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Artem Djukic’s paralegal licence was revoked in April 2016 when he admitted to “misappropriating” $900,000 from two former clients of his immigration consulting business.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


Immigration consultant regulator to turn into new body under budget bill

Not convinced that this will address all the problems with the previous body:

The head of Canada’s current regulator for immigration consultants says his organization is set to reform as a new, industry-managed oversight body now being proposed by the Liberal government.

“That’s our intention,” John Murray, president and CEO of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), told iPolitics. “Our preliminary view at this point is, of course, we would.”

The decision to transition will have to come up for a vote among ICCRC’s members. Murray said anecdotally, he’s heard licensed immigration consultants would be in favour of the new college.

As a way to crack down on unscrupulous immigration consultants, the Liberals proposed in its budget bill tabled on April 8 to create the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants, which will bring regulation of the practice in similar line with other professions including accountants.

The ICCRC, which has long been criticized as ineffective in tackling unethical consultants that exploit new immigrants, will be able to transition to the college under the new rules. The bill also states if that doesn’t occur, the proposed college will be established as a new corporation.

The legislative changes will also provide the college injunction power to go after unlicensed practitioners, often known as “ghost” consultants, for violations. The new rules will also require licensees to comply with a code of professional conduct established by the federal immigration minister.

Murray said he supports the Liberal government’s move for statutory authority to regulate immigration consultants, which he believes will be able to resolve some of the problems that have long plagued his organization.

“Right now, our bylaws give us authority to investigate our members and compel them to appear before tribunals,” he said. “But we don’t have the authority to bring in witnesses who are not members or obtain documents and other information from third parties who are not members.”

He said the proposed powers would allow for more authority to compel violators to pay fines.

“It’s one thing to make a decision that involves a financial penalty. It’s quite another to try to collect that when they’re no longer a member,” he said.

But critics say regulation should be handled directly by the government given the precarious status of many victims of bad consultants.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan told iPolitics earlier this month that the new college amounted to little more than a name change, and lacked provisions effectively protecting victims who risk being deported if they come forward with a complaint.

“They need some sort of protection for them to speak out and that the process won’t be turned around and used against them when seeking permanent resident status,” she said.

Murray said an issue right now is when ghost consultants are identified by ICCRC, they are referred to the Canadian Border Services Agency, the body tasked with deporting people without status.

But he said since the new regulatory body will be able to investigate unlicensed consultants, the process would not have to involve the CBSA.

Murray said ICCRC will have to work with the government going ahead to hammer out the details of what new regulations would look like.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Shannon Ker said Ottawa will be working closely with ICCRC on transition plans while limiting disruption to licensed consultants and their clients.

She said whether ICCRC transitions into the new college, existing members will become members of the new regulatory body. She noted transitional provisions are found in the budget bill, including the continuance of the disciplinary committee.

“For both scenarios, there are provisions to ensure that the regulation of the profession is as seamless as possible,” Ker wrote by email.

She also said the $52 million found in the budget to increase protection of immigration won’t go to the new college, which will be self-funded through membership fees.

Murray said he hopes the budget bill can be tweaked to allow the new college power to take over abandoned or closed down consultancy practices, as well as to allow its own disciplinary committee to set its own fines.

Source: Immigration consultant regulator to turn into new body under budget bill

Immigration consultant council suspends licence of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito

Yet another one:

The federal council that regulates immigration consultants has temporarily suspended the licences of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito and one of his sons, as it awaits the outcome of a Canada Border Services investigation of an alleged large-scale immigration fraud.

At a hearing Tuesday, Cindy Ramkissoon-Shears, an independent chairperson of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), determined there were reasonable grounds to conclude that allowing Benito and his son Charles to continue practising as consultants may cause harm to the public and could undermine the reputation of the profession.

The temporary suspensions mean the Benitos must have no further involvement with their clients. They must immediately make arrangements for another consultant or lawyer to assume their clients’ files.

Benito and his son did not respond to interview requests from CBC News on Tuesday.

The ICCRC is the national body that, by federal law, regulates all individuals, except lawyers, providing Canadian immigration, citizenship, and international-student advising services.

The council only seeks an interim suspension in exceptional circumstances, following a preliminary investigation, when it considers allegations so serious that allowing the consultant to continue to practise poses a potential risk to the public.

The hearing Tuesday heard evidence the ICCRC had received three complaints about the Benitos’ immigration consulting practice dating back to 2016.

But the council only began its investigation after it learned from CBC News on Aug. 16 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had raided Benito’s home and office in late June as part of a major immigration fraud investigation.

Bundles of $100 bills seized

Court documents obtained by CBC News revealed the CBSA seized more than $250,000 in cash — mostly bundles of $100 bills stashed in two floor safes — as part of an investigation into what the agency alleges was a three-year immigration fraud scheme. The agency also seized numerous cash-filled payment envelopes bearing what appear to be the names of clients.

In search-warrant documents, the CBSA alleged that since Nov. 11, 2015, Carl Benito had counselled dozens of Filipino immigrants to improperly extend their stay in Alberta. The agency claimed Benito organized a scheme involving bogus applications for study and work-permit extensions.

The CBSA also alleges it found at least one Filipino immigrant, and possibly several more, working illegally for the Benitos’ consulting business.

The ICCRC had previously determined there was sufficient evidence to hold a hearing for  interim suspensions against Carl and Charles but there was not enough direct evidence to include a third son, Mark, in the proceedings.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Carl Benito’s lawyer, William Macintosh, argued the information contained in the CBSA search-warrant documents did not constitute sufficient evidence because it was essentially hearsay and, in some cases, double hearsay.

But a lawyer acting for the ICCRC said the information in the search-warrant documents, supplemented by similar information contained in the three previous complaints, created credible and compelling grounds to support the suspension of the Benitos.

“In my submission, there are more than reasonable grounds to believe the Benitos have been running a practice, the modus operandi of which was to perpetuate a fraud against the Canadian government,” lawyer Lisa Freeman told the hearing.

Carl Benito did not speak at Tuesday’s hearing. His son, Charles, who was self represented, told the hearing that he had done nothing wrong and was innocent.

None of the Benitos has been criminally charged and none of the allegations from the search-warrant documents has been proven in court. The CBSA has confirmed its investigation is ongoing.

Council investigation delayed

An ICCRC investigator admitted under questioning by Macintosh that the council’s investigation, and potentially a full disciplinary hearing, can’t continue until after the CBSA concludes its investigation.

The investigator conceded the council is wholly dependent on documents from the CBSA for its investigation, and it could take up to a year for the CBSA to conclude its investigation.

In an August interview, the council’s director of professional conduct told CBC News the investigation process can be complicated by the immigration status of individuals who may be critical witnesses in a disciplinary hearing.

Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council director of professional conduct Michael Huynh says the investigation process can be complicated by the immigration status of people who might be critical witnesses in a disciplinary hearing.

“Because of the nature of the services members provide — that is, the members of the ICCRC — a lot of the complainants sometimes are of precarious status,” Michael Huynh said. “So they might not be willing to, after filing the complaint, testify, in which case it gets a little harder for us to procure the evidence necessary to prove our case.”

Huynh said there are also situations where a complainant may have been “complicit” in the immigration consultant’s activities, which may make them reluctant to testify for fear of compromising their status.

Benito was elected to the Alberta legislature in 2008. He became an immigration consultant after losing the Progressive Conservative nomination in 2012.

On websites and Facebook pages filled with photos of beaming clients, “Kuya Carl” (Brother Carl) claims he can help fellow Filipino immigrants secure residency, study permits, and work permits.

“Carl is simply the best in immigration consulting in Edmonton,” one of his websites reads.

In an article recently published in a local Filipino newspaper, and republished on his immigration firm’s website, Benito claimed he was a victim of “sensationalized” journalism.

“We have several clients who are our direct witnesses on how Triple Maple Leaf Canada and Carl Benito conducts his Consulting Services with utmost transparency and within legal bounds and following the guidelines as set by Immigration Canada,” Benito wrote in the article.

Source: Immigration consultant council suspends licence of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito

Council that regulates immigration consultants accused of fraud, forgery and human rights violations

Not the first time the Council has faced scrutiny about its behaviour (Agency that oversees immigration consultants appears to be in turmoil):

The council that oversees the work of thousands of immigration consultants in Canada is facing serious allegations from one of its own members.

Muhammad Watto, 54, alleges in court documents that the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) has engaged in fraud, forgery and human rights violations.

Watto, who has been a long-time critic of the council, has filed a notice of application under the Not-for-profit Corporation Act asking the Ontario Superior Court to order a formal investigation into the ICCRC, a non-profit organization that has been mandated by the federal government to regulate immigration, citizenship and international student advising services.

“I have observed myself some major discrepancies and some major alleged fraudulent activities concerning, not only the way they were handling public complaints, but also the way they were handling the funds,” said Watto, who has been a consultant for 12 years.

Among the allegations in the court filing are:

  • The directors and officers of the council are working against the charter, mandate and articles of the corporation and for their own self-interest.
  • Altering and forgery of financial statements.
  • Multiple counts of accounting fraud.
  • Failure to secure, or destruction of, financial records.
  • Open violations of human rights,

The notice of application also says the RCMP is reviewing information about the council’s activities.

Regulatory council set up in 2011

The allegations have yet to be proven in court and the council denies it has done anything wrong.

Details about the allegations have yet to be released.

The regulatory council, which was set up in 2011, sets the rules for how immigration consultants conduct themselves, providing education, licensing and discipline. It’s needed to help and protect those who want to come to Canada, overseeing more than 4,000 consultants. It is run by a 14-member board of directors.

If the council isn’t running smoothing, those who will suffer most are the immigrants and refugees who use consultants in their efforts to live in Canada.

The council also recently fired its president, Stephen Ashworth, who had been hired only a year ago.  Ashworth was the fifth president of the ICCRC, which was created in 2011 by the previous Conservative government to replace a prior body which was entangled in a number of problems.

Cindy Beverly, ICCRC director of communications, said Ashworth was relieved of his duties because “the board has a different alignment.”

Ashworth would not comment on his dismissal.

Recommendation that council be disbanded

This is not the first time the council has faced controversy. Last June, a parliamentary committee recommended that the government get rid of the council and step in to regulate consultants directly after hearing of problems facing the regulator from within.

Watto would support that recommendation.

“We want government to look into this and take over,” he said.

The ICCRC sent a written response to the CBC’s request for an interview about Watto’s allegations.

“The ICCRC is committed to good governance and financial probity. The ICCRC rejects Mr. Watto’s unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct,”  it reads in part.

It also noted that Watto is facing potential disciplinary action and revocation of his licence.

“I have not done anything wrong,” said Watto, who characterized the filing of a complaint against him as an attempt to intimidate him. He said the same thing has happened to other members who asked questions about the council’s transparency and accountability. Watto said the accusations against him are without merit.

Federal department says council operates at ‘arm’s length’

The department for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said it is aware of the court action and the recent dismissal of Ashworth.

In a written statement it said “the ICCRC is the regulator of immigration consultants and is a self-governing organization that has an arm’s-length relationship with the department.”

As for the year-old recommendation that government scrap the council, the department said it “continues to closely analyze the report.”

Source: Council that regulates immigration consultants accused of fraud, forgery and human rights violations

Liberals face pressure to crack down on crooked immigration consultants

More on the problems of immigration consultants (see earlier Agency that oversees immigration consultants appears to be in turmoil):

The government is facing pressure from MPs of all political stripes to crack down on bogus immigration consultants who prey on people who are desperate to work or live in Canada.

The Commons immigration committee has just wrapped up weeks of hearings on unregistered representatives called “ghost consultants.” MPs are now considering recommendations ranging from overhauling or even scrapping the independent oversight body, to imposing heavier penalties for perpetrators.

Members heard harrowing stories from duped clients who testified behind closed doors. Some were ripped off for thousands of dollars, or brought over with the promise of work only to be dumped at the side of the road or left in a warehouse. In all, they heard from 50 witnesses and read 24 written submissions.

Liberal MP and committee chair Borys Wrzesnewskyj said testimony about crooked and ghost consultants made it clear the status quo can’t continue.

“There is an appetite to fix this. It’s just not acceptable that the present set of circumstances continue,” he told CBC. “It won’t be an easy job. The fact that it’s been studied a number of times and we’re still having to listen to circumstances and their very poignant stories speaks to that.”

Wrzesnewskyj hopes the committee can table its report, which is expected to include recommendations for sweeping reforms, before the House rises for the summer.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel believes there is broad consensus that the current system is broken and needs an urgent fix. The “hair-curling” stories heard underscore the need for major reforms.

Blacklist for bad actors

While there are many above-board immigration consultants, their reputation has been stained by reports of unethical representatives preying on vulnerable people.

Along with suggesting a possible blacklist for bad practitioners, Rempel said the government must work to modernize and simplify the complex system so people can navigate it themselves instead of turning to third parties.

“More broadly, the fact that there even needs to be an industry suggests there are a lot of improvements that could be had within the actual department in terms of ease, efficacy of approaching the Canadian immigration system,” she said.

Rempel said testimony about significant governance problems with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), which was established in 2011 to oversee registered consultants, raised questions about its ability to fulfil its mandate.

Source: Liberals face pressure to crack down on crooked immigration consultants – Politics – CBC News