4 Missing Teens May Be Part Of Bigger Immigration Scam

4 missing B.C. teens may be part of bigger immigration scam

Wendy McLellan
Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, September 04, 2008

VANCOUVER – An immigration scam or a sinister case of human smuggling may have led to the disappearance of four Chinese teenagers who enrolled at a private language school in Vancouver.

All four teens disappeared within days of arriving for a summer youth program at BCC Academy of English, said Brian Robinson, director of studies for the school.

One of the boys, 16-year-old Guowen Weng, disappeared a few hours after settling at his homestay on July 12.

Vancouver police say the boy arrived at his host family's home at 2:30 p.m. and went out for a walk at 8 p.m. He never came back.

The others, a 19-year-old boy and two girls aged 16 and 17, disappeared a few days earlier.

“We are surprised, confused. We don't know what's happened,” Robinson said Thursday.

He said the teens were registered in the same program and were recruited by an agent in China.

“It was all organized through the agent,” Robinson said. “It was the first time we had a contract with him.

“The agent has been trying to contact the families, but they have been disinterested in his inquiries.”

Robinson said the school collected the teenagers' passports when they arrived and have handed them over to police.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the lack of concern by the teens' families suggests they may be involved, and may have family or friends in Canada or the U.S. who are willing to care for their kids.

Or, he said, human smugglers may have targeted the school as a way to get the teens into the country, and the names on the temporary student visas may not belong to the people who arrived here.

“It was probably just bad luck that this particular school was targeted,” Kurland said. “It looks like it was planned from the start as an abuse of the application process, and I don't think four teenagers possess the sophistication and resources to plan an immigration scam.

“The concern I have is for the two girls – how are they going to support themselves? The sex trade is always something to be concerned about. What is alarming is the cavalier attitude of the parents with children missing in Canada – I think that indicates an intent to do something wrong.”

Kurland said Canada has strong controls over student visa applications and “jumpers” who try to use the system to gain entry are rare.

“They try to scam their way into Canada with fraudulent documents, but the enforcement grid is so tight, they rarely succeed,” he said.

Vancouver police are not treating the four missing teens as missing-person cases, although they did issue a news release on July 13 asking for public assistance to find Weng. There have been no similar alerts about the other three teens.

Police said the four files have been handed over to the Canada Border Services Agency.