Punjab cops' fame draws dismay in Canada
By NOUMAN KHALIL
South Asian Focus
Wednesday January 21 2009
Canada will be short-changed with the “least number of deserving immigrants from India” if the Punjab state police or the government authorities there are entrusted with the job of verifying the documents of visa applicants, fears a prominent Sikh community member.
“This is very unfortunate and embarrassing? I'd wish for cooperation between the Punjab and Canadian officials in favouring and supporting true marriages. But I'm worried – worried because they (Punjab police and the politicians) do not have a very good track record,” Baldev Mutta, executive director, Punjabi Community Health Services, told SA Focus.
Mutta was reacting to news Canada may be partly outsourcing the responsibility of ascertaining documents submitted by visa applicants are genuine to local police and state government authorities.
Last week Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told mediapersons in a teleconference from New Delhi that Canada is seeking the help of the Punjab government and local police to help its visa officials in Chandigarh verify the documents submitted by visa applicants are genuine.
Kenney explained he was seeking the help of Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal's government and the provincial police in fighting fake documents.
“We are targeting Chandigarh because currently we are dealing with a very, very high volume of fraudulent documents, including fake passports, personal identification documents, university transcripts, proof of employment, death certificates? even the pictures of couples ostensibly being married,” said Kenney.
“Fake marriage ceremonies are staged only to generate fraudulent evidence of weddings. In fact these are mere commercial marriages of convenience,” said Kenney.
Asked about Canada's proposed move, Mutta expressed his reservations, noting he worries about the outcome of this decision.
He agreed with Kenney at a certain level, noting a suspiciously large number of marriages break down after the sponsored spouse lands in Canada. But he wondered whether the answer was to empower Punjab police or government officials, neither of whom exactly inspire confidence among the Indian public, or are particularly reputed for their probity.
“If they get involved in it then not only will corruption rise but Canada will receive the least number of deserving immigrants from that part of the world,” Mutta predicted.
More than 240,000 immigrants – 20,000 from India – come to Canada every year, and the Harper government is looking to increase the numbers to 265,000 a year.
Plan to get more immigrants
“It's a bold effort, but our government is hoping to boost the numbers from 240,000 to 265,000 a year,” said Kenney.
Regarding fraudulent applications, Kenney blamed unregistered immigration consultants for producing fake documents and sought the Indian provincial authorities' help in combating the challenge.
According to the minister, the Punjab government as well as police will help the Canadian officials in Chandigarh identify the fakes.
“We expect much closer cooperation from the Punjabi police authorities in dealing with these matters in future,” said Kenney. “I'm pleased the chief minister is committed to helping and cracking down on unscrupulous immigration consultants.”
Canada is the only country to operate a visa office in Chandigarh.
$15,000 for fake papers
The Chandigarh office of the Canadian High Commission opened in 1997 and first began issuing visas in 2004 after former Prime Minister Jean Chretien attended the opening of the consulate general there in 2003.
Kenney said unregistered consultants in Punjab are charging $12,000 to $15,000 for producing fraudulent documents.
He urged aspiring visa applicants not to use such documents, noting they might hurt the candidates' chances of coming to Canada.
The minister wrapped up his 12-day visit to South Asia last week, signing up a number of Memorandums of Understanding with New Delhi.
Earlier on a two-day visit to Pakistan, he urged Islamabad to deal firmly with those behind the Mumbai attacks and to work together with India on issues related to the 11/26 tragedy.