Immigration board judge gets six years for accepting bribes Brenda Branswell, CanWest News Service; Montreal Gazette
Published: Thursday, June 29, 2006 Article
MONTREAL – For his leading role in a bribery scheme that targeted cases he was slated to hear, former Immigration and Refugee Board judge Yves Bourbonnais was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison.
''You have dishonoured yourself acting that way,'' said Quebec Superior Court Justice James L. Brunton.
Bourbonnais, a lawyer, had also dishonoured his profession, his position as IRB commissioner and ''the immigration system in this country,'' Brunton said.
Arrested in 2004 after a 31/2-year RCMP investigation, the 64-year-old faced nearly 100 charges including defrauding the government and breach of trust.
Wednesday, his steady voice became softer as he uttered ''guilty'' over and over again 30 times in all. He pleaded guilty to 15 counts of obstruction of justice and 15 counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice in the influence-peddling scandal.
The charges involved 15 people who were in a ''desperate situation'' Crown prosecutor Lucio Garcia said. They were either facing deportation for criminal activity or had been turned down over their attempt to sponsor a relative to come to Canada.
Garcia told the court how the kickback scheme operated: Bourbonnais, who was appointed to the IRB in 1996, passed on information to two accomplices Bill Wong and his tailor Franco Macaluso about upcoming cases coming before him.
They, in turn, contacted other accomplices who approached the people to offer them a favourable decision at their appeal in exchange for money.
Garcia called Bourbonnais ''the most important player.''
''The only person who could change those decisions E was Mr. Yves Bourbonnais.''
Six of the 15 people approached forked over $33,600 in total. It wasn't possible to calculate how much Bourbonnais received although he assuredly got a cut each time someone paid money, Garcia said.
In some cases they asked for $10,000 or $15,000, Garcia told reporters afterwards. Some people paid $6,000 and even $2,000. ''But that was the range asked of these people.''
Two or three people faced deportation because of serious crimes or a criminal record, Garcia said outside court. In those instances, others had already deemed they posed a danger to Canadian society, he said. And in certain cases Bourbonnais intervened to stay the deportation orders and they were able to remain in Canada, Garcia added. (Two men with criminal records who received a reprieve on their deportation orders insisted they never forked over money.)
He said he didn't know whether the people in these cases are still in Canada.
The facts presented in court showed one man, who had received a 66-month sentence for drug trafficking in 1999, was approached by Nirmal Singh after appealing a deportation order. The man, whose lawyer had contacted the RCMP, gave Singh $12,000 supplied by the Mounties.
In March 2001 Bourbonnais ordered a stay of his deportation for a five-year period.
''In light of (Wednesday's) developments the IRB will review the information that is now available to determine what actions, if any, are required,'' said Serge Arsenault, an IRB spokesman in Montreal.
While serious, the court proceedings involve one individual and should not overshadow the excellent work of their dedicated staff, he said.
Garcia called Bourbonnais' crime very serious because ''it's an immigration system that is called into question a national and international reputation.''
People have a right to expect the system to work properly and for the judges, who rule on important questions, to conduct themselves in sterling fashion, Garcia said.
This wasn't Bourbonnais' first run-in with the law. In 1988 he was convicted of breach of trust for selling government office furniture from a prosecutor's office and two courthouses. He received a pardon before his IRB appointment.
The Crown and defence lawyer had asked Wednesday for a six-year sentence. ''It's hard to explain the inexplicable,'' defence lawyer Marco Labrie conceded to Brunton.
Although he said Bourbonnais preferred to stay silent, Labrie told reporters his client feels regret and remorse. Labrie said the strength of the evidence and the effect of court proceedings on his client's health prompted the guilty plea. Bourbonnais takes many medications and suffers from heart problems and diabetes, he said.
''I wasn't sure that the trial could have ended with my client still standing,'' Labrie said.
Eleven people were charged in the case although three people were involved in a different scheme, Garcia said. One case is still pending, he said.
Singh received a 36-month sentence in Sept. 2004 while Wong received a three-year prison term last year. Macaluso was sent to jail for 22 months in April for his role.
CanWest News Service 2006