RCMP Asked To Probe "Amnesty"

March 1, 2006: RCMP Asked To Probe “Amnesty”

RCMP asked to probe `amnesty'
Migrants paid $50 for legal status
Group says cash is for campaign
Mar. 1, 2006. 01:00 AM

Immigration officials have asked the RCMP to probe complaints that a group operating from a warehouse church was charging illegal migrants $50 to sign up for a federal amnesty program that doesn't exist.

“There is no amnesty plan for undocumented workers,” said Rejean Cantlon, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. He said calls and emails asking about such a program had been coming in since Friday. “We are aware of the situation and we're taking it very seriously. We have already notified the RCMP.”

Monica Willie, a community activist, was tending to about a dozen people lined up at 7 p.m. last night at the Choices Mathieu Da Costa Centre, near Keele St. and Lawrence Ave. W.

She told the Toronto Star the group is not offering amnesty, but rather asking for personal information and taking $50 as a “suggested contribution” for a campaign on the issue. Willie said she plans to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with whom she appears in a photocopied picture hanging on the wall.

Also on the wall in the centre last night was a letter-size sign stating in capital letters: “We are not immigration or the government. We do not offer amnesty. Please take note.”

Ann-Marie, a nanny from St. Vincent who has lived underground in Canada for seven years, left there on the weekend with a different impression.

She said she was thrilled when a friend called her last week about a “public meeting” Saturday on the amnesty plan.

When she arrived with three friends, she said, more than 300 people were lined up to hand over their money and fill out three-page forms asking for personal details, including address, phone and criminal history.

“They said they'd met with Harper and he asked them to start collecting the information. They even told us the government was going to allow only 10,000 families into the program,” the 28-year-old woman said. Photocopied flyers advertising the program included a photograph of Harper, she said.

“We were just desperate after toiling in Canada for so many years. I still have their receipt. They said they'd ask us to come back for a further review of our individual cases.”

Settlement agencies are warning undocumented migrants away. Amy Casipullai, vice-president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, noted that the group operated through word of mouth and clients were asked to pay the fee in cash.

Bernice Small, a settlement counsellor with Intercede, which advocates for domestic workers, said she received a dozen calls over the weekend asking about the amnesty, mostly from people who had paid $50.

The Mounties would not comment on the case.