Yes, we do have that on the agenda to be read. That particular letter is the first item under committee business, page 2. I can't deal with it now. I'll have to deal with it when it comes due.
Mr. Wajid Khan: Okay.
The Chair: I want to welcome, again, from the Canada Border Services Agency, Steve Sloan, director of the criminal investigation division, enforcement branch; from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Chief Superintendent Mike Cabana, director general of border integrity, federal and international operations; and from the Canada Revenue Agency, Denis Meunier, director general of enforcement and disclosures, compliance programs branch.
I do believe--correct me if I'm wrong, in due course--these could be the final witnesses we will hear before consideration of our draft report on immigration consultants. The draft report is for consideration today. It's number three on the agenda, after we hear from our witnesses.
Welcome again to our witnesses. Proceed in any way you want to. I guess you have opening statements.
I will go first of all to whom? Mr. Linklater, please proceed.
I'm accompanied by Brenna MacNeil, director of social policy and programs for the immigration branch at CIC, as well as by colleagues from the CBSA, the CRA, the IRB, and the RCMP.
We would like to thank the committee for inviting us to speak to you today on the issue of immigration representatives.
I will have some brief opening remarks after which we will be pleased to answer your questions.
First I will outline the issue and the challenge.
For some prospective immigrants, the immigration process may seem complex and challenging. It is understandable that this creates a demand for people to act as intermediaries for potential immigrants, foreign students, and temporary foreign workers. Some of these people provide a legitimate service. However, as committee members have heard in recent weeks during hearings across Canada, misconduct by some intermediaries, both inside and outside of Canada, continues to harm individuals who want to come to Canada.
As you know, misconduct by individual consultants has been a long-standing problem, which the government addressed through regulatory amendments implemented in 2004. The amended regulations restrict the provision of immigration advice for a fee to specific groups of qualified professionals who are members of the Canadian Bar Association, Chambre des notaires du Québec, or Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
Despite this initiative, concerns remain. This is an extremely complex issue. Many intermediaries work in other countries, with the result that they are generally beyond the reach of Canadian authorities. Others may be ghost consultants--that is, they provide services for a fee but their names and interventions are not disclosed by applicants. Or they may be in Canada, possibly as members of one of the professional bodies I've just mentioned. There are also recruiters, who are often hired by employers to find workers to fill skill shortages under the growing temporary foreign worker program, and education agents, who are hired by Canadian education institutions to promote those institutions abroad to attract foreign students.
This does not mean that the government questions the reputation of all such intermediaries. On the contrary, there are many ethical and qualified people who provide a valuable service to potential immigrants, foreign students, and temporary foreign workers. We all recognize that there are, however, unscrupulous individuals in Canada and overseas who take advantage of prospective newcomers, and therefore further intervention is required.
What are the actions that are needed?
We feel that a key way to fight this kind of activity is through education. Canada must work to ensure that all potential immigrants understand that they are not required to use the services of an immigration representative to come to Canada. Potential immigrants should also understand how to minimize risks when hiring representatives. And they need to understand the consequences if they provide false or misleading information or documents with their application.
Such education is particularly important given the complexities of the immigration environment. If prospective immigrants don't report the activities of ghost consultants to federal bodies such as CIC, CBSA, or the RCMP, options to enforce our laws are limited. And if applicants who use ghost consultants benefit from doing so, they are unlikely to tell us about it.
More generally, the activities of many unscrupulous agents overseas may not, in fact, contravene local laws in other countries. So even if these activities are not acceptable in Canada, enforcement in activities may be limited should local authorities not be willing to cooperate with investigations or prosecutions.
When CIC does receive complaints from applicants or other parties, we take them very seriously. Those who provide false or misleading information or who encourage the use of fraudulent documents contravene not only the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, but in some cases also the Criminal Code. Under IRPA, for example, it is an offence to counsel misrepresentation. It is also an offence to knowingly communicate false or misleading information in order to induce immigration to Canada. A conviction for either of these offences may result in a fine of $100,000, five years' imprisonment, or both.
To investigate complaints about representatives, CIC works with CBSA, which was given responsibility for criminal offences under IRPA in 2006. However, while we are seeing increasingly positive outcomes in prosecutions, there are limits to what can be accomplished if misconduct is not brought to our attention.
That is why we need to make sure that potential applicants know how and where to obtain accurate and reliable information about our immigration processes. And it is why Citizenship and Immigration Canada is undertaking several initiatives to better inform prospective applicants about hiring intermediaries both in Canada and abroad.
We are updating the CIC website with stronger and more direct messaging regarding the use of immigration representatives, immigration processes, and the consequences of misrepresentation and fraud. We are translating this information into multiple languages and will be using it as the basis for information posters to be placed in Canadian missions around the world and with local organizations in Canada.
Finally, to counter extreme situations of fraud, the minister may issue a public statement and have it posted on the CIC website. An example of this was our special information campaign in 2007 targeted at the misinformation provided to Mexicans and Haitians in Florida. These people had been told that a special Canadian program would allow them to immigrate to Canada, and this led to a significant increase of Mexican and Haitian refugee claims at the Canadian border. CIC posted multilingual warnings on our website, advising that there were no special programs to fast-track applications or to guarantee refugee status. This information was provided to U.S., Haitian, and Mexican officials. The Government of Canada published notices in local newspapers and radio stations, and Canada's consulate general in Miami was involved in correcting misinformation at the local level.
Mr. Chairman, I also would like to note that the Government of Canada is not alone in working to address concerns about immigration representatives. Provincial and territorial governments also have a responsibility to ensure intermediaries comply with provincial and territorial regulations and some of these governments are looking at ways to regulate recruiters who charge fees to find employment for immigrant workers.
Manitoba, for example, recently proposed a new Worker Recruitment and Protection Act to substantially strengthen the protection of foreign workers from unscrupulous recruiters. The laws of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba already prohibit agents and recruiters from charging workers any fee for their services. And the Alberta government has recently set up two special advisory offices to provide one-stop access to information and services for temporary foreign workers.
Mr. Chair, before closing, I will provide the committee with some information about the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, CSIC. Prior to the creation of CSIC, no requirements or standards were in place for consultants who were assisting clients in immigration matters and charging a fee. Vulnerable clients were not assured of receiving the proper services from qualified professionals. Therefore, in 2003, CSIC was incorporated to ensure that individuals wishing to hire an immigration consultant would have access to advice and services from qualified and ethical consultants.
CSIC is an independent, self-regulating body that operates at arm's length from CIC. Our relationship with CSIC is comparable to our relationship with the law societies and the Chambre des notaires du Québec. CSIC also has its own complaints and discipline process, as do the law societies and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
Mr. Chair, we will continue to support CBSA in their investigations and to work with the provinces to find ways to tackle this issue. We are also focusing on educating our clients in Canada and through our missions abroad. We are embarking on a new campaign to provide accurate information in multiple languages to individuals who may be considering hiring an immigration representative. We feel that this is the most effective way to help individuals both inside and outside Canada make informed choices about how they will approach coming to this country.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would now like to ask my colleagues from partner agencies to provide their perspectives on this issue.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is François Guilbault and I am Senior General Counsel for the IRB. I have a short presentation on the IRB's past policy and on its current policy for dealing with authorized and unauthorized representatives.
The regulations as adopted prescribe two types of representatives who may appear before the IRB: authorized representatives who may or may not charge a fee for their services, and unpaid representatives, or pro bono counsel, as we refer to them, who do not charge a fee.
Since the coming into force of the regulations, the Board has taken a number of steps. It has adjusted its forms, letters and other public information to refer to the regulations and related requirements for counsel identification. Pursuant to the IRB regulations, an applicant is required to identity the authorized counsel who will be representing him. As soon as this information is provided, the Board verifies that the person who is supposed to be acting in the interest of the applicant is in fact an authorized representative, that is either a member of the bar of a province, a notary with the Chambre des notaires du Québec or a consultant with the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. In the absence of confirmation, the Board informs the applicant that he cannot have an unauthorized representative as counsel.
The IRB has since introduced the Policy for Handling IRB Complaints Regarding Unauthorized Paid Representatives that clearly explains to applicants, our partners, how IRB regulations are applied. This policy is enforced when an unauthorized representative wishes to act as counsel for an applicant in an IRB proceeding. In practise this means that when a person who is the subject of an IRB proceeding is represented by counsel who is not charging a fee, the Board investigates this authorized representative to ensure that he is in fact working pro bono, and is not being paid.
In short, if we discover that this individual is being paid for his services, in violation of the regulations, we simply order him not to appear at the IRB proceedings. The refugee claimant and the applicant will then be asked to choose alternative counsel. This can happen at any time, either before or after the proceedings. However, I can assure you that all IRB personnel, whether decision-makers, clerks or support staff, are very knowledgeable about who is authorized to act as counsel under the regulations. We act accordingly to prevent cases where people claiming refugee status or applying to immigrate are represented by unauthorized counsel.
I will stop there to allow you more time to put questions to us or to our partners. I have given you an overview of the workings of the IRB's regulations and policy aimed at preventing unauthorized representatives from acting as counsel for applicants in IRB proceedings.
Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.
Good afternoon. My name is Steve Sloan and I am the director of the criminal investigations division at the Canada Border Services Agency. I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss our role in relation to the issue of immigration consultants.
CBSA is responsible for investigating criminal offences committed against Canada’s border legislation, including, as of 2006, criminal offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Prior to that time, responsibility for criminal investigations under IRPA rested with the RCMP. The RCMP has, however, maintained responsibility for immigration matters dealing with organized crime, such as human trafficking and national security.
As already noted, the issue of enforcement actions against the misconduct of consultants is a complex one that crosses several jurisdictional lines. Aside from the regulatory role played by CSIC, there are criminal sanctions available under IRPA and the Criminal Code, depending on the nature of the offence, which can involve a wide variety of scenarios, as you know. IRPA provides for criminal sanctions in relation to various offences, including counselling misrepresentation under section 126, misrepresentation under section 127, counselling to commit an offence under section 131, and general contravention provisions under section 124.
Actions taken by consultants, whether authorized or unauthorized representatives, either with or without the knowledge and/or assistance of the applicant, in an attempt to circumvent legislated requirements for entering Canada can result in criminal charges being brought against them by CBSA under IRPA.
Criminal matters involving unscrupulous persons who purport to be consultants and who defraud their clients rather than the government would generally fall under the provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada, rather than IRPA, and are the responsibility of the police of jurisdiction, which can be the RCMP or provincial or municipal law enforcement.
Criminal investigations regarding consultants are challenging for a number of reasons:
Consultants may operate outside of Canada’s jurisdiction.
Clients may be reluctant to come forward to assist authorities in the investigation for fear of removal or charges by the government, fear of threats from the consultant, language difficulties, etc.
The action of the unscrupulous consultant may be outright fraud perpetrated against their client and therefore not a violation of IRPA legislation.
Promises to clients by consultants regarding the acquiring of status or entry into Canada are usually made verbally, thus eliminating any documentary evidence to assist CBSA or the police with a successful conviction of the consultant.
Payment for fees are often done in cash transactions, making the tracking of the money extremely difficult.
Finally, there is a distinction between what we might categorize as bad advice versus misrepresentation by the consultant, or quality of service versus illegal conduct. However, the agency recognizes the seriousness of this issue and the importance of maintaining the integrity of the immigration system. It is working with its partners to address the problem as best it can.
The agency can point to some very positive results in relation to IRPA enforcement. Since assuming the responsibility for criminal offences under IRPA in June 2006, CBSA has laid over 550 criminal charges under the various IRPA offences, including some 47 charges related to counselling misrepresentation and other counselling offences. Our conviction rate has been over 90%. We hope to continue to build on these efforts and results.
I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have on the role the RCMP plays with respect to individuals who act as immigration consultants and in the investigation of individuals operating outside of the regulatory body, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
The first matter I wish to address is the question of appropriate provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow law enforcement agencies sufficient tools to use enforcement as a mechanism to ensure accountability among those acting as immigration consultants.
The May 2003 report of the Advisory Committee on Regulating Immigration Consultants made several recommendations, many of which have been implemented. The RCMP appeared before the committee and fully supported the need for the development of a regulatory body for immigration consultants.
The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants was incorporated in October 2003 and now provides specific guidelines on the background, experience, and credentials required of those authorized to operate as immigration consultants in Canada. The authorization requirements, including the security screening aspect in which the RCMP plays a part, add rigour to the regulatory process and provides a level of professional standards.
Unfortunately, there are still individuals acting as immigration consultants without authorization from the society. Recommendation 31 of the advisory committee's report called for penalty provisions to be included in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to criminalize unauthorized and improper practices among those in immigration consultancy roles.
Although at first glance this may appear to provide a simple and immediate solution for enforcement, I wish to echo the words of Mr. Linklater in acknowledging that this issue is very complex. Additionally, I see difficulties in being able to operationalize the targeting of non-authorized immigration consultants, both from a resource perspective and from the perspective of it being in itself a priority activity for the RCMP.
As the committee has heard, many potential clients of immigration consultants are in a particularly vulnerable position. They may not understand the systems or processes that are in place for their protection.
I've had the opportunity to review some of the testimony provided to this committee and comments suggesting that law enforcement does not consider the criminal activity of immigration consultants as a priority. That is not the case.
Currently, there are several ongoing investigations involving immigration consultants and their efforts to subvert the legitimate immigration process. Of course, I cannot discuss the specifics of particular cases. However, I do want to emphasize to the committee members that the RCMP takes these issues seriously and takes appropriate investigative action when complaints of this nature are received.
Generally in these types of cases, where the RCMP becomes involved as an investigating agency, there's a criminal network involved. Organized crime is a strategic priority of the RCMP. These investigations are therefore viewed as a priority by the RCMP due to the organized nature of the crime and the effects on the victims. Such crimes also undermine the integrity of the immigration system itself.
For these reasons, I wish to assure this committee that criminal complaints involving immigration consultants have been and will continue to be vigorously investigated in the context of organized crime or national security investigations undertaken by the RCMP and that appropriate action will be taken with the evidence gathered.
I thank the committee for allowing me to appear before you today and for your efforts to enhance and improve the integrity of the immigration process.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to appear before the committee today.
My name is Denis Meunier. I am the Director General of the Enforcement and Disclosures Directorate in the Compliance Programs Branch of the Canada Revenue Agency.
The Canada Revenue Agency's mission is to administer tax, benefits, and related programs and to ensure compliance with tax laws on behalf of governments across Canada. The CRA is the primary tax collector for the Government of Canada, and its predominate responsibility is to protect Canada's revenue base.
The Canadian tax system is based on voluntary compliance and self-assessment.
We believe people are more likely to participate in Canada's tax system and to pay the taxes they owe if we provide the services necessary to help them do so. So we use a variety of programs to ensure compliance, including providing service, education, and outreach, as well as a number of verification review audit and enforcement activities.
The CRA also relies on risk assessment systems to focus its compliance activities. This includes research to identify current and emerging risks to the tax base. Risks are prioritized based on their potential effect on the revenue base and on compliance in general.
I would add that taxpayer confidentiality is a cornerstone of Canada's tax system and a responsibility that CRA takes very seriously. Taxpayer confidentiality applies to everything we do, including conducting audits and investigations. In other words, taxpayers can have every confidence in the fact that any information they or others provide to the CRA will remain confidential.
Mr. Chairman, I understand CRA has been asked to appear in case there are questions we may be able to address regarding our activities. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for your questions.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to respond to the first question concerning representatives that are not members of the CSIC or of another organization.
It's very difficult, as I said in my opening remarks, for CIC to be able to monitor with our partners the activities of so-called ghost consultants who may be providing a service for a fee. For example, if these individuals are providing a benefit that allows the individual in question to receive an immigration visa or a work permit or a study permit and we aren't told that these services were used, it's very unlikely that anyone who receives a benefit is going to complain for having used those services.
Where a lot of this activity takes place overseas--I've mentioned it and my colleagues from the RCMP have also mentioned it--it's very difficult for Canadian authorities to cooperate and collaborate to seek assistance from local authorities for prosecutions or even for investigations, given that for the most part these types of activities are not illegal in other countries where they take place.
As for your second question, I would say that it is up to the provinces to regulate professions.
CIC, through the regulations, with our partners, has indicated that we are authorized with these regulations only to deal with representatives who are members of the three associations who appear before the department or in any proceedings before the minister. So that covers CIC and the IRB as well as CBSA.
Again provinces have a role. Provinces in the last couple of years have been taking a more active interest in becoming engaged. Manitoba, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, has recently tabled legislation to take a more active role in licensing recruiters. Those who do not have a Manitoba licence would not be authorized to bring workers to Manitoba. Most other provinces require that recruiters, if they are providing an immigration service--preparing documentation and that sort of thing for applications--also be members of CSIC or the provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires.
In terms of collaboration, more can be done. Certainly as we look at this issue in more depth we will want to engage the provinces to ensure that they have the willingness to work with us. Ultimately it will require each province to signal an interest in moving forward with us to deal with this problem.
From what we've heard, or at least what I've heard from the witnesses in terms of what they think should change from what we have presently in the legislation, there are three things.
Number one, they were of the view that the legislation we now have applies from the point that the application is filed and not necessarily from the point where the work is commenced for a fee, and they feel that there is some need for correction in that area.
Two, they feel there should be some provision for disclosing that a person is being paid for providing a service of some kind, and imposing that as an obligation.
And three, they feel there needs to be in the legislation a specific offence with respect to unauthorized practice.
I hear from Mr. Sloan that there is present legislation regarding counselling misrepresentation or misrepresentation itself, or other existing provisions of a criminal nature that the RCMP spoke about. Is there any reason legislation couldn't be introduced to add an offence to the current provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act addressing unauthorized practice and improper practice and specifying a fine or punishment for anyone who commits the offence of unauthorized practice? It seems to me that law societies have in their provincial legislation specific provision for prosecuting, if you want to call it that, those who practise without authorization, having a penalty to it.
We don't have that specific kind of legislation in IRPA. Could we?
Well, thank you on behalf of the committee for your presence here today. You gave some very interesting testimony. Of course we're working on our draft report, and I'm sure your testimony will be very useful to us when we consider the recommendations we will be making.
Thank you again. We'll take just a minute for you to move away from the table, and we will get on to our next item on the agenda.
While that's happening, maybe as a matter of courtesy to some of the members who are here, like Mr. Siksay, Mr. Obhrai, Mr. Dosanjh, and other people who couldn't make it to our meetings across the country, I'll tell you that we travelled across the country to nine provinces and we held hearings on Iraqi refugees, immigration consultants, and temporary foreign workers. We heard 52 panels. Some of the members, in their wisdom, in the middle of that, wanted to deal with Bill , and we couldn't at the time because we felt we wanted to do these three. So we said we'd get on to Bill C-50 at another date, and hopefully that's coming right now.
I believe you have before you a letter from the Standing Committee on Finance. It passed a motion at its meeting that, as promptly as possible, its chair write a letter to the chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration asking that committee to consider the subject matter of part 6 of Bill and to report by May 9, 2008.
Does everyone have a copy of that?