Thank you, Mr. Chair, and committee members, for allowing me to appear before you today.
I am not only a private citizen, but also a director of ICCRC, elected to protect the public. I am doing my elected duty. I am also an immigration consultant. I grew up in Calgary and have an MBA from Rice University. I founded a hedge fund and am currently working in New York City full-time as “that Canadian guy”.
If you hear nothing else from me today, I'd like you to hear what I'm about to say next. I am, without question, one of the harshest critics of some of the ICCRC's leadership. I can absolutely tell you that I have done a deep dive in the organization's finances and numbers, and they just do not add up. Nevertheless, ICCRC is intact and can function more efficiently if certain changes are made. There are many good people in leadership at ICCRC as well as in the organization. I can absolutely say that the problems do not lie with the general infrastructure of ICCRC, the ICCRC employees, or the immigration consultants themselves, despite the perception.
I am going to be talking about its governance from the following standpoints: the ICCRC's dicey financials; the fact that records cannot be accessed; that the disciplinary process is suffering because the organization is spending its resources protecting itself instead of the public; that discipline complaints are outsourced to a private third-party corporation; that ghost consultants who are neither Canadians nor permanent residents can now get accredited immigration practitioner diplomas; and that key positions are held by a single person—a secretary, registrar, CEO, elections officer, and there might be more.
The points that I have mentioned are a result of the unscrupulous directors and management whom I define as the “bad actors”, and who are the root cause of all the other issues we are discussing now. This is the main governance issue that is front and centre in my mind.
Removing the bad actors and keeping the good actors is easier than shutting down the regulator or starting from scratch in favour of another regulator or another entity, as there is no guarantee that any third solution will be better than where we are today.
When I decided to run for the ICCRC board, and being a financial person, I first focused on the annual reports and financial statements. All I can say is, “Wow!” The more I looked, the more I found. As I peeled the onion layer back, layer by layer, there were troubling issues at each step.
For starters, the ICCRC's equivalent of an audited certified balance sheet did not balance by $600,000, which is about 10% of the annual budget.
I would like to caution you that this study does not have the authority to investigate private organizations.
The mandate that we have, according to our notice of motion, is to look at and to study the legal, regulatory, and disciplinary frameworks governing and overseeing immigration, refugees and citizenship consultants and paralegal practitioners in Canada. The study examines the role of oversight bodies in regulating and providing an adequate oversight of practioners.
I understand where you're coming from, but the details you're delving into have crossed over a line of the committee's mandate. I think you have some very important information to bring to the committee, and it's important that the committee hear your information. I do caution you not to stray over that line, as much as possible.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
On that point, as well, I think it is important to note that ICCRC is the designated body responsible for regulating immigration consultants. In our previous meeting, government officials in fact identified them as a go-to body with respect to that.
I'm very disturbed to hear the very beginning of this presentation indicating that a body that's supposed to regulate immigration consultants seems to be having some grave difficulties—without even knowing the depth of it.
That is hugely problematic and, I think, troubling for us. It is important for us to know. It does have relevance, ultimately, for how this body does its work to ensure that the consumers, if you will, the clients who rely on the service, are best protected.
The more I looked, the more I found. I peeled back the layers of the onion, and there were troubling issues step by step.
To date there are four sets of financial statements, all for 2016, all certified and audited by BDO and they still don't have it right.
The last time I talked about this in public, the ICCRC shut off the microphones during the question-and-answer period explaining the financial statements, and another member was physically assaulted by management for speaking his views, and the mike was torn out of his hands.
The balance sheet not balancing is the least of the financial concerns. Somebody needs to be appointed to look at these matters. I had several accountants look at my analysis and they were shocked. The membership is aware of these issues and so should you be. How can an organization go forward if they're not confident with where they've been?
The fallout from these problems and my election messages and those of the other newly elected directors about transparency, accountability, and fairness have resulted in all six incumbents losing their directorships. Three directors have resigned this past month, and one director resigned the last week or so, and they haven't told you about it.
While we think about that, let's think about this. The ICCRC was put in place to protect the public and now it has in a de facto way endorsed ghost consulting carte blanche worldwide and spends its money on disciplining members, instead of protecting the public. Those who disagree with them are disciplined.
Now, anyone online anywhere in the world can attend an immigration practitioner program and learn how to game Canada's immigration system and be a ghost consultant. This was the whole reason ICCRC was put in place, to prevent this kind of practice. I believe this has been willfully hidden from the membership, and perhaps this committee, for quite some time now. To me, the real danger of what will happen in the limit is a black swan event, the worst-case scenario, and that's a national Canadian security issue if perhaps criminal elements were able to gain access to Canada, and I'll go on from there.
Bylaws are openly broken to appoint illegal PIDs so they can cling to power, despite the howling from the membership for them to leave. The chair himself has asked me to get them some information about the finances, and once he learned I had a CPA letter being prepared and coming, he and the other directors suddenly decided that the CPA I had chosen was in a conflict of interest. The same board members gave themselves a pass and voted not to audit the organization and hide what the membership knew was the big problem in the 2011-15 financial years when they were also directors.
Now, I'm getting to my point, Mr. Chair.
The ICCRC chair gave it to me in writing that I, being a director, was not even allowed to see the records of the corporation. To date, I and other good actor directors to my knowledge have not even seen the inside of the halls of the corporation, much less the trial balance sheet either.
Recently, I found out that the discipline and investigation process had been subcontracted out to a third-party, private corporation using a residential address. Isn't that great?
The government told that ICCRC that they were the regulator, and the ICCRC turned around and has given the power and a big cheque every month for many years to the private corporation. None of us directors were even allowed to ask questions about it, because it's the black box. The contribution agreement between CIC and ICCRC has been broken on many levels. The continuing education system at the regulator is completely broken and needs to be taught by someone who is an immigration professional. The AGMs aren't even democratic, because most of the members aren't allowed to vote. Even the French language has taken a hit.
My whole point about this is that there are folks who are protecting themselves and not doing the discipline and what they're supposed to be doing, but it's only a few bad actors. We're almost there, we've almost removed them all and the organization can be saved.
My detractors are going to try to make this about me, because I'm a whistle-blower, but my response is that I'm not the one who created this problem. I am merely here to clean up all of this, along with the other goodwill directors.
Here's my final point before finishing. If we don't clean this up, maybe we will miss the next Gandhi or Einstein emigrating to Canada. What's the potential and the cost-benefit there? Canada's growth and GDP are also negatively affected by not getting this right.
Thanks for listening to me today. I'm now prepared for any questions later, and I'll be around all day to answer any questions. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks to the committee for inviting me.
My name is Ni Fang. I've been practising immigration consulting since 2001. I'm one of the first group of consultants that were regulated and am now the chair of the Canadian Migration Institute, which provides immigration consulting services and advocates consumer protection and education.
I'm here today representing victims of misrepresentation and fraud. I have their consent, and they support my appearance in front of the committee today, hoping it will make a difference to protect future immigrants.
I have prepared two stories, but because of time restrictions I will speak of one. You can find the other one in my speaking notes.
Last summer, I was contacted by an entrepreneur who is making an investment in excess of $2 million on Vancouver Island. She received a letter indicating a potential refusal by the B.C. provincial nominee program, and one of the reasons was that her eligible investment was insufficient. The investment amount that the officer described in the fairness letter was significantly different from the amount in the business plan the applicant had provided in Chinese to the immigration company that was representing them. The applicant was therefore confused about exactly what plan was submitted by her immigration representative to the B.C. government, and she came to me for help.
She advised me that she was not provided with any completed documents before the submission of the application and that she had no idea what was submitted. I immediately became suspicious, because all applications need to be signed by the applicant before submission. How could she not have been provided with the final documents?
I requested a copy of her application from her previous agent. Upon reviewing her case, I discovered that this client had retained an immigration company in China and that her case was prepared by an unregulated Chinese agent; however, it included an IMM 5476 “use of representative” form in the name of a lawyer licensed by the B.C. Law Society.
When I pointed out the name of the lawyer, she said that she didn't know this person. I then pointed to the client's signature on the form and said, “But you signed it.” She looked at the form with a shocked look on her face and responded, “I've never seen this form, and that's not even my signature.” Further, I pulled out all her forms and showed the client signatures on them.
Most of the signatures were forged. She called the Chinese company and asked about the signatures. She was reminded that during her first visit to Canada the agency had asked her to leave some signatures on blank paper, which she did, and they then printed some documents on that signed blank paper. I'm not sure whether the lawyer's signature was real.
To the provincial immigration authorities, this case was presented legally by an authorized representative; yet the actual applicant did not even know what was in her application.
There are many cases like this. Unfortunately, a good percentage of these types of misconduct and fraud are hard to discover and, as such, are not being investigated or disciplined.
I would now like to discuss the types of changes that could be made to improve our legal, regulatory, and disciplinary frameworks so that this type of misconduct and fraud can be discovered and those who commit this type of misconduct be held responsible.
Among my recommendations on discovering the misconduct, fraud, and abuse, I think our first step should be finding out who prepared the applications and establish a database including everybody involved in preparing applications, regulated or not.
Currently, when an application is submitted, if there is a representative, an IMM 5476 “use of representative” form is included with the application. A ghost agent, however, will use the client's name to submit, and therefore no “use of representative” form is required. I therefore propose that everyone who submits an application without a representative include a declaration stating that they have completed the application themselves without any paid advice or assistance from a third party, confirming their understanding of misrepresentation on the statement and of the potential penalty for being untruthful.
The declaration needs to be certified and translated by translators recognized by the Canadian government, be in the applicant's native language, and be signed by the applicant in both the applicant's native language and one of Canada's official languages. The declaration can include all the information the government wishes the applicant to read and understand, such as the consequences of misrepresentation and fraud. Applications without an IMM 5476 or the aforementioned declaration of no representative will be returned to the client without processing. Concerning the IMM 5476, I suggest that all agencies or individuals who have participated in preparing the application with the authorized representatives will also need to be disclosed.
When the government has such a database to be able to identify all the players in the market, applicable laws should be in place to allow data sharing and exchange between governments and the regulatory bodies. The government can establish a black list of people who have consistently been involved in fraud.
I have recommendations on the investigation of misconduct, fraud, and abuse. Reform of disclosure of all parties involved in the application will push ghost consultants to work with an authorized representative as an agent and, as a result, they would be forced under a regulatory umbrella and their supervising authorized representative can be disciplined for their wrongdoing. However, I have serious concerns about the ICCRC's capability to investigate its own members. The feedback from many members is that their CMB department is really weak.
I have a recommendation on discipline for misconduct, fraud, and abuse. I recommend some legal changes.
I would like to start by wishing everybody a happy Women's Day.
The Canadian Constitution is based upon the fundamental principle of the supremacy of God and the rule of law. All laws and rules and regulations formed before and since, I strongly believe, follow this fundamental principle. It is an obligation of every citizen, business, and any other entity to follow this fundamental principle.
The Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration sets out guidelines, rules, and procedures in the Canada Gazette for the people who wish to come to Canada. But some immigration consultants, in the interests of their sole benefit, bend these rules and gain personal interests at the expense of the charter rights of other individuals. They find soft-corners in the guidelines and their own ways of achieving their personal interests, for example, by posting fake job positions on various websites for the sole purpose of obtaining an LMIA.
Immigration consultants can often be seen approaching local businesses. They approach businesses and encourage the owners to obtain LMIA approvals, which they sell for hefty amounts. Earlier in 2016, the average price of a truck driver LMIA was $40,000 in cash, which was reduced to $10,000 after the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship changed some rules in November 2016.
Consultants educate business owners about immigration policies for foreign workers and the ways in which they can hire a foreign worker and earn a tax-free income. Examples of some of these fake job postings are attached to my brief. Examples can be seen in the food, trucking, construction, and retail industries, and in farming.
Why does this happen with some small businesses? First, it is very easy to approach the owner of the business, and second, it is lucrative, with a tax-free cash income. Who doesn't want that?
The situation is even worse in the case of international students. After their studies, international students struggle to find a job that will help them gain permanent residency. Consultants easily ask for $15,000 to $20,000 to help them find an employer. Before November 2016 the average asking price was $30,000, and that was all in cash. This has been reduced to $10,000 since the government changed some rules in November 2016. These practices are adopted mostly by consultants. I have never seen a lawyer going that route.
Exploitation is not just limited to money. Female students are often asked for sexual favours. A friend of mine who graduated in 2014 from a public university could not find a job that could support her permanent residency because of the rules and regulations of express entry and the other immigration processes during that time. So, as a last step she had to seek help from an immigration consultant. Guess what? She got a job, but after a couple of months of employment, her employer started asking for unreasonable favours. What happened? She had to leave the city. She had to quit her job, and once again she had to seek help from her consultant to find her another new job. She paid him another $10,000.
This is just one example out of many others. Immigration consultants educate business owners about how they can earn tax-free incomes. If a business hires a foreign worker or an international student through an immigration consultant and helps with their permanent residency, the agreed wage rate is never paid.
There is an example of a job posting attached to my brief, in which a construction company advertises a job that pays a wage of $34 to $36 per hour. The sole purpose of this job posting is to obtain an LMIA approval. Once this employer hires a foreign worker or international students, the following things might happen.
After getting an LMIA, the employee will hire either a foreign worker or an international student seeking permanent residency. However, what will happen? Both the immigration consultant and the employer will benefit from $15,000 to $20,000 of tax-free cash income. Most of the money goes into the consultant's pockets. The worker will receive a paycheque at the wage rate of $34 per hour, but will he be getting paid that amount? On the books, on paper, yes, but in reality, no. That worker will be asked to pay back $14 to the employer, and that will all be done in cash.
Thank you to all the panellists.
I think the first 21 minutes have been very informative to all of us, telling us what's going on, from your agency to your personal lives, and what you have seen.
Mr. Dhillon, I understand that you came here as a student and completed your studies here. I know you faced a lot of challenges on your route to permanent residency. My understanding is that you played by the book, complied with all the rules, and eventually succeeded on your route.
This committee is interested in understanding the prevailing patterns of reported impropriety and misconduct, fraud, and abuse. Can you comment from your perspective on whether these trends are increasing or decreasing?
Removing the bad actors is the first step. This is just a business problem, and we can take care of our problems internally.
In terms of the disciplinary process, they've been going after lots of people. In my case, they're gearing up to go after me as a whistle-blower for up to a $1 million, we estimate, because I mentioned that the balance sheets don't balance. I'm not the only one. There are lots of people.
There are four different types of disciplinary cases. There are parking tickets. There's member versus member, which we're spending a lot of time on. Then there's the government to members, which we should really spend a lot of time on.
One of the other directors has brought up a notion that we're not even answering Quebec. Quebec has called and said there's a discipline issue, and we're not even answering. We don't have a person who speaks French who is authorized to answer them.
Then there are the indictable offences. We need to have a different set of policies and infrastructures in place for the minor issues, and then the real resources can go after the major issues that Mr. Dhillon, Ms. Fang, and you are talking about.
I'd like to resume, with our second hour of hearings.
We have before us, from the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, Mr. Donald Igbokwe, the president, and Mr. Dory Jade, the chief executive officer. From the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, we have Mr. Lawrence Barker, the acting president and chief executive officer, registrar, and corporate secretary; Mr. Christopher Daw, the chair of the board of directors; and Dr. Hafeeza Bassirullah, the director of education. Also, from the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, we have Ms. Avi Yao-Yao Go, the clinic director.
We'll begin with seven minutes for the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants. I understand that Mr. Dory Jade will begin and will split his time with Mr. Igbokwe—or the reverse.
I would like to begin by thanking the members of the committee for the opportunity to present as part of your study of the immigration consulting profession.
My name is Donald Igbokwe. I am the president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, also known as CAPIC. As the chair said, I will be sharing my time with our CEO, Dory Jade.
CAPIC is the largest association representing regulated Canadian immigration consultants, with more than 1,500 members Canada-wide. CAPIC was founded in 2005 through the amalgamation of two previous professional associations representing the profession. CAPIC is founded on four pillars: education, information, lobbying, and recognition. These pillars guide our work to improve the profession and strengthen consumer protection for the public.
At the core of CAPIC's mandate is the continuing professional development of our members, helping them to improve the service they provide to clients and thereby promoting consumer confidence. Our local chapters in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and across the prairies organize events such as seminars, workshops, and networking in order to support our members' professional development. CAPIC's annual national education conference attracts members throughout Canada as well as from overseas.
Regulated Canadian immigration consultants, known as RCICs, undergo a rigorous program of education and testing in order to earn their certification. This helps them to ensure that they have the right knowledge and skills to assist their clients through the Canadian immigration process. RCICs are regulated by a strict professional code of conduct, and I can tell you that our code of conduct is actually, when you consider it, stricter than that of the law society. We have several.
CAPIC is proud of having built a working relationship with the Government of Canada, including this particular committee and officials in the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. We have made several presentations before this committee and have consistently sought to address the challenges facing the industry so that we can improve the regulation of our profession in Canada. The industry has evolved considerably over the last decade, and so have the changes and challenges. Through our presentation, we will address some of these challenges and changes, which we have also enumerated in the presentation given to you.
In order to address the changes, I will invite our CEO to talk to you about those changes and challenges and recommendations brought forward by CAPIC.
Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the members of the committee.
I have been involved in the governance of this profession since 2005, first as a member of CAPIC for the Quebec chapter; then as a director of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, the original federal regulatory body; later as a director of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, or ICCRC; and then as president of CAPIC, and currently as CEO.
Over my career, I have watched our profession evolve and grow in Canada. I have also been part of the evolution of the regulatory body, including having resigned, myself, from CSIC for different reasons, some of them financial misconduct or management. While we have come a long way since that problematic chapter in our governance, challenges persist. It is important that we address these issues by improving how we are regulated.
The formation of ICCRC was an important development in the regulation of our profession. We are at another critical juncture, and it is important that we work to improve the strength of the federal regulator. The committee played an important role in 2008 by bringing forward ICCRC to replace CSIC at the time. I strongly believe you now have an opportunity to make an important contribution again.
CAPIC has provided the committee with our submission outlining the problems of the current model and how we can make it better. However, I would like to address three main challenges of the profession: one, unauthorized representatives; two, overlapping federal-provincial jurisdiction; and three, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, more known as the CNCA. These three issues weaken the regulation of our profession and put consumers at risk.
In terms of unauthorized representatives, under the current model, the ICCRC, which is delegated at arm's length from the Government of Canada, does not have the power to go after unauthorized representatives. This is delegated to the CBSA. They have been before the committee. They have, we know, limited resources. Priority goes to national security rather than the little or the small fraud—please excuse my language—of an immigrant.
Mr. Chair and esteemed members of the committee, first of all, Happy International Women's Day. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the work we have been doing at the ICCRC. We are pleased to be here and to answer any questions you may have.
As you know, my name is Lawrence Barker and I am currently the acting president and CEO. I have been the ICCRC's registrar since the council's inception, and am also responsible in that capacity for handling the council's complaints, professional standards, and tribunals function.
With me is Mr. Christopher Daw, the current chair of the ICCRC's governing board of directors. Also accompanying me is Dr. Hafeeza Bassirullah, who has been with me at the council since its inception. Dr. Bassirullah is responsible for establishing the education department of the council, as well as for accrediting and overseeing the immigration practitioner programs that are offered at post-secondary institutions across Canada.
ICCRC is the national regulatory body that was designated in June 2011 by IRCC to oversee the practice of regulated Canadian immigration consultants. In 2015, our scope was expanded by IRCC to include overseeing citizenship consulting as prescribed in the Citizenship Act and regulating the practice of international student immigration advisers.
As we are a regulatory body, our foremost purpose is to protect the public. We achieve this by establishing entry-to-practice requirements; licensing professionals; overseeing RCICs' professional development and conduct; receiving, investigating and adjudicating complaints against our members through a disciplinary process that sanctions members whose conduct fails to meet ICCRC's standards; and raising awareness of immigration fraud and the need to use the services of an authorized representative. As of this month, we regulate just over 4,000 professionals. ICCRC is committed to ensuring that people who wish to enter the profession we regulate meet our entry-to-practice guidelines, which are based on rigorous standards, to demonstrate their competence.
Once they are admitted, the maintenance of professional competence remains a critical focus for us. Through our practice-management education, the professionals we regulate receive training on core issues to improve their delivery of professional services. Through continuing professional development offered by third party organizations, professionals are required to complete a minimum of 16 hours of training each year on matters relevant to the profession. We also require an annual compliance audit in which we investigate our professionals' practices, recommend improvements, and exercise our right to sanction and remove substandard practitioners from the profession.
Central to our consumer protection mandate is the council's code of professional ethics. This document outlines our standards of conduct to protect the public from unethical and incompetent practice. The code is binding on all, and failure to comply will lead to disciplinary proceedings. Our robust complaints and disciplinary process responds to allegations of misconduct and incompetent practice from the public. Through a comprehensive adjudication process, we investigate all complaints against members to determine what disciplinary action, if any, is warranted.
Panels of our complaints committee, discipline committee, appeal committee and our fitness-to-practice review committee comprise public representatives as well as practising consultants to give a fair, balanced, and objective review of every matter of professional standards referred to them. We have also increased the number of independent discipline counsel mandated to review and prosecute, where required, allegations of professional misconduct or incompetence.
To help expedite the processing of complaints effectively, we have recently introduced two tribunal streams, one for major breaches of the code of professional ethics, and another for less serious regulatory offences.
In addition to the central mandate of regulating consultants and international student advisors, ICCRC has been proactively engaged in promoting consumer protection through fraud prevention. We engage the public daily, informing them to be aware of and avoid unscrupulous immigration fraudsters. As a member of the Fraud Prevention Forum, which is led by the Competition Bureau, we participate in Canada's annual Fraud Prevention Month campaign. Our 2017 campaign, occurring this month, has awareness videos being released through social media to English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and Hindi audiences around the world. We are also committed to holding unauthorized representatives accountable by reporting complaints about them to the CBSA.
Our fraud prevention initiatives have proven successful. Last year, our director of communications was the first Canadian to receive a prestigious consumer protection award from the U.S.-based Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation for ICCRC's worldwide fraud prevention initiatives.
Immigration is a key factor in Canada's prosperity, and we embrace the government's position regarding its important role in keeping Canada competitive, reuniting families, and helping refugees. With our country's ambitious immigration targets for 2017, it is safe to assume that demand for services offered by immigration and citizenship consultants and international student advisors will continue to be considerable. Our regulatory successes are due in large part to the international representation of our own workforce. Fifty percent of our staff are immigrant or first-generation Canadians. Each one has first-hand knowledge of the magnitude and impact of immigration.
Members of the committee, ICCRC is fulfilling its mandate to protect consumers by effectively regulating the immigration and citizenship consulting profession. We are a young organization that has accomplished a great deal in less than six years, and we look forward to working with government and the public to further build on the foundations that we have established.
My name is Avvy Go. I am the current director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, a non-profit organization serving low-income members of the Chinese and Southeast Asian communities.
Thank you to the committee for giving me the opportunity to comment on the legal framework governing regulated consultants in Canada. I have provided a written submission, which focuses mostly on immigration consultants, partly because they are the most common targets of the complaints that we receive at our clinic. My written submission also highlights some examples of problematic practices, which I will not repeat here.
I just want to talk about the experiences we have working with immigrants, refugees, and people with a precarious immigration status. They are very easy targets for unscrupulous consultants because of their lack of language proficiency, lack of familiarity with the Canadian system, and lack of knowledge about the regulatory framework for legal professions in Canada, and because they are desperate. Many of them do not even know the difference between a lawyer and a consultant. Also, many don't even know where to find help when they need it, so they go to the sources they are most familiar with, including newspapers or websites in their first language, where a lot of the immigration consultants also advertise because they are targeting those ethno-racial communities in their marketing efforts.
While the Canadian government has long been concerned about the exploitation of vulnerable immigrants and refugees by unlicensed or even licensed immigration consultants, the measures taken to date have failed to stop the exploitation from taking place. Instead, the law as it now stands penalizes vulnerable individuals for making the mistake of hiring unethical or incompetent consultants, whether they are licensed or not.
I have highlighted some of those issues. One of them is because of section 10 of the regulations, which requires the applicant to identify that he or she has provided complete and accurate information, which includes the information about the consultant or legal representative. The burden is put on the individual applicant, then, to say that the information is accurate. But in a lot of the cases we have seen, because of their language barriers they won't even know what information has been included or whether or not the consultant has identified himself or herself in the application.
We also have clients who appear before the immigrant appeal division whose credibility has been attacked, because they had hired some consultant who didn't identify themself or they put in the wrong information in their form; and the clients are the ones who suffer.
Another way the system penalizes these applicants is because of the way “misrepresentation” is defined in the IRPA, including subsection 40(1) and section 127. These provisions have been applied and interpreted by the Federal Court in cases where the applicant has no direct knowledge that material facts have been misrepresented or withheld by their legal representative. Because the provision says that misrepresentation is either “directly or indirectly” done, the applicant is held responsible for the action of their representative.
We believe that the Government of Canada has the obligation to protect the public, and our focus is on that protection, although we also have commented on the regulation. We think the government should not penalize applicants who are duped, but should rather focus on how to strengthen the oversight system.
In our recommendations, we call, first of all, on the IRCC to continue to process applications that it suspects have been completed by ghost consultants and that it should advise the applicants of its suspicion, provide them with information on how to find licensed representatives, and give them the opportunity to review the information provided and to correct any errors that have been made.
Second, if the authorized representative is found to have made a misrepresentation on behalf of the applicant, the IRCC should give the applicant an opportunity to correct that information without prejudice.
Third, the IRCC should provide first-language materials to applicants who have already self-identified in their application as not being fluent in English or French, to ensure that they are fully aware of the rules governing legal representation.
Fourth, the government should pass legislation to set up a government oversight body to regulate immigration consultants. There should be specific provisions for admission, accreditation, a code of conduct, scope of practice, and mechanisms for complaints and discipline, and so on.
In the alternative, if the government allows self-regulation among consultants, it should still adopt legislation prescribing all of the same things it would have done otherwise.
As lawyers in Ontario—and other provinces too—we are governed by the Law Society Act that describes in great detail how the classes of licensees are established, admission and other requirements, and so on.
Finally, we think that the government should develop a comprehensive strategy to educate all potential applicants and refugee claimants about the regulations and requirements for consultants and other legal practitioners. One way of doing that is to include that information in the application process itself, and, of course, it must be available in the language spoken by the applicant.
Those are my submissions.
The council has an administrator, who is a staff person who receives complaints. That individual spent 29 years at the College of Nurses of Ontario in complaints. She receives complaints, vets the complaint form and ensures that it's complete and correct, and then assigns it to an investigator.
We currently have under a service delivery contract an external company made up of retired RCMP officers. Their sole role is to collect facts; they make no judgment as to the guilt or innocence of the party. We are in the process of moving that function in house with staff—trained investigators—over the next year.
The complaint is sent to the investigator; the consultant is contacted and made aware of the complaint and asked to provide a written response to those allegations. From there, the reply is sent back to the complainant for them to either provide additional information or to refute the response. From there, it goes to a panel of our complaints committee, which is made up of one member of the public, who is an appointed person, along with two practising consultants. The complaints committee decides whether there is merit and will either dismiss the case or refer it onward to discipline.
At the referral it goes to an independent lawyer whom we have retained as a discipline counsel, who begins a process of pre-hearing discussions between the member, the member's counsel, and the prosecutor. From there, if an agreed statement of fact and a joint recommendation on penalty can be achieved, it is presented to a different panel of the disciplinary committee—again, a public representative and two practising consultants—who will receive the evidence—
What I bring forward here are two recommendations. The first one, and it applies also to the Law Society of Upper Canada, is that the governance aspect of the regulator should not be under the CNCA. I alluded to this in my speech, and it is in the presentation of CAPIC, which is before you. The CNCA is meant to be for not-for-profit organizations' and oriented to the members and charities to preserve their rights. Regulators have very specific mandates to preserve consumer protection of the public. This is where the difference is, and it is fundamental.
The second point we want to bring forward goes back, really, to the Canadian Constitution, whereby immigration and agriculture are shared by the provinces. Therefore, the federal government should really look at the regulations—
I probably get 300 a month.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Bob Saroya: I'm not kidding.
I'm going to forward you a video. It seems like a very genuine video, and I couldn't sleep after seeing it. It's not a month old; this is from this weekend alone.
The perception out there is different from what we're hearing from the panel here. The perception out there is that nobody is doing anything about these crooked consultants. The ghost consultants exist right here in this country—the lawyers, the consultants—say: “Bring me a case, do the paperwork, I sign off on it, 50-50.”
You haven't heard this one, Mr. Barker?
What would you do in this case? Let me get to the video. It's in Punjabi. It's six or seven minutes long, and I'm going to give you something that's in it.
This person came to Canada in 2015 and got hooked up with East West Immigration, something like that, in B.C. He gave them a written contract for $10,000. When the $10,000 was switched over, they said, “You have to go to India. When you arrived here, your medical failed.” So you go back. He went back to India, and he did the medical as per the video. They said you have to give me another $3,000 for this one. He sent another $3,000, taken on his credit card. When he came back, he said, “I'm back.” They said, “You've run out of your money.” Then this real person tried to complain. They said if you complain, we will do what we have to do—bodily harm. This guy in the video talks about committing suicide. Every single penny was taken.
What do you do? What do I tell people like this? They come to us looking for help. Where do we go? It's all of us here. I'm not talking about me alone; it's all of us here.
First, it seems there are some internal issues with the ICCRC. Hopefully, these will get resolved. I'm interested in this question because in the case of the ghost consultants—where there seems to be quite a problem—if they are brought to your attention, they are referred to CBSA. The CBSA was here to tell us they don't investigate individual cases. Hence, they don't go anywhere. Isn't that the case?
I'm seeing people nodding. Can I get a yes from everybody that this is the understanding?
Ms. Jenny Kwan: Given that this is the problem, how do we deal with this? There have been a number of different suggestions.
Should we move to a model of government-regulated oversight bodies? I want to get a quick response from folks around Ms. Go's suggestion on that.
We'll start with you, Mr. Jade.
Yes. Since ICCRC became the regulator—we are six years old—we have received, as of the end of December, 1,710 complaints filed against consultants. Of those, all but 500 have been closed.
We have, as I mentioned, a service contract with external investigators who are RCMP officers. We are moving that in-house and hiring more. We have doubled the number of administrative staff in complaints and discipline. We have hired an additional prosecutor to more effectively and quickly prosecute where necessary.
Just this past year we've also introduced two streams for offences. Serious streams go through our complaints and disciplinary process, as they always have. For lesser offences, we have introduced what I may affectionately refer to as the “traffic court model”, whereby we are hoping to dispose of those matters in approximately 60 to 90 days, as opposed to a long, complicated and, in some cases, expensive disciplinary process. With those added resources, I feel that we are effectively maintaining public confidence and working more effectively in complaints and discipline than the previous regulator.
My answer is twofold. In 2011, many representations were made before this committee asking for a federal statute. They came from the lawyers' group, the CBA. They came from other provinces too, namely Manitoba, and from other groups. That was not something the government at the time chose to do; they went with the ICCRC model that is available now.
My suggestion is also clear. This committee, in my humble opinion, should really look at how we can resolve this problem under an act. Let's face it, why don't we have this many—excuse my language—ghost doctors? It's because every group of people ensures that the consumer is protected; they are hands-on. With due respect, when we gave the Government of Canada power, from national security to the little criminal act.... I'm sorry. I'm using the word “little”; it's in quote marks. That doesn't give immigration fraud its merit.
That's my opinion. This is why an act from this committee is important.