Immigration watchdog needs clout, panel told
Call for fledgling consultants' group to be scrapped or given more teeth to tackle dishonest advisers
Apr 10, 2008 04:30 AM
Toronto Star Staff Reporter
The fledgling Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants should be scrapped or laws changed to give it, or another oversight body, teeth to go after unscrupulous and unregistered advisers, a travelling parliamentary committee was told yesterday.
The committee came to Toronto looking, in part, for ways to better protect immigrants who seek the help of immigration consultants and had governance questions for the society, which was set up to oversee the industry.
For its part, the society, criticized yesterday from some of its own members, defended itself at downtown Toronto hotel.
The society, set up as a corporation four years ago, has faced dissent by members and former board members over how it has been run, and, despite several attempts, has been unable to hold an annual meeting due to lack of a quorum.
Consultant John Ryan, who helped launch the society and is its chair and acting CEO, told the committee the society's procedures are “absolutely democratic.”
He urged the government to do more to go after those who offer advice without being registered, and do more to educate consumers.
The standing committee on citizenship and immigration is on a cross-country trip, tasked with examining three issues: Iraqi refugees, undocumented and temporary foreign workers, and immigration consultants.
In Lost in Migration, a 2007 Star investigative series into the immigration consulting industry, the newspaper found the regulatory model set up with the blessing of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, has no ability to go after “ghosts” non-member consultants, who continue to charge fees and offer unofficial immigration assistance, both in Canada and abroad.
While there are 1,277 consultants registered to represent clients before the Canadian immigration department many offering much-needed help navigating the country's sometimes complicated immigration system the number of ghosts is much larger and difficult to pin down, particularly abroad.
Malcolm Heins, chief executive officer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, which recently began overseeing Ontario's 2,000 paralegals, told the committee the government should scrap the model and start over, with a legislated statute that could be used to go after anyone offering immigration help without proper certification.
Nothing personal against the society, he said.
It's the model that is flawed, something he said the law society pointed out during the formation of the CSIC.
“You've got to go back to square one, and redo it,” said Heins.
The CSIC was set up as a corporation, with no statutory teeth to go after non-members who offer immigration advice for a fee.
Consultant Ramesh Dheer told the committee “ghost consulting” remains a problem and that business for registered consultants is actually down since regulations came into effect.
He said the society has now past its infancy stage and is maturing, but there needs to be a way to go after ghosts.
The entire Star series, including undercover video, can be viewed at thestar.com/immigration.