Sep 23, 1992
Like a proud collector of stamps or butterflies, Rene Bersma, Canada’s immigration counsellor in Belgium, displays his specimen: an Ontario identity card with the photograph of an Asian man on it. It looks perfectly official, good enough perhaps to fool some immigration inspector somewhere into accepting the identity of the bearer as the same as the one on the card.
The only problem is that there is no such thing as an Ontario identity card. Gordon Cheeseman, Immigration Canada’s chief of intelligence and interdiction, says that “any official document which can be used to gain something has and will be forged.” As Bersma’s Ontario identity card suggests, even non-existent documents will be forged.
Bersma is an expert on false documents and has written two books on the subject. Many forgeries are amazingly bad. He has seen a passport from Costa Rica, a Spanish-speaking country, printed entirely in English. He has seen Canadian passports that looked right until you noticed French words misspelled or a woman’s name matched with a man’s photo. On the other hand, a really good forgery is a precious item; police say a good quality Canadian passport will fetch up to $25,000.
Canada’s immigration officials have to worry about a lot more than just fake passports and visas. Because 61 per cent of immigrants gain entry to Canada on the basis of family relationships, documents purporting to prove those relationships or somebody’s age are also routinely faked.
Look what’s at stake. Under the current rules, someone can sponsor a child only if the child is 19 years old or less. That child’s financial prospects in Canada may be much greater than his native country.
In addition, if he can get in on the basis of a fake birth certificate, he can later sponsor a wife and her parents who could also sponsor other children. The incentive to invest in a document that presents a 25-year-old as 19 is overwhelming.
Meanwhile, some older immigrants buy documents showing them as older than they really are. That way old age security and other benefits Canadians get at age 65 are obtained much earlier. (delete this) Immigration officials admit privately they know such fraud is widespread.
Genetic testing, to verify family relationships, is being explored for use on applicants. But there is no equivalent to carbon dating to verify someone is as young or old as he claims he is. As a result, Canadian posts abroad have to rely on their knowledge of local documents and their own judgment.
“In some of the posts abroad, documents are so routinely compromised that it adds significant time to processing because verification has to take place,” says Cheeseman. “The New Delhi and Manila posts both have real problems with documents.”
One problem is that if the documents come from places that are remote or undergoing insurrections – Punjab and Kashmir, for instance – verification is difficult to do.
In addition, he says, “a large part of the world doesn’t have the Western concept of acquiring documents at birth or at marriage. If you tell someone you need to see proof of a relationship, you will get a birth certificate issued yesterday for a birth 18 years ago. So you have to make a judgment call.”
Other documents routinely forged, often for use by people applying for visitor’s visas, include bank statements and employee records.
The intelligence branch regularly alerts airlines about which fraudulent documents are appearing and how to spot them. Another protective measure is to require holders of certain passports to get Canadian visas in order to enter Canada. The visa is much harder to counterfeit than most Third World passports.
In addition, Canada is gradually getting rid of the many different immigrant records of landing issued over the years. These are valuable pieces of paper because they can be used with any passport that matches the name on them. They will be replaced with a new permanent resident card that will contain a photo and will be harder to forge.