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Remorse Should Go Two Ways: Lessons Learned Fighting Immigration Fraud in Vancouver


As a lawyer, I ultimately have two major loyalties. The first, to my client, to ensure to defend their interest to the best of my ability and legal knowledge. The second is to the public, to justice, to ensure that the actions I take are always above board, ethical, defendable and do not bring our sacred justice system into disrepute.

Balancing both those obligations I have some ideas on how we can combat immigration fraud and improve our system. For those who have read my previous writing, this may sound like a broken record. However, until someone listens and does something, I figure I will keep playing it.

When it comes to immigration fraud there is one predominant narrative. This is the painted picture of the capricious wealthy immigrant looking to exploit the Canadian immigration system, buy up all of the expensive houses to the populous is left homeless, and then off they go back to their home country to feed their cycle of deceit and fraud. Their practitioner, an often unlicensed overseas or domestic agent, aiding and abetting in systematic manipulation meanwhile making a handsome living on their own.

I do not disagree that these type of individuals do exist and this narrative happens. I have seen a couple that pass by for consultations from time to time. I generally do not like taking on their cases. Not because I do not believe everyone does not deserve equal representation but in a high-volume practice such that I have now, I prefer to help those who need my help the most and who gravitate to me for the right reasons. I cannot professionally take fees where I may have concerns over their originating source of the funds and I prefer not to take cases where I have credibility concerns as to the person providing me material information.

All this being said, in the past three years I have seen a different narrative as well. In that process I have come across countless other immigrants. Shaded and silenced now because of the overwhelming narrative which keeps them at home, often isolated, with few friends and a new world of fear. They want to speak but feel so voiceless. They feel victimized by those fraudulent agents that purported to help them and now they feel resigned to defeat by a country set with an agenda upon deporting them back to their home countries.

Before you stop reading any further – give me just a few seconds to make my case:

Imagine yourself, not fluent in a language, accepted as a permanent resident into a new country with rules and law much different than your own. You are here, but everyone views you as not one of them. Your job interviews highlight that you are overqualified, compensation proposed is low, opportunities out of reach. You go to school with young adults half your age and see them one by one obtain opportunities. You struggle to raise a child who needs their other parent. The astronaut thing that is presented as a scheme is actually a living hell.

Your Permanent Resident Card is about to expire. You look in the local newspaper (it is the only one you can read without having to consult a dictionary or your neighbour that you barely know) and you see the name of someone in a sharp suit. They look established, a good go-between, they say they are professional, licensed, with a high success rate. You come from a country where reputation is everything and usually those with the best reputation are the ones who are advertised.  

You go to their office – located in a central downtown office. Business license on the wall. Attractive employees in their high heels walking to and fro. Business seems booming. The person at the front is courteous and professional. They re-iterate the company’s strong performance, say a few things in your native language about what documents are required and the process, and they say leave it with us. We will guarantee your success.

You appreciate their confidence. You provide them the documents within a few weeks. They send you a contract in English – you cannot read it but you assume it is right. You sign. They provide you some forms, it seems filled in but most importantly it came from the company you trusted. You sign. The forms are submitted and you never keep a copy. You get notice you are successful. You pick up your card. You are happy.

Five years go by.  Out of the blue Canada Border Services Agency flags you. You have misrepresented. You are a crook. You are now an immigration criminal. A liar. A misrepresenter. A burden on society.

I would say seven out of ten cases I am currently seeing following this exact pattern.

Part of the appeal process for these individuals (after they are issued their exclusion orders and assuming they are a permanent resident have the right of appeal), is to demonstrate remorse. They do so by apologizing to those involved and telling their family, friends and employers about what happened. For a culture that values privacy, this is a deeply shameful process. The apologies that are spoken are genuine and are sincere. However, most time the sorry is not enough, too late. It does not matter if they truly had no clue that the mistake was made indirectly by the agent. This lie is treated exactly the same as a deliberate lie in terms of punishment under our laws for misrepresentation.

Should We Be A Little Remorseful Too?

On behalf of some Canadians (I am sure a majority will respectfully disagree), I will provide some remorse of my own. I am sorry we didn’t welcome you as a country with more open arms. I am sorry we did not knock on your door to introduce ourselves or offer to help when you were stumbling with the menu at the restaurant next door. I am sorry that we did not invite you and your spouse to interview or give them that raise when we gave it to everyone else. I am sorry that our legal profession was not diverse enough to provide you with competent assistance in your principal language. I am sorry that our rules and regulations were not tight enough to keep these fraudulent businesses (which outnumber legitimate shops) from obtaining a business licenses because their $56 dollars was all we needed from them. I am sorry that we allowed you to access clearly fraudulent services from the back of newspapers that we had no clue were in circulation in public spaces because we do not read them and cannot regulate them.

There is no excuse for fraud. Two rights do not and never should make a right. But put yourself in the shoes of someone, for just one second, who needs assistance and also gets victimized. Twice. First, by an incompetent practitioner. Second, by a competent society still allowing for too much incompetence and fraudulent animus to pervade in our day to day business.

There are actions that can be taken quickly to try and prevent fraud so we do not end up turning the immigrant deportation process into not a costly play involving two unwilling sides.

First, the Canadian federal government can actively step up in reaching out to foreign governments to step up their regulation of fraud. As these businesses are likely also assisting in capital flight and fraud in these countries, it likely will not be hard to find some willing partners.

Second, the Canadian government can invite a roundtable of relevant parties – regulatory bodies, provincial and civic immigration bodies, to come up with some strategies. This could involve a public relations campaign in different languages (which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has started to do but with limited scope), and most importantly to create new regulations. If a business is applying for a business license but does not have the required professional license or good standing to do the work they purport to do – that business license needs to be withheld. Free newspapers should understand their civil liability to advertise only information that is accurate and not fraudulent. Criminal charges, where currently dissuaded under the legislative regime, could be implemented.

Third, we need to figure out the language thing immediately. I would almost purport that all new immigrants be required as part of their permanent resident process to enroll in government sponsored English programs. While it is a positive step that many immigration programs now require a level of basic competence, more must be done. There also need to be more regulators involved in the immigration system who also speak third-languages or hire those who speak third languages and can investigate into wrong-doing. One of the major challenges with the recent massive fraud investigations was that it took several years to get together, during which time more victims continued to add to the cycle of fraud.

I think if these three steps are taken – along with the appropriate firm but fair messaging that the Government is capable of promoting, we can better insulate those who are unwilling victims of fraud from those who are its true perpetrators.

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Will Tao is an Award-Winning Canadian Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, Writer, and Policy Advisor based in Vancouver. Vancouver Immigration Blog is a public legal resource and social commentary.

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