July 24, 2006
Till fraud do us part
Increasing numbers of Canadians are falling victim to foreigners who marry them just to gain entry to the country
Navdeep Dhillon left her Abbotsford, B.C., home in April 2004 along with her family and travelled to India for a moment she had long waited for. After selecting a traditional red dress with her mother and cousins in her native province of Punjab, Dhillon exchanged wedding vows in an arranged marriage with a man she had never met but with whom she expected to share the rest of her life in Canada. Three weeks later she returned to Abbotsford, where the 29-year-old works as a computer technician, and submitted a sponsorship application form along with a $1,525 immigration fee to enable her new husband to gain entry into Canada.
Five months later, Dhillon's husband, who had been recommended by relatives, arrived. But Dhillon's dream of a happy marriage quickly turned into a nightmare when, she says, he told her he had only wed her to immigrate to Canada, and then disappeared without a trace. “I can't really explain what's happening with me. It's really hard to tolerate,” she says. “I never had any suspicion he was going to do that to me.” But Dhillon's story is not a unique one. Increasing numbers of Canadians are becoming victims of sham marriages, sometimes being financially drained by the devious acts of foreigners who used them to enter the country. To make matters worse, Ottawa requires Canadians to support their spouses for a period of up to three years, and if a sponsored spouse receives any government income assistance during that time, their provincial government is permitted to pursue repayment.
Dhillon believes her husband, luckily, has a job and has received no government assistance. But her family put forward a $20,000 dowry, not a penny of which has been returned. Dhillon doesn't even know where the man is currently living. Her family has tried contacting his family in India, but they keep disconnecting the phone. He has applied for a divorce, but Dhillon wants the marriage annulled and the government to deport him back to India. “If it doesn't do that, it means they are promoting fraud marriage,” she says. “And people will do it over and over again.”
To combat escalating incidents of sham marriages, the Vancouver-based Canadian Marriage Fraud Victim Society is petitioning Ottawa to change the Immigration Act to deter foreign spouses from using Canadians to obtain residency with the objective of leaving them once they reach Canadian soil. “We are suggesting they must live together or the divorce shouldn't be sanctioned earlier than three years,” says society spokesman Krishan Bector. “They won't get married simply to come to Canada, but for life-long companionship. This is what marriage is all about.”
New Democrat MLA Raj Chouhan, however, believes such a change would do more harm than good. “There is no quick fix,” he says. “It's an issue that requires all of us to discuss, debate and then come up with some kind of suggestion.” There will likely be people willing to live through three years of a sham marriage to stay in Canada; Chouhan fears that could force a woman to suffer a possibly abusive relationship for that time. “She will be just like a slave,” he says.
To find a viable solution, Chouhan is spearheading a campaign to inform communities about fraud marriages, and he is raising the issue in the provincial legislature. He also believes it is essential to construct a support network for victims. “We need to let them know they are not alone,” he says. “Public awareness is so essential for people to understand.” But Dhillon hopes some type of legislation is passed soon so that others are protected from the pain she lives with. “I am really afraid now. I can't even trust in men.”