Documents senator sent to family trapped in Afghanistan weren’t authentic, says federal immigration department

Embarrassing for Senator McPhedran but good that IRCC caught the error. And I think the Senator has to be more forthcoming on which “trusted high level Canadian government official” reportedly provided advice.

That being said, understandable that those desperate to leave Afghanistan after its fall to the Taliban would resort to such means:

In the final days of a chaotic and inadequate government effort to rescue people from the Taliban last summer, Senator Marilou McPhedran and one of her staff members sent travel documents to a family attempting to flee Afghanistan. The documents, called facilitation letters, were supposed to help the Afghans bypass checkpoints that had been set up around Kabul’s airport, so they could catch one of the last evacuation flights out of the country.

The letters, copies of which were obtained by The Globe and Mail, have the appearance of official Canadian government documents. They say that each of the Afghans named on them has been “granted a VISA to enter Canada” and ask that the group be given “safe travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport so that they can board their organized flight.”

A year later, the people who received those documents are still stuck in Afghanistan. And the Canadian government has at last explained why: The facilitation letters they received from the senator and her office were not authentic, and the people named on them had not been approved to come to Canada.

Behind the scenes, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal immigration department, had conducted an internal investigation and referred the matter to police.

Ms. McPhedran, a long-time human-rights activist and lawyer, says she was trying to help, and that she acted in good faith. But communications obtained by The Globe show that receiving the documents from her office could have hampered the Afghans’ efforts to escape by giving them the mistaken impression that they had been cleared for travel.

The family had formally applied for resettlement in Canada, but they would later discover their application had been lost. A second application, which they made this year, was rejected because Canada’s immigration programs for Afghans were already at capacity. The group remains at risk in Afghanistan, hunted by the Taliban.

“The use of inauthentic facilitation letters is a serious matter,” IRCC spokesperson Rémi Larivière said in an e-mailed statement. Following the department’s internal investigation, he added, it “made a referral to the appropriate law enforcement partners.”

The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency declined to say whether they have launched investigations, adding that it is generally their policy not to comment on cases unless charges are laid.

E-mailed statements from IRCC about the matter do not name Ms. McPhedran, but two government sources said the internal investigation was directly related to the documents sent by the senator and her office. The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

One source said the government is not aware of anyone coming to Canada using the inauthentic documents, but they were unable to say if anyone had successfully used them to get out of Afghanistan.

In an interview, in e-mails to The Globe and in letters sent by her lawyer, Ms. McPhedran defended her efforts to save vulnerable Afghans, who are now subject to the Taliban’s brutal fundamentalist regime. She acknowledged using a template version of a government facilitation letter, but she denied that the documents were fake, or that she had used them in an unauthorized way.

She said the facilitation letter template was sent to her by a “trusted high level Canadian government official,” whom she declined to identify. She also would not say who added the names to the facilitation letters sent by her and her office. And she did not answer a question about whether she knew the Afghans had not been approved for resettlement in Canada.

“There is nothing fraudulent or illicit about any actions I took with regard to the Afghanistan rescue efforts last August,” she said in an e-mail.

”That my good faith efforts to help save Afghan lives are now being mischaracterized as unauthorized or an overreach is a sad commentary about our governance and nothing more than a politically motivated smear campaign.”

Despite repeated requests to IRCC and Global Affairs Canada, the government has refused to say whether any federal officials helped Ms. McPhedran. IRCC’s Mr. Larivière said he would not comment further, to “protect the integrity and privacy of investigations.”

The senator said she had worked around the clock with advocates and non-governmental organizations in August, 2021, as she tried to rescue the people most at risk from hard-line Taliban rule – namely, women and girls. She has spent most of her life fighting for women’s rights. In 1985, she was invested into the Order of Canada for her work ensuring equal rights for women were enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended her for a Senate appointment in 2016.

For years before the events of 2021, the Canadian government had promised Afghans who had worked closely with the country’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan that they and their families would be able to resettle in Canada. In 2012, embassy staff in Kabul asked the government to launch a special immigration program for those Afghans. Such a program was finally created in July, 2021, just weeks before the Taliban took over on Aug. 15.

On the same day as the takeover, 10,000 kilometres away from Afghanistan, Mr. Trudeau called a snap election, and the government shuttered its mission in Kabul and evacuated its staff from the city.

The speed of Afghanistan’s fall surprised NATO countries. They were left scrambling to evacuate Afghans whose work with foreign governments put them at risk of Taliban reprisals.

Ms. McPhedran’s lawyer, Matthew Gottlieb, said the senator received the facilitation letter template from a government official on Aug. 25. Flights out of Afghanistan were about to end, and the federal government’s immigration programs for Afghans had buckled under overwhelming demand and a cumbersome application process. Advocates say the eligibility criteria were opaque, and that the process was difficult to navigate in a war zone.

At the time, Kabul’s airport was constantly surrounded by thousands of Afghans hoping to be among the lucky minority allowed to pass through military guards and board flights out. The stakes were so high that some resorted to desperate measures. In at least one instance, parents passed an infant to American soldiers over a barbed wire barricade. In other cases, people tried to cling to the outsides of planes as they took off. On Aug. 26, a suicide bombing at one of the airport’s entrances killed scores of civilians.

Ultimately, tens of thousands of people who had helped NATO in its war in Afghanistan were left behind. Some are being tortured by the Taliban.

Ms. McPhedran told The Globe she acted how anyone would have in a life-or-death situation. She said her efforts “were known by high level government officials.” In some cases, she said, those officials “participated directly in these rescue efforts.” She added that there are e-mails that show people in government knew about her work.

Her lawyer, Mr. Gottlieb, said the senator lacked “the authority or permission” to provide those e-mails.

Mr. Gottlieb added that she “understood, and was told,” that the facilitation letters “could and should be used in assisting Afghans to get to the tarmac” at the Kabul airport.

IRCC’s Mr. Larivière said the government was using facilitation letters in August, 2021, to help ensure Afghans were able to get through security checkpoints on their way to the Kabul airport. But he said authentic documents were sent only by Global Affairs Canada and IRCC, and only through official government e-mail addresses.

Ms. McPhedran and her staff member sent at least two identical e-mails to a recipient of the facilitation letters in Afghanistan. The messages said Ms. McPhedran had learned the person’s name from the New York-based Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, where the senator is a board member. The organization did not reply to questions from The Globe.

The e-mails were brief. They said there was “no guarantee” the attached documents would help. They directed the recipient to a specific gate at the Kabul airport and ended by saying: “Please do not discuss; just present this document first to any Canadian soldier – flights end on the 26th!” The Globe is not naming the recipient of the e-mails or the other people named on the documents to protect their safety in Afghanistan.

The Globe also obtained a letter sent by MP Michelle Rempel Garner, whose constituent’s family members in Afghanistan are the people who received the inauthentic documents.

Ms. Rempel Garner’s letter, dated July 7, was sent to the constituent, as well as Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Ms. McPhedran.

The letter detailed almost a year of work that Ms. Rempel Garner’s office had done to help the constituent’s family navigate the immigration system. It said her office at first believed the facilitation letters were legitimate government documents and tried to help the constituent understand why some members of her family had been approved to come to Canada while others had not been.

Over the course of that work, the letter said, Ms. Rempel Garner’s office began to have concerns about the validity of the facilitation letters. Ms. Rempel Garner wrote that, despite 10 months of work and after corresponding with government officials more than 30 times, no one in government had said whether the documents her constituent’s family had received were legitimate.

The letter also said that, because the family had believed they possessed legitimate documents, they had come out of hiding to travel to the airport and exposed themselves to danger.

Mr. Fraser clarified the status of the facilitation letters in a response to Ms. Rempel Garner later in July. He said IRCC did not issue the documents, nor did it have a record of the first of the family’s two resettlement applications.

“Since finding no record of the application, IRCC took steps to understand the nature of the letter you raised and related communication,” Mr. Fraser wrote. “The use of inauthentic facilitation letters is a serious matter, and IRCC has treated the matter with the attention it deserves.”

Source: Documents senator sent to family trapped in Afghanistan weren’t authentic, says federal immigration department

5 asylum bids. 17 aliases. Why a judge says one man showed ‘blatant disrespect’ for Canada’s laws

Good characterization:

He used an alias to get asylum in Canada 30 years ago and allegedly cheated the welfare system and committed fraud by using as many as 16 other names before exhausting all appeals and being deported in 2012.

Officials say they still don’t know who he is — but they know where he is.

In February, Chris Osho Oko-Oboh — a.k.a. Andrew Ighiehon, James Aigbe, Friday Adun, Okojie Lugard and Marek Orszula among others — whose true identity is still unknown, according to court, returned to Canada from Nigeria with a “modified” travel document and made yet another asylum claim. It was his fifth over the past three decades.

This time, the man, believed to be 63 now, was immediately nabbed by border-enforcement agents upon arrival in Montreal through fingerprint matching. He has remained in detention, though not without drama.

In March, a tribunal ordered his release but he was sent back into custody after the Canada Border Services Agency appealed to the Federal Court, based on his unconfirmed identity and the fear that he might not reappear for his removal.

In quashing the tribunal decision to release him, Justice B. Richard Bell made an unusual move to order Oko-Oboh to pay $3,000 to cover the costs of the government in the proceedings, saying his conduct “greatly undermines” the integrity of Canada’s immigration, law enforcement, social welfare and judicial systems.

“The respondent has shown a blatant disrespect and disregard for Canadian law. It is apparent the criminal-law procedures have been unsuccessful in deterring the respondent’s unlawful conduct. … There is an evident need to deter the respondent’s unlawful conduct in relation to immigration matters,” Bell wrote in a ruling last month.

“Canadian taxpayers should expect Canada to take all steps necessary to discourage those who would tarnish its generous immigration system. Canadian taxpayers should expect Canada to take all means necessary to recoup a portion of the costs it incurs in relation to its participation in court proceedings.”

Although refugees often rely on fraudulent travel documents for their escapes and many do spend years here as their cases wind through the arduous asylum system and myriad appeal mechanisms, few would have amassed such a long history with Canadian immigration and law enforcement, or have raised such ire in a judicial ruling.

According to the Federal Court, Oko-Oboh first arrived in Canada on March 12, 1991, via the United States under the name of Andrew Ighiehon, and he was convicted of fraud over $1,000 in Toronto less than four months later. In February 1992, he made a refugee claim under that name and was granted asylum in a month.

He was again convicted of fraud in 1993 and a deportation order was issued against him in 1997 based on “serious criminality,” said the court.

While he was fighting the revocation of his refugee protection status and subsequent removal, his rap sheet just got longer: attempted fraud, personation, uttering forged documents, false pretences, possession of credit card, counterfeit mark, mischief and assault. He was deported with the escort of border agents to Nigeria in February 2012.

“During his 21-year tenure in Canada, the respondent committed multiple crimes, for which he was convicted. The respondent’s refugee status was revoked in 2007. He was deported in 2012,” the court said.

“In February 2022, the respondent returned to Canada using a fraudulent travel document. He alleged, without any evidence, that Canadian officials working at the Canadian Embassy in Ghana perpetrated the fraud.”

During one of the detention reviews since returning to Canada, Oko-Oboh revealed he was once in the military in Nigeria and has five children, including three in Canada.

He also explained to the tribunal that his fraud charges stemmed from the “Money Mart” business he opened in 1998. He claimed people would come in with fake cheques and police would come and investigate but ended up charging him when they couldn’t find the actual culprits.

“He ended up always pleading guilty because he ended up taking the blame,” according to the tribunal in a hearing transcript.

Oko-Oboh’s son in Oakville, who works at a Dollarama, offered to put up a $3,000 bond for the man’s release and to supervise him along with an older woman they all call “grandma.”

“If I am released today, I will not disappoint you, the judge, the lawyer, the immigration officer, even God, and even myself. And I will listen to everything that I will be told to do, and I will do it,” he pleaded with the tribunal at a hearing on Feb. 18.

In a hearing in March, the adjudicator presiding over his case ordered him released in part due to the concern over the time it previously took — 15 years — for the border agency to remove Oko-Oboh following the issuance of his first deportation order in 1997.

The agency then challenged the release in court.

“Given the various identities of the respondent that I have already mentioned and what follows, I fail to see how the (Public Safety) Minister can be responsible for any of the 15 years necessary to process the removal,” chided Justice Bell in sending Oko-Oboh back to detention.

“The respondent, who most recently entered Canada with a counterfeit travel document, was prepared to allege that Canadian officials working at the Canadian embassy in Ghana committed the fraud. Asserting such fraud on the part of Canadian officials without any evidence speaks volumes to the trustworthiness of the respondent and his willingness to abide by any orders.”

Meanwhile, over the past few months, border officials have been trying to confirm Oko-Oboh’s real identity with help from Nigerian officials in Ottawa.

In May, a longtime friend of Oko-Oboh in Brampton, who works in real estate, also vowed to put down a $10,000 bond for the man’s release.

“Osho is a good person. He had that long dark stretch that is even difficult for me to explain even to members or people from back home if they were to ask me,” Gordon Isioroaji testified before adjudicator Sophie Froment-Gateau.

“I believe that he is a changed man from that period of time. So, I would plead … that you give him that chance.”

Oko-Oboh’s lawyer, Idorenyin E. Amana, said detention should only be used as “an exception” and the tribunal must explore other alternatives and consider his release under supervision.

“The gentleman in front of this tribunal has been known to the Canadian authority since 1991. His fingerprints and his biometrics, his blood group, everything about his unique, inalienable identity is in the Canadian database,” said Amana.

“I appreciate that the name or the date of birth is an issue. To say that Mr. Oko-Oboh or the individual is not known at all is not entirely correct.”

Border officials have already deemed Oko-Oboh safe to return to Nigeria, a decision that’s currently being challenged in court.

Froment-Gateau said she was not satisfied with either Oko-Oboh’s friend or “alleged son” being his bond person, raising concerns over their ability to ensure he complies with the release conditions

“I understand that you are being deprived of your liberty, and that every day in detention must feel like a long one for you,” the adjudicator said in her decision in May to keep the man detained.

“However, from a legal perspective, it is not considered yet as a long detention.”

Neither Amana, the man’s lawyer, nor the border agency would comment.

Source: 5 asylum bids. 17 aliases. Why a judge says one man showed ‘blatant disrespect’ for Canada’s laws

Chinese widow once ensnared in major Canada money laundering case seeks Canadian citizenship

While not convicted (charges were stayed), takes a certain amount of chutzpah to apply:

Caixuan “Summer” Qin and her now-deceased husband once stood accused by the Canadian government of running an underground bank that allegedly laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for transnational organised crime groups, catering to wealthy Chinese gamblers and international drug gangs.

But Qin and her husband Jian Jun Zhu, who was shot dead in a Vancouver restaurant in 2020, were never tried or convicted. Canadian prosecutors stayed money laundering and other related charges in November 2018 after the identity of an informant was mistakenly revealed in evidentiary disclosure to the couple’s defence lawyers.

Now, it’s Qin who is taking the Canadian government to court, fighting its demand for alleged unpaid taxes, and claiming that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had wrongfully delayed processing her bid for Canadian citizenship.

Source: Chinese widow once ensnared in major Canada money laundering case seeks Canadian citizenship

Students left in lurch after Quebec private colleges, recruiting firm file for creditor protection

Not all that surprising given the financial incentives involved and the exploitation by some Indian recruiters and likely some private colleges:

Three Quebec colleges and a connected recruiting firm have filed for creditor protection, adding to the uncertainty for hundreds of international students who had already been seeking tuition refunds.

M College in Montreal, CDE College in Sherbrooke and CCSQ, which has campuses in Longueuil and Sherbrooke, all requested protection in a filing in Quebec Superior Court last Friday. The Montreal-based recruiting firm, Rising Phoenix International, also filed for protection.

They are all owned by the Mastantuono family — including Caroline, Christina, Joseph and Giuseppe Mastantuono — under the umbrella name RPI Group.

The request for creditor protection comes a little more than a year after the province suspended 10 private colleges, including M College and CDE college, for what it described as “questionable” recruitment practices for students in India.

The suspension meant the schools were temporarily prevented from accepting certain foreign-student applications. Quebec’s investigation into the 10 colleges revealed shortcomings around recruitment, commercial practices, governance and teaching conditions.

Although the suspension was lifted at the beginning of 2021, hundreds of students faced long delays in obtaining a student visa that would allow them to come to Canada.

Students from India struggle to get refunds

Students pay between $28,000 and $30,000 to attend the colleges, usually over a two-year period, according to court documents. Students from India represent 95 per cent of the 1,177 students at the three colleges.

In December, CBC News reported dozens of students in India had been trying to get their tuition refunded for months after their student visas had been delayed.

Several said their parents had saved for years so they could study abroad. Without a refund, some students said they are unable to apply to other colleges, meaning their academic progress is effectively frozen. Others had to take out loans or work part-time jobs.

According to the application for creditor protection, unpaid tuition fees and refund claims from 633 students against the RPI Group are estimated at nearly $6.4 million.

The document adds that there are “potential additional claims of approximately $5 million from pipeline students awaiting a decision on their student visa application.”

In its application, RPI Group blamed its financial troubles on “a cascade of unfortunate events,” including “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, untimely and improperly financed expansions, changes to the immigration process for international students, as well as the litigation and public relations issues faced by the group.”

RPI Group’s decision to purchase CDE and CCSQ colleges in June 2020 for $10.9 million also left it vulnerable after subsequent visa delays led students to ask for refunds, the application said.

‘No refunds can be processed at this time’

The application for creditor protection says the colleges are committed to ensuring “the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders, including students and other creditors.”

But a letter to students at CDE College from Joseph Mastantuono, the president of the school, suggests it will be difficult for them to get a refund.

According to the letter, which CBC News has obtained, there is a plan being developed for students close to graduation to help them complete their program.

Other students will have their academic training temporarily suspended to see if a potential buyer for the colleges can be found. Failing that, the students will have to transfer to other colleges.

The letter tells students that it is “within your right to withdraw from your college” but because of its creditor protection filing, “no refunds of tuition can be processed at this time.”

The Mastantuono family is involved in another legal matter involving international students.

In November 2020, investigators with the province’s anti-corruption unit arrested Caroline Mastantuono and her daughter, Christina, for allegedly committing fraud to facilitate the processing of student permit applications while working at the Lester B. Pearson School Board between 2014 and 2016.

Although the allegations occurred before RPI was created, the negative publicity led to creditors backing out or refusing to work with them.

Caroline and Christina Mastantuono deny any wrongdoing and have contested the charges against them. The case is still before the courts.

Source: Students left in lurch after Quebec private colleges, recruiting firm file for creditor protection

Owners of 30 immigration firms in Chandigarh booked

At one point, the Canadian consulate had a “wall of shame” of fraud examples ….

Two days after the UT police booked owners of 29 immigration consultancy companies for not providing their information to the Police Department, the owners of 30 more such companies operating from Sector 17 and 22 have been booked for the same offence.

As per the District Magistrate’s orders, the immigration consultancy companies are supposed to provide information about the company and their antecedents to the police. The list of these companies is then uploaded on the Chandigarh Police website to assist people.

A police official said a majority of the companies operating from the city had not provided information to the police following which a check was being conducted and action being taken against erring company owners.

“We advise people to choose among the consultants whose names are mentioned in the list as in case the consultant commits a fraud, the police can easily track them,” said an official.

Meanwhile, an investigation has been initiated into the cases at the Sector 17 police station.

Source: Owners of 30 immigration firms in Chandigarh booked

Pandemic likely to drive a surge in immigration fraud, border agency warns

Not all that surprising:

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to drive an increase in immigration fraud and human smuggling as desperate migrants try to get into Canada, says a strategic intelligence report prepared by the Canada Border Service Agency.

The report warns that economic downturns and increased poverty abroad caused by the pandemic will prompt more people to resort to irregular methods to come to Canada.

“With more people looking to immigrate, there is likely to be an increase in fraud in all immigration streams via the use of fraudulent supporting documentation to bolster visa or permanent resident applications, fraudulently acquired travel documents to be able to board flights to Canada and misrepresentation,” says the report, dated June 2020.

Source: Pandemic likely to drive a surge in immigration fraud, border agency warns

‘Shocking’: How phoney Sikh temples are taking advantage of religious immigrants

Sigh. The ingenuity of fraudsters…:

Judging from its online presence, the Sikh temple that purportedly sits on the edge of this Niagara-region border town is a lovely spot.

“They serve food all time with good flavoured chutney and the taste is superb,” says an August 2019 review on the Fort Erie Khalsa Darbar’s Facebook page . “The place of god to relax and calm your mind. “

The social media page and the temple’s website reinforce the pleasant image with photos of devotees and succulent-looking food.

What actually exists at its address in Fort Erie is something else: A long-abandoned motel surrounded by scrub land overgrown with weeds, and fronted by a no-trespassing sign.

The land is zoned rural. “A place of worship,” says Janine Tessmer, a spokeswoman for the town, “would be considered a zoning infraction.”

There is no temple, in other words. Yet Fort Erie Khalsa Darbar, incorporated as a federal non-profit in April, 2019, and granted religious charity status this February, has sponsored at least three priests to come here from India on special visas issued by Ottawa.

Directors of the Fort Erie temple — called a gurdwara in Punjabi — say they fully intend to open it one day and thought it would be running by the time their priests arrived.

Representatives of the country’s many functioning gurdwaras say they know little about the new facility, and couldn’t comment on its operation. But they warn that temples by name only, operating “under false pretenses” are a major problem, charging priests, real or not, tens of thousands of dollars each for sponsorships that can lead to visas and a cherished foothold in Canada.

They also say federal governments have long ignored their warnings about the unique, religiously inflected form of immigration fraud.

“The sharp rise in cases coming forward in the public regarding potential immigrants paying tens of thousands of dollars to these societies in order to secure work permits is shocking and undermining the immigration process and laws,” the heads of the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee and B.C. Gurdwaras Council said in a letter this July to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

“Potential immigrants to Canada are often fleeing poverty, state sponsored violence, genocide and oppression and to be further marginalized by this type of illegal and fraudulent behavior … is unacceptable,” they said.

In lower mainland British Columbia, a priest from India says he had to pay $29,000 to have gurdwara leaders sponsor him for a work permit to preach in what turned out to be a phoney temple. He says he and his young family are now destitute.

Directors of the Fort Erie gurdwara deny that money changed hands with the priests they sponsored, and that incomplete renovations on that vacant building in Fort Erie meant the men could not work there.

Bachittar Saini, the temple president, said he is covering all the project’s expenses from his own pocket as a gift to the area’s small Sikh population — non-existent in 2011, according to the most recent federal household survey that canvassed religious beliefs.

“When you are serving the community, you don’t have to be only serving the Sikh community,” Saini said. “It could be anyone, black, brown, white, whatever. We don’t ask ‘Are you Sikh, are you Christian, are you Muslim?’”

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that at least one of the three priests may now be working as a truck driver, and allegations he tried to obtain a visa fraudulently four years ago. Saini says the preachers have all disappeared, and that he reported them missing to immigration authorities.

Matieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said Friday the government would not comment on any ongoing investigations, but takes allegations of fraud seriously and “constantly monitors” to ensure the safety of people using the system and safeguard the system itself.

“We encourage anyone who suspects immigration fraud to contact the Canada Border Services Agency’s Border Watch,” he said.

Genest said the program for bringing religious workers to gurdwaras is important to the Sikh community, and is regularly reviewed to ensure its integrity. Officials work closely with the community “to identify and eliminate opportunities for abuse.”

Two of the Fort Erie gurdwara directors have links to Navdeep Bains, a Liberal MP and minister of innovation, science and industry. President Bachittar Saini and the minister’s father, Balwinder, were advisors to the same slate of candidates in a board election last year at a large gurdwara in Mississauga. Fort Erie director Bahadur Bains is uncle to Balkar Bains, Liberal riding association president in Bains’ Mississauga-Malton constituency.

But John Power, a spokesman for the minister, said he had nothing to do with the Fort Erie project and no one on his staff helped in any way to obtain visas for the priests.

Gurdwaras are the places of worship for Canada’s 700,000 Sikhs, but also serve as community hubs, offering food to people in need and hosting weddings and funerals at halls that are often part of the temple complex.

To meet the demand for such services, many temples sponsor jathas — groups of three priests — to come from India for stays of about six months in Canada.

They are admitted under various types of work permits, a Canadian consulate in India co-ordinating with gurdwaras to ensure no one over-stays their visa, said Béatrice Fénelon, an Immigration Refugees and Citizenship spokeswoman.

In total, 519 work permits or permit extensions were issued to religious workers from India between 2018 and July this year, while 70 were granted permanent resident status, she said.

The gurdwara associations say in their letter that a system developed in 2012 to deter abuse had some early success. But now, they say, there are “hundreds if not thousands” of non-profit Sikh religious societies that are using their paper credentials to make money off of would-be immigrants.

They call for a crackdown to ensure perpetrators do not “continue to financially gain from this illegal activity.”

“There are so many gurdwaras registered but they are not existing any place. They are fraud,” said Amarjit Singh Mann of the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee. “They rent a place in the plaza or somewhere else, and they say this is a gurdwara … but there is nothing.”

Saini, the Fort Erie temple president, is a realtor and also director of a numbered company — 2323266 Ontario Inc. — that bought the property in 2019 for $310,000, according to land registry records. All the gurdwara’s board members are based in Brampton, 150 kilometres away.

Fort Erie is a curious location for a Sikh religious facility. The 2016 census found just 10 residents whose mother tongue is Punjabi — which could also include Hindus and Muslims — while Statistics Canada’s 2011 national household survey revealed zero adherents of the Sikh religion. The town’s population has increased little since then.

Director Bahadur Bains suggested otherwise, estimating that there are “300 or 400” Sikhs in the town of 30,000. The gurdwara would also be of benefit, he added, to Sikhs in Belleville, though that city is 340 kilometres away in eastern Ontario.

The temple’s online presence gives no hint that it exists in the record books only. The administrator of its Facebook page began posting messages there in April 2019, and continued until as recently as the middle of September.

Then there are the reviews. That one posted in August 2019, in praise of the temple’s food and meditative ambience, was posted by Buy Sell on Time, a company run by president Saini.

At the property itself, site of the former Tatler Motel , someone was working inside the building without a permit in 2019, prompting the town to issue an order to comply in September, then a stop-work order in November, said Tessmer.

The structure looks thoroughly abandoned now. But the sponsored priests still received their visas last year.

Saini said the stop-work order prevented the building being ready to accommodate them and a potential congregation. He said he now plans to tear down the motel and build anew, but said work was halted because of the pandemic. In fact, Ontario allowed construction to proceed throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.

Meanwhile, no one has applied to change the zoning to make opening a temple there legitimate, said Tessmer.

Where the sponsored priests are now is also murky.

Unable to take up work in Fort Erie, they found jobs at a gurdwara in Brampton called Jot Parkash, then vanished, said Saini. But Jot Parkash spokesman Satbir Singh said he’s never heard of them, or the Fort Erie facility.

Meanwhile, a Windsor, Ont., businessman, Amarjit Grewal, initially confirmed to the National Post that one of the preachers was working for him as a truck driver. Then, in a subsequent interview, he denied that was true, saying the man, whom the National Post could not reach and is not naming, was at a temple in Mississauga.

In 2016, a priest of the same name and two jatha members forged letters from Canada’s largest gurdwara — Ontario Khalsa Darbar (OKD) — in a bid to win visas, the temple alleged in a letter to immigration officials at the time. Their warning seems to have been for naught, as the same preachers managed to get visas later after convincing a different temple to sponsor them, said a follow-up letter to Immigration.

“It would be greatly appreciated if you can address this matter promptly and help us eradicate fraudulent behavior,” the OKD gurdwara wrote in April 2017.

It’s “mind-boggling” that despite the warnings the same priests are now back in Canada, granted visas after being sponsored by a temple that does not physically exist, said Jaspal Bal, an advisor to Ontario Khalsa Darbar.

When he found out they had returned, Bal said, “I thought ‘man oh man, what is going on’”?

Source: ‘Shocking’: How phoney Sikh temples are taking advantage of religious immigrants

Immigration fraud in Canada, foreign workers should be cautious

Yet another instance:

When the video call ended, Rami Al-Americani felt confident he would get the job.

The four people who had interviewed him for a position at a Montreal-based construction company had asked him detailed questions, but Al-Americani owned and operated an engineering consulting firm in Lebanon. He knew he could do the work.

The address for Montreal Construction Group corresponds to a non-existent lot that would be in the middle of René-Lévesque Blvd., near Place Ville Marie. Workers in the area say they have never heard of the company. It isn’t real.A Montreal Gazette investigation has confirmed that the firm is part of a network of ghost companies concealing an elaborate immigration scam. Those who orchestrate the network use the prospect of living and working in Montreal, and in Canada, as a lure to target educated workers in the Middle East, gaining their trust with a lengthy application period before requesting money to pay for the immigration process.

The scam is convincing. The network operates under the guise of three interlinked companies: a recruitment agency, a construction firm and an immigration consultant firm. Multiple people act out different roles, from human resource representatives to hiring managers. The jobs they offer and the companies they purport to run are not real. They have websites that mimic those of real firms and use the stolen identities of real immigration consultants to assure victims of their legitimacy.

Those who fall victim to the scam have little recourse. The network exists largely in a jurisdictional vacuum online. Even when regulators do catch on, the network just shuts down and restarts under a new name.

“It’s a big network,” Al-Americani said. “It’s amazing that they took the time to do a fake website and some of them act as the recruitment, the other ones act as the company people, operations, HR. Another part acts as the immigration consultants.”

A chance for a job in Canada

For Al-Americani, it began in October 2019, when a woman who said her name was Mellissa Luke called him. She worked for a company called Nova Recruiters, based in Ottawa, she said, and wondered if he was interested in an opportunity to work in Canada. She sent along forms and arranged an interview with Montreal Construction Group.

The application process was thorough, Al-Americani recalled. He did several interviews, including one video call with four people.

“The people who interviewed me are people who understand construction,” he said. “I was interviewed by a so-called senior guy in operations and people who understand the terminology that we used in construction, who understand projects, so they prepared for it and they seemed professional.”

Between the initial phone call and the time Al-Americani was hired, a few weeks had passed. He filled out human-resources forms and Montreal Construction Group transferred him to Canada Immigration Hub, their approved immigration consultant, ostensibly based in Alberta. A man reached out. He said his name was Craig Jackson and that he was a certified immigration consultant. He sent along forms and asked for payment.

It worked. Al-Americani was hopeful about the move to Canada. He had researched the country and was tempted by the prospect of a good education for his children. The process was going to be expensive — Al-Americani knew that. He paid.

The money, $1,000 as an initial fee, was wired to a U.S. bank, which bothered Al-Americani. When he caught on to the scam, he seethed at the thought that someone could go to such lengths to prey on his family’s hopes of moving to Canada.

Others who have fallen — or nearly fallen — for the scam report noticing red flags, but sometimes ignoring them, blinded by the prospect of a new life abroad.

Eslam Emara, a Saudi man with 10 years of experience in transportation and logistics, caught on to the fraudsters. He was skeptical at every turn. He asked for proof of identity, scrutinized the companies’ websites, asked around on online forums and noticed holes in the Montreal Construction Group facade.

When the man calling himself Jackson asked for money, Emara said no. “That’s the time I had to say to them, ‘That’s bulls—. I’m not buying.’ ”

But it hurt him. A little part of him had been holding out hope, despite the red flags.

“It seems ridiculous, because I knew that it’s a fraud, but I was just dreaming on,” he said in a recent interview from Riyadh, uttering a laugh, then a sigh. He had hoped to immigrate to Canada with his wife and child. “It was one of our dreams to do something like this, so they gave us much disappointment.”

A convincing online network

The fake companies’ websites present a facade that at first is convincing to those targeted by the scammers.

But the slick sites don’t stand up to scrutiny. The Nova Recruiters site lists jobs that don’t exist. The Montreal Construction Group site is an exact imitation of a site belonging to a New Zealand company. It lists projects ostensibly completed by Montreal Construction Group that were completed by other firms. And the Canada Immigration Hub website features testimonials from satisfied clients — who aren’t real.

Raghib, from Saudi Arabia, says on the site: “No matter how easy or straightforward Canadian immigration process might look like, it isn’t easy at all. … After getting in touch with CIH, things were different and much better.”Surender, from Bangalore, says: “These people explained to me how studying in Canada can help me with my career and eventually getting a permanent residency.”

But the photo for Surender is really a stock image, available online, titled “Portrait of a middle-aged Indian with folded hands.” The photo of Raghib is another stock image: “Horizontal portrait of young smiling Arab man.”

Perhaps the most convincing tactic used by Canada Immigration Hub is the name of the person they use to contact their potential victims: Craig Jackson.

An identity stolen with impunity

Craig Jackson is a real immigration consultant, registered with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), a non-profit organization that has been mandated by the federal government to regulate immigration advising services. But he does not work for Canada Immigration Hub. The fraudsters used his identity to gain their victims’ trust.

The real Craig Jackson said he began receiving emails in late 2019 and early 2020 from people who were being strung along by Montreal Construction Group, signalling that his name was being used as part of an elaborate fraud.

“My initial reaction was of outrage and anger, followed by wonder,” Jackson said. “(I) was curious as to why they targeted my identity.”

The ICCRC had advised him to report the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) — so he did.Al-Americani also reported the fraud. He emailed the Canadian embassy in Beirut, but received a generic response. Emara said he was considering reporting the scam to Saudi police.

But the international nature of the scam hinders law enforcement efforts.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst at the CAFC, said well-trained, resourceful groups are likely behind the Montreal Construction Group fraud.

“People ask, ‘Who’s behind this stuff?’ It’s organized crime at the end of the day,” Thomson said. “When you look at the level of organization involved — the multiple countries where the money is going, the websites — the sophistication, the steps they set up to run the scams.”

The CAFC has received multiple complaints about Montreal Construction Group, but Canadian authorities lack the ability to investigate and prosecute those behind the fraud, in part because there is little connecting the perpetrators to Canada.

“What we see with a lot of these things is oftentimes the fraudsters use Canadian government entities or business names … but none of the money ends up coming here,” Thomson said. “They’re just using Canadian entities because people want to come to Canada for our reputation.”

Though the Montreal Construction Group fraudsters — and others like them — often avoid prosecution, Canadian authorities can make it more expensive for them to do business by targeting their websites and bank accounts.

But immigration fraud is rampant. It keeps the authorities busy, and shutting down websites and bank accounts only delays the scammers. They tend to crop back up.An Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson said in a statement that the government had earmarked $51 million to improve enforcement and public awareness of immigration fraud and establish systems to better crack down on fraudulent immigration consultants.

“The government of Canada takes any kind of citizenship or immigration fraud seriously,” the statement reads. “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada urges clients to use the official departmental website to obtain information about its programs in order to avoid becoming victims of fraud.”

An ICCRC spokesperson said the agency could not investigate the activity of those who had impersonated Jackson, because the perpetrators were not real immigration consultants. But he said the organization was aware of the situation: “We’ve been looking into the matter and are working with enforcement authorities to combat these schemes.” He also said criminal fraud of the kind displayed by the Montreal Construction Group scams is rare, but that the ICCRC is slated to soon become a new body that would have more power to prevent such fraud.

A hidden network

It is unclear who is behind the fraud, but banking information from an account associated with the fraud points to a man named Nabeel Ahmed, ostensibly living in Wichita, Kan. Phone records also link the listed number for Montreal Construction Group — a Montreal landline — to a man named Nabeel Ahmed.

In 2012, Windsor police arrested a man they said was a prolific fraudster named Nabeel Ahmed, who had a criminal history of committing identity and credit card fraud. He was convicted on fraud-related charges and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
The Montreal Gazette could not confirm that the Nabeel Ahmed convicted in Windsor is the same person linked to the fraud-connected bank account and the Montreal landline. Attempts to reach Nabeel Ahmed were unsuccessful.

One of the fake company websites — the Nova Recruiters site — is listed as registered to someone in Ontario, suggesting the fraudsters may have some physical connection to Canada, but besides that, little is known about their physical location.

A game of whack-a-mole

Even if authorities succeed in shutting down Montreal Construction Group’s website, or if enough people catch on to the scam, those behind it may well restart the scam under a new company.

A Montreal Gazette analysis has found that an eerily similar fraud network operated in the spring of 2019 — before the Montreal Construction Group scam. The earlier scam offered victims employment on Canada’s West Coast instead of in Montreal, but the similarities between the operations suggest that those who run the Montreal Construction Group scheme have experience rebuilding their network when officials begin to catch on to them.

The earlier scam used the same methods as Montreal Construction Group, and much of the language the fraudsters use in emails from both the old and the new scam is identical.

Instead of Montreal Construction Group, the earlier scam used Richmond Construction Group. Instead of Nova Recruiters, the earlier scam used Oakville Recruiters. Instead of Canada Immigration Hub, the earlier scam used Canada Shores.
Instead of Craig Jackson, the fraudsters impersonated Gregory Batt, another registered immigration consultant.

The real Gregory Batt said he began receiving emails and phone calls in late April 2019 from people asking him when they would receive their permanent residence. “All the guys who contacted me were well educated and articulate, mostly engineers,” he said. “I told all the folks who contacted me that they had been cheated, that Canada Shores was a fake company.”

Ahmed Rashed, an experienced purchase manager from Saudi Arabia who nearly fell for the Richmond Construction Group scam, said the organization and co-ordination astounded him. He was close to paying an initial $1,000 fee to immigrate to Canada, but had a friend in Vancouver check the address of Richmond Construction Group. There was no company.

“I deal with the internet all the time and I was about to fall for this,” Rashed said. “You know why they chose Canada? They chose Canada because they know everybody likes Canada. … That will help them to fool more people. This is because Canada has a good reputation.”

Dreaming of Canada

While wrapped up in the scam, victims spend weeks — sometimes more than a month — planning to move their families, their lives, to a new country.

For Al-Americani, the loss of the $1,000 he paid is secondary to the pain of having his immigration hopes dashed.

“For a month and a half we were living this dream of going to Montreal and having this new life,” he said, “and having our kids become Canadians and ourselves becoming Canadians.”

When he came to the realization that the company was a lie — that there was no job offer, no prospect of working in Canada — Al-Americani was crushed. “We felt really bad about it,” he said. “For like two, three weeks we were depressed.”

The scam also tends to leave its victims distrustful of immigration processes. But Al-Americani is still holding out hope. He said his family has recently begun once more to mull over the idea of coming to Canada.

“You know, it’s been a few days since it’s passed through my head to do the process a second time,” he said. “I think we’re going to do it.”

No one answers the phones at any of the fake companies and, as of publication, their websites are still active.

Source:  Immigration fraud in Canada, foreign workers should be cautious

Arrest of immigration consultant sparks questions about why regulator didn’t act sooner

Valid questions and it remains to be seen whether the reforms to the ICCRC will prove effective or not:

Artem Djukic’s paralegal licence was revoked in April 2016 when he admitted to “misappropriating” $900,000 from two former clients of his immigration consulting business.

At the time, Djukic, 55, was facing 10 outstanding complaints related to his work as an immigration consultant and was barred from representing asylum seekers at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)

But four months later, without resolving the complaints, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) said Djukic could continue working as a consultant so long as he complied with a strict supervisory system.

According to the IRB, this was to include financial audits, monthly reporting requirements and open access to his books.

Based on these assurances, the IRB lifted its restrictions against Djukic and allowed him to again represent claimants at the board.

But ICCRC now tells Global News it did not have the authority it needed to properly monitor and investigate Djukic during this supervisory period.

It also alleges that over the past decade, Djukic, while running Soko Immigration Consulting Service, improperly took roughly $155,000 from six clients, encouraged dishonest and illegal conduct, and, in at least one case, provided advice that led to a client being deported.

And much of this alleged misconduct occurred while he was under the regulator’s supervision, according to a January decision from ICCRC that revoked Djukic’s licence to practice as a consultant,

Now, lawyers such as Darcy Merkur and Ravi Jain, chair of the immigration law section of the Canadian Bar Association, are asking whether the council shares any responsibility for Djukic’s alleged wrongdoing while under its supervision.

“I’m not impressed with their replies around how they supervised him,” Jain said. “I don’t think they did anything at all.”

Djukic arrested, charged with fraud

Djukic was arrested in January by Peel Regional Police and charged with defrauding the public in connection with an alleged $95,000 immigration scam.

The council denies it shares any blame for Djukic’s alleged actions, including while he was under its supervision, adding that recent decisions made against him show he is “ungovernable.”

They also say revoking Djukic’s licence in January and ordering him to repay the money he allegedly took is proof that changes to its complaints process over the past two years have worked. These include going from four to 23 full-time complaints investigators, hiring more experienced senior staff and prioritizing the most serious cases.

Djukic did not appear at the hearing when his licence was revoked and did not provide a defence against any of the allegations.

“Responsibility for his egregious behaviour and unprofessional conduct is his alone,” said ICCRC spokesperson Christopher May.

John Murray, ICCRC’s president and CEO, also says the regulator did its best to discipline Djukic in the past based on the information it had at the time.

But he acknowledged that, until very recently, the council’s discipline committee lacked the training and expertise it needed to deal with complex cases, adding that if the past complaints against Djukic were made today, they would be handled quicker and more effectively.

Murray also thinks the regulator was “set up to fail” by the government because it wasn’t given the same powers to investigate and monitor its members that other regulators were given, such as provincial law societies or colleges of physicians.

This lack of authority, Murray said, made it impossible for the council to protect the public and go after individuals such as Djukic.

“It’s fair to say that prior to 2018, the council did not have an efficient complaints and discipline process,” Murray said.

But ICCRC has always had the power to suspend or revoke a consultant’s licence due to misconduct.

Still, in 2017, when Djukic was found to have committed eight breaches of the council’s code of conduct, its discipline committee decided to keep him under supervision rather than revoke or suspend his licence.

Neither May nor Murray would explain why ICCRC decided to keep Djukic under supervision in 2017, although the ruling said he agreed to pay back the money he’d improperly taken.

This decision was made less than a year after the Law Society of Ontario revoked Djukic’s paralegal licence for admitting to “misappropriating” roughly $900,000 from two former immigration clients and using the funds for his own personal gain.

The law society ruling said Djukic showed no remorse for his “devastating” actions.

Refugee claimant felt ‘used’

Mirela Todorovic, her husband and two children hired Djukic in 2014.

Todorovic says Djukic guaranteed their refugee claim — based on fears of persecution for their Roma heritage — would be successful because he had “connections” and because he knew all the adjudicators at the IRB.

Djukic encouraged them to pay cash and didn’t provide a receipt, she said. The family says they agreed to pay Djukic $6,000 for his services, including representing them at the IRB, translating documents and preparing them for their hearing.

But other than processing their work and study permits, he did nothing for their asylum case, she said.

Todorovic wonders why ICCRC — knowing what it knew about Djukic’s past behavior and given his long history of complaints — didn’t revoke his licence sooner.

“Half of it was their fault,” Todorovic said. “Why didn’t they stop him?”

Pending changes to regulator

Djukic was the subject of at least 30 complaints between 2011 and 2018 while working as an immigration consultant. Sixteen of these complaints, including the six that led to his licence being revoked, resulted in disciplinary action, May said.

May did not provide information on the number of complaints made against Djukic in the 19 years he claims to have worked as a consultant before the council was created in 2011.

ICCRC says one of the reasons Djukic was able to engage in alleged wrongdoing while under its supervision is because it lacked the authority to properly investigate consultants.

But this will soon change, Murray said.

Legislation passed by the government last April — which will see ICCRC transition to a self-governing “college” similar to provincial law societies — provides enhanced protections for the public.

The legislation will give the college greater investigatory powers, such as the ability to compel consultants to provide testimony and evidence, as well as the legal authority to enter and search immigration consulting offices without obtaining a warrant.

It will also allow investigators to take action against former consultants and to work with law enforcement officials from other countries to go after alleged wrongdoing abroad.

But Jain says it’s not only about complaints. He thinks the requirements for becoming a consultant are insufficient to practice law, especially when appearing before the IRB..

The solution is for the government to require all immigration consultants to work under the supervision of a lawyer, Jain said, such as in the United States, where the practice of law is limited to lawyers.

“Criminal lawyers would be shocked if all of a sudden we said, look, you don’t need a law degree to practice criminal law,” Jain said.

The IRB, meanwhile, has called refugee and immigration law one of the most complicated areas of law.

Paul Aterman, a former head of the board’s immigration division, testified before Parliament in 2017 saying there’s a “big distinction” between the type of work done at the IRB — where representatives must examine and cross-examine witnesses, develop complex legal strategies and argue cases persuasively — versus helping would-be immigrants fill out forms.

But May believes consultants are qualified to appear before the board and that it’s unnecessary for them to be supervised by lawyers, adding that the government agrees with both of these points or it would have changed the rules when it passed its new legislation last year.

May also says the vast majority of consultants conduct themselves professionally, that most complaints the council receives are targeted toward a small group of problematic consultants and that once the new rules are in place, ICCRC will be able to go after these cases more aggressively.

The council is also strengthening its educational requirements by developing a post-graduate program for certification, creating a compensation fund for victimized clients and developing more stringent standards for consultants who appear before the IRB.


Thousands of international students cited in government report for breaking rules

Yet more details on fraud among international students. Good and needed investigative reporting:

Canada issued Anass El Kamel a student visa to study at the Université de Moncton, but the Moroccan man never attended a single class or even lived in New Brunswick.

Instead, upon arriving in Canada in 2017, he settled in Montreal and got a job with a parking management company, claiming illness prevented him from starting school. Immigration officials tracked him down and ordered him to leave Canada a year later for failing to “actively” study as his visa required.

A Federal Court decision against El Kamel stated, “The (education) program he was to complete in Canada was not of great concern to him. He simply wanted to quickly complete a program so that he could then apply for permanent residence in Canada.”

El Kamel is clearly not the only international student with that intent. For the first time, an internal 2018 government report reveals data on the possible misuse of student visas to gain access to Canada.

According to the report from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, obtained under an access to information request, roughly 10 per cent of international students enrolled in post-secondary institutions are “potentially” not complying with the conditions of their study permits for anything from academic suspensions to no-shows. But the number of students breaking the rules is likely higher because schools fail to report the enrolment status of up to 20 per cent of international students.

Price of Admission, an ongoing joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard this fall, looked at the exponential growth of international students, particularly in the Ontario college system, and its impacts on Canada’s immigration and education systems. Reporting found evidence of students using their study permits as a pathway for jobs and permanent residence in Canada.

“The volume of non-compliance should not really be a surprise to anyone. Most international students at the community college level are edu-immigration clients. If they can avoid school and gain immigration status through work opportunities, that’s what all of them would do,” said Earl Blaney a London, Ont., immigration consultant who doubles as an education agent in the Philippines. “Having a study permit offers direct access to employers for this purpose.”

Canada’s immigration department does not have dedicated funding to monitor and investigate if international students are following immigration rules. The detection of “non-genuine students” largely relies on an honour system through reporting by the hundreds of learning institutions designated by each province.

School administrators have been required to report on international student enrolment status since 2016. This followed an explosion of international student enrolment in Canada after 2014, when immigration policy changes made it easier for students who study at publicly funded institutions to work and apply for permanent residency. There are more than 572,000 international students across Canada, a 73 per cent hike over the past five years.

The partially redacted internal government report obtained by the Star found that 90 per cent — or 587 of the 655 schools — submitted data on enrolment.

School administrators, in the spring of 2018, identified 9 per cent, or 28,049 of the 316,531 study permit holders, as being “potentially non-compliant.” They failed to report the enrolment status of 16 per cent, or 51,051 of the international students.

The report said that since 2018, officials have also been checking school acceptance letters international students use to apply for study permits. So far, 10,400 acceptance letters have been referred for verification; 12 per cent, or 1,240 cases, were identified as fraudulent.

Colleges and Institutes Canada, the largest national post-secondary advocacy group in the country, said it is challenging to track international students after arrival.

“The integrity of the international student program is very important. It’s a top priority for us and our members to ensure all students access to quality education in Canada. Nobody benefits from students not showing up in class,” said Denise Amyot, CEO and president of the group, which represents 135 schools across Canada.

An international student who switches to a different school from the one they originally planned to attend can be wrongly deemed non-compliant if the student doesn’t update their immigration records.

“Sometimes people have valid reasons to be non-compliant with the conditions in their study permits. Maybe they have to go home for a family emergency,” explained Amyot.

What further complicates the reporting process is that the immigration department had not clearly defined what “actively” pursuing an academic program really meant until earlier this year when updated guidelines were published, detailing expectations as well as evidence required for proof of enrolment, said Blaney, the immigration consultant.

“Students had no idea what ‘actively pursue’ meant or what the consequences were until these program delivery instructions occurred six years after the compliance regime was put in place,” he noted.

A recent federal court decision pointed to these criteria when approving a decision by immigration officials to kick out international student, Kaur Gursimran, who came to Canada from India in 2016 to study business at Simon Fraser University. She later transferred to Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C., then to Canadian College, in Vancouver.

“She changed schools and programs, moving from business programs into a general arts and science program in spite of her permit specifying that she is to study business or commerce. Additionally, she took off two semesters in three years, and failed more courses than she has passed,” said Justice Ann Marie McDonald in the October decision.

In her defence, Kaur argued she had a car accident and as a result did not attend the minimum number of classes and withdrew from a semester at Canadian College — though she was unable to produce an accident report or a witness statement.

The court concluded “Kaur’s absences alone are sufficient to demonstrate that she did not comply with the … requirement that she actively pursue her studies.”

While the internal government report offers a rare glimpse of the extent of potential violations by international students, the numbers don’t explain the reasons behind the rule-breaking, said Amira El Masri, an expert on international education policies at York University.

“I would love to know more about those non-compliant cases. Where do they come from? Which institutions? Is it colleges? Is it universities? Is it private (institutions)? Is it public? This would shed some lights and would steer policies one way or another,” said El Masri.

“We have a huge body of international students. They contribute a lot to our teaching and learning in the classroom. There are a few non-compliant cases. When we introduce any new policy, we need to make sure we don’t complicate life for everybody in the process.”

In 2018, immigration officials randomly selected 1,050 of the non-compliant cases reported by schools across Canada for further investigation, but the outcomes were redacted in the report obtained by the Star.

It’s up to the provinces to accredit schools to accept international students and the schools must in turn meet standards and monitor student enrolment. In Ontario, the list of recognized schools has grown from 298 in 2014 to 420 in 2019.

The provinces are also responsible for the enforcement of labour laws, which also cover international students whose study permits allow them to work off-campus for up to 20 hours a week and stay on postgraduate work permits that are good for one to three years.

The issue of international students breaching employment restrictions was raised by immigration officials in a 2015 report that found many of them enrolled in Canadian schools because of the easy access to jobs. Many end up in low-skilled work.

“Some educational institutions in Canada offer low-quality education programs with minimal entry requirements and adjust their programs to allow international students to maximize the duration of their postgraduate work permit,” said the report.

“The current program design … increases the motivation to create low-quality education programs facilitating long-term work opportunities.”

Being caught for breaking rules has dire consequences with students losing their permits and being deported.

In 2018, 5,502 study permits were revoked, up from 1,538 in 2016. In the first two months of 2019 alone, 1,048 study permits were cancelled. The Canada Border Services Agency was unable to provide the number of international students deported from Canada.

Indian international student Jobandeep Singh Sandhu, 22, paid a high price for breaking the rules. The Canadore College student worked as a long-haul truck driver and was stopped by Ontario Provincial Police for a routine inspection near Cornwall in 2017. His driver log book revealed he had worked more hours than permitted under his student permit. He was turned over to federal authorities and deported this summer.

Rahul Choudaha, an international education consultant and researcher based in Colorado, said Canada is behind the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom in implementing policies to track international students.

In the U.S., for example, the eligibility for a postgraduate work permit is tied to employment in the field of study of an international student, who can only work off-campus during school breaks.

However, he said Canada already has a “rigorous” study permit application process to screen out ineligible students at the front end — through school admissions and scrutiny by overseas visa officers.

“The goal of these mechanisms is to ensure the integrity of the system, but it is also important for Canada to attract and retain these international students,” said Choudaha. “There are always those who try to game the system, but you don’t want the 90 per cent of genuine students being affected.”

Source: Thousands of international students cited in government report for breaking rules