fields of policy and journalism, as well as various aspects of international and legal governance. These interests are reflected in both my selection of academic courses, and my involvement in the greater McGill community: currently, I act as Co-Executive director of the McGill Policy Association, Vice President of McGill students for Right to Play, writer for the McGill Tribune, and member of the McGill Pre-Law Society’s external committee. Before proceeding with my report, I would like to thank my award donor for providing me with the opportunity to further explore my intellectual interests and enhance my knowledge in a professional environment.

When examining possible summer internships, I considered the type of work with which I wanted to engage, and researched organizations whose missions touched on several of the areas in which I am interested. I wanted to learn more about international and Canadian immigration systems, the relationship between the non-profit sector and policy implementation, as well as the role of legal professionals in immigration law and regulation. After coming across the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), I decided this would be a desirable internship placement, as their work combines advocacy projects, legal analysis, and international policy. Although the CCR has committees focusing specifically on each of these areas, I was intrigued and excited by the notion of working somewhere where I would be exposed to so many distinct (yet interconnected) fields. Moreover, the CCR’s central focus on respecting and prioritizing the dignity and humanity of refugees aligns with my personal values, which made me confident that I would find fulfillment in my work while building meaningful relationships with my co-workers.

My work as an intern entailed numerous responsibilities. While I received the opportunity to attend many seminars and access various documents pertaining to domestic and international immigration law and advocacy more generally, my time with the CCR was mainly focused on two projects: the Quality of Services project, and the Virtual Hearings project. In leading the Quality of Services project independently, I was responsible for analyzing the survey responses of NGO organizations, reaching out to and conducting follow-up interviews with NGO representatives across Canada and Europe, and reviewing the policies and practices currently employed by these organizations. I then organized my data and summarized my findings in a detailed written analysis, making several suggestions for the CCR for establishing a policy framework that will ensure a high standard for refugee services, and the ethical, humanitarian-centred treatment of refugee clients. I also explored options for advocacy work in relation to Section 91 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, helping Canadian NGOs to overcome barriers in providing legal services to refugee claimants.

Additionally, my work included co-leading the CCR’s Virtual Hearings Monitoring Project, where myself and another intern developed an online questionnaire to gain insight into refugee claimants’ experiences undergoing virtual refugee hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) as a result of COVID-19. I then used the questionnaire to conduct several interviews with refugee claimants, the findings of which will be used to prepare a report for distribution to the IRB, suggesting ways to conduct virtual hearings to ensure that claimants have a fair chance to be heard. Apart from my work on these two projects, I supported the CCR in hosting panel discussions and general working-group meetings.

While I found all aspects of my work very interesting, some highlights of my internship included attending the African Refugee Network’s planning session for a panel on vaccine distribution in developing areas, and an NGO-specific Zoom meeting organized during the CCR’s consultation with the UNHCR. I did, however, encounter several challenges during my internship; for example, the CCR underwent a two-week closure period, during which I was obligated to work completely independently, and manage all inquiries and requests without the possibility of consulting my co-workers. Nevertheless, by ensuring I had access to all organizational accounts and by building relationships with key representatives in our member organizations, I was able to answer questions and execute my tasks successfully during this period.

Although I am not receiving credit for this internship, the experience was extremely valuable in enhancing my academic experience. Not only have I gained a thorough understanding of the relationship and working dynamics between the non-profit sector and public / immigration policy, I have also been exposed to the key roles that legal and media professionals play in advancing advocacy efforts and governmental regulations and interpretations. This internship solidified my interest in pursuing a career in international legal relations, improved my data-analysis skills in a real-world setting, and has encouraged me to take courses in immigration policy and refugee social work in the coming academic terms.

The generous funding enabled me to take this (otherwise unpaid) position with the CCR while still saving to support myself financially in the coming school year. I was also able to cover the costs of remaining in Montreal, which gave me the opportunity to meet my supervisor and several members of the CCR’s team (outside and distanced, of course), which improved my ability to network with individuals working in the field in which I hope to pursue a career post-graduation.

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