RCMP Investigating Dozens Of Immigration Firms

RCMP investigating dozens of immigration firms
Consultancies across the country face fraud allegations, prompting calls for reform and crackdown on ghost' consultants that take advantage of hopeful immigrants

Colin Freeze and Joe Friesen
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Wednesday, Feb. 03, 2010 1:58AM EST
Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 03, 2010 3:47AM EST

Police are investigating allegations of fraud at dozens of immigration consultancies across the country, according to government and law enforcement sources.

The probes target unlicensed and unscrupulous immigration consultants who trade in helping foreigners establish themselves in Canada.

While many consultants provide a legitimate service to immigrants, there are mounting concerns about illegal and unethical activity, leading to calls for sweeping regulatory reform.

In Quebec, for example, an immigration consultancy was accused last year of running a multimillion-dollar scheme to establish Canadian residency for citizenship applicants living abroad and illegally profiting from false tax rebates. Another Quebec immigration consultant was recently convicted of fraud for his role in smuggling a Moroccan immigrant into Canada. And a Vancouver immigration consultant was convicted of fraud and dealing in forged documents.

The RCMP investigation of as many as 300 citizenship applicants claiming the same Mississauga address, which The Globe and Mail first reported on Monday, is just one of many similar investigations currently under way, sources say.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney vowed to crack down on immigration consultants this week. But NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said the minister has promised reform for more than a year and has yet to deliver.

He said he would do it. He didn't do it, Ms. Chow said.

A spokesman for Mr. Kenney said more detailed proposals will be unveiled in the months ahead, adding that too much is at stake to make reform a partisan issue.

Ms. Chow said her office sees too many tragic examples of prospective immigrants being ripped off by ghost consultants, who provide advice they know is of no use, that's often fraudulent, and amounts to stealing between $2,000 and $5,000 from a prospective immigration applicant.

The current system of regulating immigration consultants is completely ineffective and needs to be dismantled, Ms. Chow said. The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants was established in 2003, but membership is voluntary and enforcement amounts to a slap on the wrist, she said.

It has no power to regulate, she said. You don't need to belong to it to practise as an immigration consultant, so what's the point? The integrity of the system is compromised if you allow these unregulated consultants to practise.

Radio-Canada recently reported that only 159 of 3,000 practising immigration consultants in Quebec are registered with the CSIC.

The CSIC announced it will hold a news conference Wednesday morning to propose new measures to combat ghost consultants.

There have been very few successful prosecutions of such consultants in Canada. Sources say that's because responsibility for cracking down on immigration fraud is dispersed across a range of agencies. Police investigations tend to be time-consuming and expensive, prosecutions rare, and jail sentences, if they're awarded, usually brief.

To a degree, Canadian officials have tolerated ghost consultants as a chronic problem, often turning away to focus on other priorities. But the fact that facilitating immigration has become a big, high-volume business in its own right is forcing a renewed look at how the consultants do business, who they bring in and most importantly which agencies police the bad-apple consultants.

Fear of terrorism is also part of the enforcement calculation. When the RCMP dismantled a passport forgery ring last fall, the Mounties suspected that it was being used to smuggle Tamil Tigers into Canada. At the same time a Pakistani-Canadian was arrested in Chicago on terrorism charges, accused of using his immigration consultancy to provide cover for an accomplice who plotted attacks in India and Denmark.

There is a growing consensus that federal bodies have to break out of their silos to step up enforcement, according to a government source.