Mr. Speaker, I move that the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented to the House on Friday, June 16, 2017, be concurred in.
Earlier this year, something remarkable happened at the immigration committee. We tabled a unanimous report and for those watching who might not understand what that means, it meant that all parties in attendance agreed to the form and substance of a report that was tabled in the House. To me that is really remarkable. It shows that an in-depth study took place and there was general consensus on the need for change and general consensus on the way that the change should proceed.
The title of the report is “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”. By moving this concurrence motion today, what I hope to achieve is that all members in this place will rise and support the content and the recommendations in this report as the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration also had consensus on this. Why is this important? Why are we raising this today? Because it is an issue that affects all members of Parliament in terms of the work that our offices complete. One of the main scopes of work that all of our offices provide in terms of support for our constituents is casework with regard to immigration. One of the things that we all see in our offices is constituents who have had significant impact from the results of bad advice from immigration consultants.
Before I start my speech on this, I want to emphasize something that members of all political parties wanted to convey in the study. There are people who do great work in this regard, but during the study, we heard overwhelming amounts of testimony that the way that this practice is regulated in Canada is not working.
This morning in debate, I want to give colleagues who were not on the immigration and citizenship committee a little background on what the study entailed and what the recommendations were in the hopes that they will support this and, for IRCC officials who are watching this morning, an understanding that my party generally supports the direction of the report. My party hopes that the government moves quickly on it and that colleagues in the government party who are not part of the government will also ask the government to move on the recommendations in the report. I and all other members of the citizenship and immigration committee, subsequent to the tabling of this report and the government's reponse, have had stakeholders talk to us and ask when the government is going to move on this, that there is a lack of clarity right now given that the committee tabled the unanimous report. I hope that by concurring in this report, we can agree with the findings of the committee, at least in general principle, and hopefully what we hear in debate this morning is the government committing to act quickly on implementing some of the recommendations.
In March 2017, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration commenced a study on immigration consultants. This study lasted from March to June, where the committee heard from 50 witnesses, so there were many witnesses who testified at committee, and received 24 written briefs. The final report of the committee was adopted by the committee on June 14, 2017, so we are already well over the six-month mark here.
The final report of the committee was adopted and presented in the House in the following days. This report entitled, “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants” was unanimous and did not have a dissenting opinion from the Conservative or NDP members. This final report was an instance of cross-party collaboration in an attempt to find a real solution to negligent, fraudulent, and ghost consultants who are taking advantage of already vulnerable clients.
During our committee meetings, we heard from countless witnesses that while any prospective immigrant or temporary resident may seek the services of immigration and citizenship consultants and paralegals, certain immigrants are at greater risk of exploitation by unscrupulous consultants. In particular, witnesses highlighted the vulnerability of those with “precarious immigration status”, a term encompassing all forms of temporary immigration status, noting that these individuals are more likely to pay thousands of dollars to consultants for false promises of permanent residency. Witnesses drew the committee's attention to abuse and exploitation involving live-in caregivers, international students, and temporary foreign workers.
In her testimony, Maria Esel Panlaqui from the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office in Toronto said the following:
[Live-in caregivers]...are easily taken advantage of by some immigration consultants, whether authorized or not authorized. Most often these workers say they can't discern whether consultants are authorized or not.
In some instances, even though they don't trust them entirely, they still end up working with them because they don't know where else to get help. Most of our clients claim that they have been manipulated and intimidated by their immigration consultants.
Another witness gave specific examples of exploitation experienced by international students. He stated that consultants have been known to ask for $15,000 to $20,000 to help international students find employment, remain, and gain permanent residency in Canada.
We also heard from Natalie Drolet of the West Coast Domestic Workers' Association, who drew attention to the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers, or TFWs. According to Ms. Drolet, temporary foreign workers have little choice but to hire third-party employment agents to get connected with an employer in Canada. She stated:
These agents are more often than not working in a dual role as immigration consultants and employment agents. We see immigration consultants typically charging temporary foreign workers anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000 for low-wage jobs in Canada. Recently, an IRCC officer in Vancouver told me that he had a case of a temporary foreign worker who paid $40,000.
Temporary foreign workers are willing to pay these fees because they are counselled by immigration consultants that they would have a pathway to permanent residence in Canada, which is often not the case.
The committee heard of a number of examples of misconduct and fraud, including forging signatures, charging exorbitant fees for some services often not rendered, and misleading clients who lost everything they had when they arrived in Canada. In short, without proper regulation and oversight, unscrupulous consultants can ruin lives.
The first issue is the lack of regulation, but the second is why do so many prospective Canadians feel they need to hire representatives? The fact that many newcomers to Canada feel they have no option but to pay thousands of dollars to access our immigration system should be a major concern. Why is our bureaucracy so complicated that the people it is set up to help cannot navigate it? Why are the majority of immigration applications not digitized? Why is correspondence not written in plain language so that people without a legal background can understand it? Why is it so difficult for people to receive accurate and detailed updates on the status of their immigration applications without the involvement of third parties? Again, these are questions all of us in this place wrestle with as we try to support people who come into our offices with immigration case work. Indeed, these are questions that consecutive governments have wrestled with over the course of decades.
With regard to the governance of immigration consultants and paralegals, there are two types of representatives: paid authorized representatives and unpaid representatives. Authorized paid representatives include lawyers and paralegals who are members in good standing of a Canadian, provincial, or territorial law society. They could also be notaries who are members in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec. Authorized paid representatives could also be citizenship or immigration consultants who are members in good standing with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, the ICCRC, the current regulatory body. Unpaid representatives can be family members, friends, and other third parties such as church organizations.
Under the former Conservative government, changes were made through Bill , the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, to designate ICCRC as the new regulator of immigration consultants. These changes were made to ensure the integrity of and confidence in our immigration system and to combat the rise in crooked and ghost consultants who had been taking advantage of newcomers to Canada.
While some positive changes were made, the misuse and abuse of new Canadians has persisted since the designation of ICCRC as the regulatory body. This is one of the reasons why the Conservatives support this report. While we recognize that attempts were made to create a regulatory body for this particular group of service providers, the reality is that there is overwhelming evidence showing that people are still being taken advantage of. This needs to change.
One of the major issues with the regulatory framework has been the issue of shared jurisdiction over fraudulent and ghost consultants. The RCMP and CBSA are both responsible for investigating authorized consultants who engage in fraud, and ghost consultants who operate outside the law governing immigration representatives. However, further resources are needed for these units to adequately address the issue of fraudulent consultants. Additionally, it should be noted that the ICCRC does not have any oversight over unregulated representatives. Instead, its authority lies in investigating misconduct and potential abuses by its members, who are regulated consultants.
I will now turn to the issues with the current governance of immigration consultants. As explained at committee, the ICCRC is a self-governing not-for-profit organization that has an arm's-length relationship with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The issues with the current system include the following: serious gaps in the disciplinary process of the ICCRC for the complaints it receives; lack of stringency in the ICCRC's admissions standards into it as a regulatory body; lack of a clear mechanism to adequately dispute fees; an inadequate governance structure; lack of transparency and accountability in the functioning of this regulatory body; fear on the part of new Canadians to lodge a complaint due to their lack of understanding of our immigration systems and fear of being denied status; the inadequacy of the current regulatory framework in overseeing the actions of regulated consultants; the inadequate pursuit and prosecution of ghost consultants, who are unregulated representatives, for their nefarious activities; and outside factors, including a lack of adequate client services, which contribute to the demand for immigration consultants and paralegals.
To address these problems, our committee unanimously issued 21 recommendations. The common theme in the committee's findings is that more needs to be done to combat fraudulent and ghost consultants. The recommendations are outlined in the report and contain many common-sense initiatives that should allow the government to provide an updated framework that, once and for, would begin to address some of the concerns contained therein.
I could spend the rest of my time going through all of the recommendations, and I might touch on a few of them, but there are a few themes I want to put forward.
One of the things that bothers me, and I am sure bothers my colleagues in the government party also, is the the lack of knowledge of the newcomers to Canada who are trying to access the immigration system. For example, I was in Toronto a few weeks ago and met with a few live-in caregivers. What alarmed me was that they did not understand that they could set up something as basic as a MyCIC account. It is an online account that allows people to look at the status of their immigration applications without having to pay a consultant or lawyer to do that. Oftentimes, people come into our office who simply do not understand how to fill out basic forms.
To me, this report really deals with two dimensions of the problems at hand. The first is that our system does not translate well to people who are trying to use it. There is a usability component that I feel the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the government, needs to implement. We have been looking at this for years. However, we really need to make a very concerted effort to look at end-users and ensure that the system is easy for them to navigate, while maintaining the integrity and security of our immigration system. The government would be doing its job well if it could show not only the integrity of the processing and security of the immigration system, but also that the people who are trying to access it are not having to pay tens of thousands of dollars, or feel like they have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, to an immigration consultant to do something as basic as fill out a form. That is why some of the recommendations in here talk about service delivery and improving that within the department.
The government would also do very well if it could say what specific steps it is taking to combat these service delivery issues. Oftentimes, when I am at committee, and I am sure government members would share my frustration, we get departmental officials sitting in front of us basically giving the line, “Don't worry, we're on it.” The reality is that ICCRC is one of the most siloed and difficult-to-penetrate bureaucracies in government. I know there are many people doing a lot of good work in the department, but sometimes when listening to the departmental testimony, I feel there is more concern about preserving silos than thinking about new ways of delivering service to ensure that we are protecting the most vulnerable. I do not understand why there is this whole industry to fill out forms. To me, that is a failure of government. A lot of the recommendations in this report deal with that.
The other dimension of the recommendations deals with the fact that some of these consultants are providing what amounts to legal advice. Some of the cases I see in my office, and I hope some of my colleagues will agree with me, are the worst cases, and sometimes, as members of Parliament, there is really nothing we can do because people have been given bad legal advice by someone who is not a lawyer but a consultant. I am looking around the room. How many times have members had people walk into their offices and say that someone told them to lie on their citizenship application and that their application had been rejected because they were told to omit information? This is the sort of thing the report is designed to push the government to correct.
In good faith and to show that I am really trying to make this a non-partisan debate, especially to the government House leader, who I am sure will speak on this at some point, our government did attempt to fix this with the implementation of the regulatory body the ICCRC. However, as immigration critic, after listening to the testimony at committee, I have to say that we need to do more. This is a problem that has plagued Canada's governments of all political stripes, and to me this is a real opportunity for the government not only to show Canadians that it is serious about ensuring the integrity of our immigration system, but also about ensuring the world's most vulnerable, and the people who are trying to access our country, are not taken advantage of.
We heard stories at committee, some of them in camera because people were worried about their identity being leaked, or out of shame. These are people who do not have a lot of resources. They were bilked out of tens of thousands of dollars and basically left stranded in Canada. That should not happen.
The recommendations in the report are a road map to the action that I hope will eventually correct this. The way the immigration system consultants are governed right now is just not working, and needs to change. I really hope all of my colleagues will vote to concur in the report.
One of the reasons we are bringing this up today is the sheer number of reports of ghost consultants or others being prosecuted. I get a media notification at least once every couple of weeks about them. Yesterday, in the Winnipeg Free Press, there was a story about an unlicensed immigration consultant who collected $91,000 while having no licence whatsoever. We know that the number of unreported cases outweigh the ones reported in the media. That is part of the problem right now. The people who feel like they have been scammed really do not have recourse or an effective and transparent system to seek justice. Part of the issue is that we have difficulty as Canadians expressing to people overseas who is and who is not able to provide services.
The other thing I want to note to my colleagues opposite is that I had numerous groups in my office after the report was tabled asking when the government was going to do something about this, and what it was going to do. Law societies, the practice itself, especially the people who are operating in good faith, will need time to adapt to any changes made. I would like to see the government, prior to going into Christmas break, give some sort of indication to law societies, immigration consultants, and certainly to our offices that do a lot of casework, what those changes might be, or if it is in fact going to pursue changes.
I read the government's response to the report. There was some acknowledgement that the content of the report and study was valid, but what the government needs to do is to provide a bit more information about how and when it will implement changes, even if just to provide a little more clarity on how these will roll out, prior to our going into what will essentially be a six to eight-week break from debate in this place.
That is my rationale. I really hope all members will support this. The report was well done. It is an example for Canadians of committees and Parliament doing something that resembles work. At the end of the day, I hope the outcome is better policy for people who are accessing our immigration system.
I also want to congratulate and thank my colleagues. I thank the former chair of the immigration committee, as well as my colleagues of all political stripes for putting forward a really smart report. In the interests of everyone who will be affected by these changes in a very positive way, I sincerely ask my colleagues to support this.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this important debate on the report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration entitled “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”. I want to thank the committee for its valuable and thoughtful report. Also, thank you to the many witnesses who took the time to appear before the committee to provide their insights.
I want to assure the members of this House that the government takes very seriously the protection of the public from cases of unprofessional or unethical practices. The government will conduct a comprehensive review of the issues raised and address any concerns appropriately. The government also agrees that it is necessary to deter those who would work as consultants while unauthorized. There is a strong need to ensure that practitioners operate in a professional and ethical manner, that public confidence and program integrity are maintained, and that the interests of newcomers and applicants who wish to retain the services of consultants are protected.
In its report, the committee provided a series of recommendations that call for fundamental changes in three main areas: the legislative framework for the body responsible for governing immigration and citizenship consultants; investigations and enforcement concerning the offence of practising while not authorized and other offences; and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, or IRCC, procedures for processing applications and for communicating with clients and with prospective applicants.
These are complex issues that have an impact on public confidence, clients, and authorized immigration and citizenship consultants. Because of this complexity and the inter-dependence of the issues at hand, the government will take the necessary time to carefully consider the committee’s report. IRCC will undertake a thorough analysis of the key recommendations before determining the best way forward to address these issues successfully.
The government expects to be able to provide more information on this way forward next year. While this analysis is being undertaken, the government will continue to monitor the performance of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, the ICCRC, and will refer complaints of unauthorized practitioners to the Canada Border Services Agency.
In addition, the government will continue to urge the public not to use unauthorized consultants and to file complaints with the ICCRC in the event that one of its members provides unprofessional and unethical advice and representation. I encourage the committee and my colleagues to do the same.
To help with this, IRCC will provide an information toolkit to the committee and MPs to support its outreach efforts. This is because public awareness and public education are key to helping immigration clients protect themselves and report offences to our law enforcement authorities. It might be helpful to this debate to have a bit more context about how the regulation of consultants currently works, as well as what constitutes unethical or unprofessional behaviour on the part of consultants.
As I mentioned, the ICCRC has been designated by legislation and the minister as the regulator of immigration and citizenship consultants. It is a self-governing, not-for-profit body that has an arm's length relationship with IRCC. It currently has more than 3,700 active members.
The ICCRC manages members' entry-to-practice standards, including training, testing, and accreditation, as well as professional requirements such as education obligations. The ICCRC is also responsible for ensuring that an effective complaints and discipline process for members is enforced.
As I said earlier, the government is always prepared to take action against unscrupulous and fraudulent activities by immigration and citizenship consultants when it becomes aware of, or suspects, improper activities. One such damaging activity can include acting as a so-called “ghost consultant”, that is, providing or offering to provide advice or representation for a fee at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding without being authorized to do so. Authorization means being a member in good standing of the ICCRC, a lawyer or paralegal who is a member in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society, or a notary who is a member in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
When Government of Canada officials believe that an authorized representative has contravened any professional or ethical obligations, they have clear authority to share this information with the respective governing body, be it the ICCRC or the provincial law society, in a manner consistent with the Privacy Act.
The council has a mandate to govern such consultants by employing tools such as their code of professional ethics and code of business conduct and ethics. It also has the authority to investigate allegations of unethical or unprofessional behaviour on the part of authorized consultants.
Here are some examples of what constitutes improper or unethical activities that can be shared with the council: making false promises to an applicant, providing false information about Canada’s immigration processes, failing to provide services agreed to between the representative and client, and counselling to obtain or submit false evidence.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canada Border Services Agency are responsible for investigating both authorized consultants who engage in criminal offences, such as fraud, and ghost consultants who operate outside of the law governing immigration representatives.
The committee has made significant recommendations regarding this regulatory framework, many of which would include legislative amendments. As mentioned in the government's response to the report, the government is committed to thoroughly examining the recommendations, options, and possible changes.
In addition to providing recommendations related to consultants, the committee also made a number of recommendations related to procedures for processing applications and for communicating with clients and prospective applicants.
I can assure my fellow members of Parliament that the government is committed to delivering the best possible client service in both of these areas. IRCC knows that its clients want processes that make sense to them, they want reliable information about their case status, and they want to know someone is listening when they raise concerns.
There are a few recent examples of improvements being undertaken that I can point to today, including a revamp of how processing times are communicated online, a plain-language review of our refusal letter, a pilot project to text family sponsorship clients when their applications reach the department, and improvements to case status messaging in clients' online accounts.
Significant changes have also been made to improve the forms and tools provided to applicants. Some lines of business, including express entry and electronic travel authorization, are already using dynamic online applications instead of application forms.
IRCC is already making efforts to identify where forms can be improved or simplified, and to flag to clients areas where mistakes are commonly made. These efforts will be ongoing, and the department uses client feedback to continue making changes going forward.
In addition, IRCC understands that the department’s client base has a range of abilities when speaking an official language. Agents are therefore trained in techniques to communicate efficiently with clients in clear and simple language and to be alert and sensitive towards clients with varying degrees of fluency in our official languages. IRCC’s Client Support Centre also has a standard process to facilitate calls between agent and client when an interpreter is used to assist in the communication.
In addition to providing clearer information on processes for application, IRCC also understands the need to provide more information to clients about the rules regarding legal representation and applications prepared with the aid of an unauthorized practitioner. The department will continue to encourage clients to come forward and report such individuals.
Addressing the problem of unauthorized practitioners and providing relevant information to all clients is a priority for IRCC. This priority is also in line with the department’s client service goals. IRCC will continue to provide information about clients’ rights and responsibilities. It will do this through its website, in application guides, and on the “Use of a Representative” form.
The government is committed to continued exploration of additional changes that could be made. This could include further simplification of the language in the guides and forms and on the departmental website. IRCC is also exploring engagement with clients on a number of fronts in order to better understand the challenges they face when dealing with these processes.
IRCC actively monitors feedback received in an effort to improve services and target public awareness. It is worth noting that the department participates in Fraud Prevention Month by communicating fraud prevention messaging to Canadians, newcomers, and potential immigrants.
This happens through a number of avenues, including social media.
IRCC will also continue to work with Canada’s diplomatic missions abroad to increase public awareness about unauthorized representatives.
Once again, I want to assure my colleagues both on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and in this place that the government is seized with the important issues raised by the committee’s report.
Like the committee, we want to protect the interests of individuals who are applying to immigrate to Canada, while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the immigration program. Their well-being is crucial, as is the integrity of the system as a whole. It is imperative that any action we take is in the best interests of newcomers, applicants, legitimate authorized consultants, and also Canadians, more broadly. We must always consider any potential impacts on public confidence in our immigration system.
That is why the Government will be taking a serious and detailed look at the committee’s report and the ways that we can address their concerns.
Once again, I thank the Committee for their report. It has certainly provided much food for thought.
As mentioned in its written response to the report, the government expects to be able to provide more information on the way forward next year. I look forward to being able to report back to my fellow members then.
Mr. Speaker, this is a very important motion for us to engage in, and I certainly hope that every member of this House, who has constituents who rely on immigration consultants to help them go through and navigate the process of immigrating to Canada or getting access to a pathway to Canada, supports this motion.
We are talking about a report that was done at committee; and by the way, the committee spent a series of meetings listening to witnesses on the critical issue of the immigration process, and more specifically about how so many of them have been ripped off by what we call crooked consultants. In that process, we also learned that the self-regulating body from the profession has been failing those individuals.
It has not only been failing the applicants, but I believe it has been failing all of Canada. I say that because so much of the integrity of our system depends on consultants' work. When the body fails in ensuring that people are doing their job properly, when it fails to ensure immigration consultants are acting responsibly and ethically, then that infringes on our reputation in Canada. Hence, this report is absolutely urgent. It was one of those rare occasions where a report was supported by every member of the committee, across all party lines. There were no dissenting reports, no supplemental reports of any sort, and we all agreed that urgent action needs to be taken now.
As I mentioned earlier, the report was submitted to the government back in June. We waited and waited for the government to respond, and finally in October the minister wrote to the chair of the committee in response. The letter, dated October 13, basically comes down to the government saying that it will look at the issue further. When I received that letter, I was devastated. I was so disappointed with that response, because it is not as if this issue emerged yesterday. It is not as if this was some sort of controversial issue. Rather, it was an issue where every member of that committee unanimously accepted the recommendations. In total, I believe there were 21 recommendations advanced. Each of them is valid and supported by every committee member, yet the government does not have the wherewithal to act on even one of them.
In my view, if the government seriously wants to ensure people are protected, at minimum it could take action on recommendation number 10 in the report before we break for the holiday season, which states:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a mechanism that will effectively allow individuals who have been abused by unscrupulous representatives to file a complaint without fear it will jeopardize their application or status.
That is the minimum the government can do, and that would send a very clear message to all those who have been cheated and abused in this process that they have protection afforded to them. The most important protection they are seeking is to ensure their application or status would not be put in jeopardy. Surely the government can do that.
For many of the individuals, immigrating to Canada is not an easy journey. The immigration process is often difficult and complex, so some have sought the help of third parties such as family members, friends, lawyers, or immigration consultants. Sadly, in some of these cases unscrupulous representatives take advantage of those individuals' dreams of having a better life for themselves and their families.
I have to go back in history a bit. The regulatory body, which used to be the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, was the first governing body established in 2003 as an independent federally incorporated not-for-profit body operating at arm's length from the federal government and responsible for regulating paid immigration consultants. In 2004, CSIC was recognized in the regulations as the organization responsible for regulating paid immigration consultants.
Fast-forward to 2008, and the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration undertook a study of the immigration consultants and its report highlighted issues with CSIC's governance and accountability framework, which did not ensure that immigration consultants were being adequately regulated in the public interest with respect to the provision of professional and ethical consultation, representation, and advice. That was back in 2008. Problems existed with the first self-regulatory agency, and the government undertook a study on this. It found all sorts of problems and then put forward the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, in this place, which was incorporated and came into force in October of 2014.
Just this year, we undertook to do a study and found that, lo and behold, problems exist with that regulatory body that was newly established, though maybe not so new because it was established back in 2014. The problems were so grave that the committee put forward a report with 21 recommendations, unanimously urging the government to act. It said the time for self-regulation of this industry has come to an end and it cannot be trusted to do this work. The situation goes on and on, and people continue to be hurt in the community. The committee called for the government to establish a government-regulated agency. Until the profession can prove that it can be trusted again, we cannot allow this path to continue. That is what we are talking about.
Let me highlight, by the way, what happened in committee, so every member of this House knows. The committee heard from some 50 witnesses during eight meetings that were held between March 6, 2017, and May 29, 2017. It received a number of written submissions as well. It was not as if it was a quick study. The committee did an in-depth study. A number of witnesses highlighted tremendous problems that have been going on with ICCRC, and said the time has come for drastic action to be taken by government.
Let me share the issues we face with members of the House. First, on the issue of investigation, the ICCRC is responsible for regulating paid immigration consultants. It also has the authority to investigate allegations of unethical or unprofessional behaviour of authorized immigration consultants. The RCMP and CBSA are both responsible for investigating authorized consultants who engage in fraud, and ghost consultants who operate outside the law governing immigration representatives. I bring this up as a major issue. Why is that? Let us take this information for a spin.
One witness at committee informed us that she trusted an immigration consultant with her live-in caregiver application and paid her for services, only to be left stranded one day after her arrival in Canada, with no employer, no financial resources, and none of her belongings. Sadly, this is a story we have heard before. In fact, there is a current class action lawsuit, which I will highlight later, on the vulnerabilities of many individuals like the witness who presented to the committee. While the in-depth problem is unknown to all of us, more and more stories of exploitation are emerging, and that is what we are seeing.
Currently, there are approximately 3,600 ICCRC members. ICCRC stated that it receives on average 300 complaints a year. As of the end of December 2016, there were 1,710 complaints filed against consultants, which is almost two complaints for every member. How is that the situation?
CBSA stated that it has 126 active investigations of immigration consultants related to the IRPA offences. In the context of the number of complaints we have, I submit that CBSA does not have enough resources to do its work.
I have a case that should be of interest to every single member in the House, and more importantly, to the government, because as I said, when we have unscrupulous practices taking place, such as these kinds of situations, they undermine our reputation as a country and undermine our immigration system.
It is inhumane for someone to take advantage of individuals and families who rely on them, who have scarce resources. They come up with the resources, because they desperately want to make sure that their applications are done properly and that they enhance their chance of success in getting a permanent pathway to Canada. However, when we allow the situation to continue, when we know about it, we are part of the problem. That cannot be allowed to happen.
I mentioned the class action lawsuit. Let me share this information with members of the House.
Canada has admitted more temporary foreign workers than immigrants since 2006. Migrant workers are desperate to seek opportunities to better their lives and those of their families. As a result, as I mentioned, they are often subject to abuse and exploitation.
Recently, four foreign temporary workers won the right to a class action suit against Mac's and three immigrant consulting services: Overseas Immigration Services, Overseas Career and Consulting, and Trident Immigration Services. These companies are controlled by a Surrey resident, Kuldeep Bansal, who allegedly charged the workers money to obtain jobs at Mac's, but those migrant workers arrived in Canada only to find that most of those jobs did not exist.
Access to information requests revealed that LMIOs were issued for 486 positions with Mac's through these immigration consultant companies between 2012 and early 2014. Charles Gordon, one of the lawyers representing the workers, said:
Victims of this scheme were recruited in job fairs held in Dubai. They paid around $8,000 in fees in exchange for the promise of a job in Canada. Typically, they paid $2,000, often in cash, in Dubai, to get the process started, and then once they received an employment offer and an LMO, they had to wire another $6,000 before Overseas would provide them the documents allowing them come to Canada.
It was extremely disturbing for me to learn that potentially hundreds of temporary foreign workers were victimized. People were duped with a false promise and treated as commodities that could be shipped into Canada, used up, and discarded. What is even more disturbing is that this practice continues.
CBSA has supported a number of the victims from overseas in obtaining temporary resident permits while it conducted an investigation into Bansal overseas. We understand that CBSA has been waiting for some time for approval of the charges.
Hundreds of migrants in this class action suit were exploited, and they are trying to seek justice from the government. With respect to this case and to the depth of this issue, I would like to share with the House a typical story.
This is the story of Amila Perera. He is from Sri Lanka, where his wife and children live. While living and working in Dubai, Amila was introduced by a friend to Mr. Bansal, who encouraged him to attend a seminar put on by one of Mr. Bansal's companies, Overseas Immigration Services. Overseas was advertising that it was recruiting for certain positions in Canada and would guarantee job allocation.
Mr. Amila paid Overseas an initial installment of approximately $2,500 Canadian to get the job placement process started. That was around March 2013. Mr. Bansal then told him that Overseas would find him a job in Canada. Shortly after, Amila received a labour market opinion, a job offer, and an employment contract to work as a food service supervisor at Mac's, in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, as part of Canada's temporary foreign worker program.
Once Amila received his visa, Mr. Bansal asked for the remaining $6,000 Canadian. Amila asked if he could pay it in instalments, but Mr. Bansal stated that the whole amount had to be paid before Amila could come to Canada. Amila then sold everything he had in Dubai to raise $5,000. He borrowed the remaining $1,000, all of which was paid in January 2014.
For several months thereafter, Amila was without work, and his income had ended, of course, in Dubai, and he returned home to Sri Lanka, waiting for confirmation to come to Canada. Months went by while he pursued it. When he was finally able to connect with Overseas, he was informed that it was sending him a plane ticket to leave for Canada the following day and that he had to have $1,000 Canadian with him when he arrived in Canada, or he would be denied entry.
He and his wife then spent their last 24 hours rushing around selling all of her jewellery and borrowing money to gather the additional $1,000. Overseas representatives then instructed Amila not to bring any documents to Canada that could connect him with Overseas, and specifically instructed him to destroy all the emails and receipts connected to Overseas.
Upon arriving in Canada, in April 2014, Amila followed Overseas' direction and took a taxi to a basement suite in Surrey, where three other workers were living in a two-bedroom suite. Over the following week, 10 to 12 workers arrived at the apartment. There was nowhere for him to sleep, and he had no food.
Ready to work for Mac's, Amila went to Overseas' office, where he was informed that he had to wait for a position to become available. After a couple of weeks of waiting, Amila was sent to work as a cashier at a Mac's in Kitimat, B.C., where he was set up with a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment with another temporary foreign worker.
Upon beginning work, Amila was initially working a lot of hours, but gradually his hours were reduced. He and the other worker began panicking, because they had very little money to buy food and to pay for rent and the household amenities they needed. The two workers shared a blanket and slept on the floor. They could not even afford a mattress. This went on, and the hours of work died down. Every day they were walking into town to try to find work, without success.
At some point, they met someone from a community group, a good-hearted person, who raised the money and sent Amila back to the Lower Mainland. He then hooked up with community organizations there to pursue justice.
That is the history. That is the reality of many people who are being cheated by unscrupulous immigration consultants. We have a report before us with 21 recommendations dealing with this issue. They are recommendations the government can act on now.
We need to make sure that those being abused are not afraid to come forward to pursue justice. We need the government to make a commitment that it will act on these recommendations. I get that it will take some time to set up a new system to do this, but the government must make that commitment and say that it will do it. Let us put in a transition process to transit to a proper process, a proper regulatory system, a proper complaint system, so that the people are not taken advantage of. Last but not least, I call on the government to resource CBSA so that it can do its job.
Finally, where CBSA has done its job and is waiting for the government to prosecute these crooked consultants, let us get on with it and do it. Justice needs to be served, and we can start here by making it happen in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I will start by commenting on the previous speaker's response to one of the questions on immigration in general and how important it is to our country. As she pointed out, the populations of some communities are actually decreasing. In fact, I would argue there was a 10-year period when my province's population would have decreased were it not for immigration.
We are celebrating Canada's 150th birthday this year, and we often talk about the importance of diversity and how that has enriched the very fabric of our society and who we are. We are a nation of immigrants and are dependent on immigration. As we look forward to our future success as a nation, it will be driven in good part by sound immigration policy. I am encouraged by the comments from both sides of the House. I know that in the Liberal caucus, there is a huge expectation that we will be able to have solid immigration policy because we understand just how important it is to our nation.
For me personally, there is no issue that I have dealt with more than immigration in my constituency office, both as a member of Parliament and as a member of the Manitoba legislature, in the last 25-plus years. We have been dealing with immigration work every day for many years in my constituency office. I understand the different streams and different problems that are there.
Some have talked about consultants not being an issue, and others about the problems arising from consultants today. However, this issue has existed for decades. I remember standing inside the Manitoba legislation calling for action against unscrupulous immigration consultants. This was back in the early nineties, or, quite possibly, if I searched the Manitoba legislature's Hansard, it might even go back to the late eighties when I first raised the need to make changes to the way immigration was being processed and how we in government could be of assistance. Therefore, I understand why this is such an important issue, and I would like to be able to contribute to the debate.
Maybe one of the ways I can do that is by talking about the need to understand why people use consultants. Who are the people we are really talking about? They are the family and friends who are here and who call Canada home. If they want to sponsor someone abroad, they are often the ones who will turn to consultants. We also have individuals who are living abroad and looking to come to Canada. A phenomenal amount of advertising is done in some countries abroad to try to lure people, who ultimately become victims of the inappropriate behaviour of immigration consultants and others. We do not want to limit it to just the issue of immigration consultants, because we also hear about global employment agencies, which is another fancy combination of words often used, that end up exploiting immigrants.
I came to appreciate the issue shortly after the late nineties, when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien came up with the wonderful provincial nominee program. It has been a goldmine for the Province of Manitoba. I know that at one time Manitoba led the country in the development of that program by receiving well over 30% of all nominees coming to Canada.
During the late nineties, specifically 1998-99, the provincial nominee pilot project came to the province of Manitoba. At the time we would get 300 people applying under that program. It led into 2003, and I would like to share some of the tangible experiences I had with it. I want to do this because people who are following the debate will understand what we are talking about, as opposed to just immigration consultants and all the bad work they are doing. There are many immigration consultants who provide a phenomenal and fantastic service. We have to be very careful that we do not label everyone in that industry as bad and evil. It is an industry that plays a very important role.
Let me give some specific examples. One of my first experiences was in 1991, when I made a trip abroad to meet with a family. The father had indicated that his daughter was recruited to move to Canada. He thought she would be working in the hospitality industry. That is what he was told and she was led to believe, but she was exploited. As a result, she became a victim, and that opened my eyes to the degree to which people were being exploited, speaking firsthand to a father who had a relatively young daughter leave their homeland and come to Canada. That is on the micro scale.
Somewhere between 2004 and 2006, I was invited to the province of Isabela in the Philippines. The governor of the province and others wanted me to go on the radio to talk about the Manitoba provincial nominee program. I was a very strong advocate of that program. I thought it was interesting that they wanted me to talk about how important it was that people did not have to use immigration consultants to come here under the Manitoba nominee program.
When I did the radio interviews and an immigration educational forum, I quickly learned why I was asked to go there. Individuals had been going to Isabela in the Philippines to promote the Manitoba nominee program, but charged significant amounts of money to get the papers required to submit the application form. The application form is free. There is no charge. If people went to the Manitoba website, they could download it and fill it out. It is pretty much consumer or client friendly, but they were charging anywhere from $100 to $400 to have that basic application. If we do the math of the number of people applying for that, the money adds up very quickly.
Later that day after one of the radio interviews, I led the immigration discussion at one of the universities, where over 2,000 people showed up. I was amazed at not only the level of interest in coming to Canada or checking it out, but also the degree to which individuals were prepared to pay money to make the trip. They wanted to be able to come to Canada.
Back then anyone could say they wanted to be an immigration consultant. They would provide advice and charge hundreds of dollars for a basic package of paper that anyone could have downloaded over the Internet, and maybe assist people in filling it out. We started hearing about hundreds, then thousands of dollars being paid to process nominee applications.
This is an issue I had raised in the Manitoba legislature, that we needed to do what we could, and then we started to see the government take a more proactive approach in terms of educating. In my office, we process well over 400 cases a month of immigration-related matters and incorporating visiting visas. I am probably underestimating the number by saying 400 cases. If I told people the actual number, I suspect they would doubt I am being serious with the numbers. We do a lot of immigration work.
In my opinion, 90%-plus of immigration work being done could probably be done by someone who has basic skills in processing their own paperwork. Very rarely, there are times where I would advise someone to go to a consultant or immigration lawyer; both can be credible resources in certain situations. Often, immigration files can become fairly complicated, especially if they go to an appeal or to Federal Court.
During this debate over the next couple of hours, it is important we recognize that, yes, there is a lot of bad out there, but we should not generalize it and label every immigration consultant as a bad person because they do provide a service that is, in fact, needed.
In looking at some of the recommendations the committee has put together, there are some fantastic ones. The speaker before me commented in regard to having individuals report and feel they are able to report when there has been abuse. It is a pretty decent recommendation. I would like to be able to look into the even matter further, because it is important we have some sort of accountability in place. What options do people really have?
If we have constituents who require or are looking for assistance because maybe they have gotten married, adopted a child, or are sponsoring a person through any of several streams either directly or indirectly, one of the first stops they should consider is their local member of Parliament's office. All services provided by MPs' offices are free.
As I have said, in the vast majority of those cases consultants and lawyers are not required. If things get really complicated in that initial discussion, an MP's office might make the suggestion that someone might want to consider a consultant or lawyer. Whenever I meet with constituents and provide opinions, I will talk about calling the 1-800 number. There is a 1-800 number that deals with immigration issues, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get a good understanding of what they can or cannot do. The workers have the policy books there. I find it to be a fantastic source of information. What happens with constituents who I may meet at the local restaurant on a Saturday morning or at my constituency office is that I will often given an opinion and then suggest to them that they should also contact the 1-800 phone number. A lot depends on how complicated a specific file might be.
There are opportunities for members of Parliament to engage in many streams. I think the most common stream is visiting visas, temporary visas, in general. Focusing just on visiting visas, they are a very important aspect of the immigration file. Many consultants and lawyers get involved. In that regard, I try to convey a very straightforward message. For example, if people are in the Punjab and going to Chandigarh, what should they know in submitting their applications? They should understand that immigration officers want to know if they have a reason to come to Canada, if they are in good health, do they have good character, do they have the financial means, and if visas are issued, would they return to their home country. If the answer to all of those questions is yes, an overall assessment is done and is favourable, visas will be issued.
The initial application is pretty much straightforward. That is not to say that people do not need immigration consultants or lawyers, but in a vast majority of cases, they are not necessary. They can go to their local members of Parliament, who will provide letters of support, which may be helpful in assisting them to meet some of the criteria. These are the types of issues that are dealt with every day. Tens of thousands of applications are made every week through our embassies around the world.
It is the same with regard to student visas. There is a certain process that has to be followed. I try to emphasize, whether it is visiting visas, student visas, or working visas, all of which are temporary, they are all fairly straightforward, but so are the applications themselves. The parliamentary secretary talked about the process, and there are things the government has done, some very tangible things. One of them is looking at processing times. Often individuals get frustrated because of lengthy processing times, wonder if there is something else they can do, and start looking for other ways to get ahead of the line. No one gets ahead of the line, nor should anyone get ahead of the line, unless there are outstanding circumstances, which are very rare.
As I said, MPs' offices can provide the services and guidance and they need to ensure their constituents are aware of those services. If members of Parliament use the resources they have and reach out to their constituents, they can play a leading role in dealing with the exploitation that is taking place today in a very real and tangible way.
I understand the importance of a regulatory body. I can appreciate that the current regulatory body, for a number of reasons, has not met the expectations of members of Parliament or the public as a whole, and there is room for major improvement. I appreciate the work that the standing committee did on this issue. I used to sit on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and only wish it had dealt with this particular issue a number of years ago. I appreciate the efforts it put in and its recommendations. I read through a number of the recommendations, which seem to be fairly sound, and I look forward to the government's response to them.
Like everyone else, I have a fairly good appreciation of the wide spectrum of abuse and exploitation taking place both in Canada and abroad. There are far too many victims, and good immigration consultants and lawyers would agree with that statement. Where we can improve the system, we should.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member from Calgary Shepard.
I rise to speak to an issue that, unfortunately, I have heard come up time and again in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It is an issue that I personally have seen happen far too many times. I have seen people misled and taken advantage of.
I am thankful to have the opportunity to speak in this place today on behalf of my colleagues' concurrence motion.
The issue I am speaking about desperately needs to be addressed; that is, the effects of immigration consultants on immigrants coming to Canada. I have provided advice and possible remedies to many friends, family members, and constituents of mine, who had gotten wrong advice or been taken advantage of by phony immigration consultants. Moving to Canada is not an easy feat. I can attest to that.
Those who decide to come to our great country often leave everything behind in hopes for a better life and more opportunity. Yet for many, their first contact with Canada is not one we can be proud of, as many are exploited financially before they even arrive. I have heard horror stories.
The government should work to protect our immigrants from the damage that fraudulent or ghost consultants have on them. Rather than lip service, there need to be real regulations in place to ensure that immigration consultants are authorized and that people are protected.
We can all agree as Canadians that we hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to the quality of care our citizens and immigrants receive. However, there is a clear disconnect between what we want for Canadians and what is actually happening in our immigration system. I am pleased to speak to the concurrence motion presented by my colleague and bring light to the issues that our immigration system is plagued with and the Liberal government is continuing to dismiss.
Earlier this year, in March, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration began its study on immigration consultants. The motion to study this issue was adopted by the committee on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. This study lasted from March until June. Our committee heard from 50 witnesses and received 24 written briefs. The common theme held by a broad range of people was that more needs to be done to combat fraudulent and ghost consultants.
The final report was adopted by the committee on June 14, 2017, and was presented to the House in the following days. This report, titled “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”, was unanimous, a report of cross-party collaboration in an attempt to find a real solution to negligent, fraudulent, and ghost consultants who are taking advantage of their already vulnerable clients. However, today we still do not see any meaningful action being taken by this government.
I heard a witness at committee on May 1, 2017, who stated that:
On April 23, 2015, I submitted a complaint to the Canada Border Services Agency in Toronto about a ghost agent that accepted several thousand dollars from an Australian citizen. The ghost agent informed the Australian that the case would be signed off on by a lawyer in Toronto.
However, the lawyer had never heard of the Australian citizen. Evidence of this violation was sent to the CBSA via email on more than one occasion. However, there was no action taken by the CBSA. The Australian was never contacted by the CBSA. The witness said, “It seems as if the CBSA has ignored the complaint.”
Both the RCMP and the CBSA share responsibility for investigating authorized consultants who engage in fraud, and ghost consultants who operate outside the law governing immigration representatives. However, it is clear that further resources are needed for these units to sufficiently address the issue of fraudulent consultants. The ICCRC does not have any oversight over unregulated representatives. Instead, its authority lies with investigating misconduct and potential abuses by its members, who are the regulated consultants.
Why is the government allowing for the exploitation of vulnerable people, people who want to come to Canada to help make Canada better and to make a better life for themselves? Immigrants who look to Canada as a beacon of opportunity, who choose Canada to be their new home, do not have time to wait for the government to decide how it plans to combat this serious issue.
At committee, my colleagues and I heard a great deal of testimony on the damage that fraudulent and ghost consultants have done to new Canadians. While these bad actors are not representative of the industry as a whole, the committee heard of many possible changes that could be made to ensure better protection for newcomers. I heard testimony from various lawyers who said that section 91 of the IRPA needed to be amended to prohibit immigration consultants from providing advice or representation, because they are not held to the same ethical standards as lawyers, and that there are serious gaps in the disciplinary process of the ICCRC with the complaints it receives, and people are at risk.
The immigration lawyers shared their recommendations with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. They said that the IRCC should launch an aggressive public education campaign detailing who may provide immigration advice and representation. This should include website-based links to provincial law society referral services and simple explanatory language on forms. A number of immigration lawyers recommended that section 91 of the IRPA be amended to allow individuals in non-governmental and community-based clinics to dispense immigration advice if supervised by a lawyer. Further testimony suggested that the most significant recommendation was for the government to create an independent body empowered to regulate and govern this profession. Ultimately, this would be a government-regulated body that would replace the current designation of the ICCRC as the industry's designated regulator.
We heard expert testimony, yet the advice is still not being acted upon. Instead, people continue to be taken advantage of.
The government has recently released its response to the report tabled by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on this topic. However, the response was unsatisfactory at best. The Liberal government's response states that, “The Government expects to be able to provide more information on the way forward next year.” This needs attention now. The current regulatory framework is inadequate at overseeing the actions of regulated consultants. This must be addressed. The ghost consultants, the unregulated representatives, are not being adequately pursued and prosecuted for their despicable actions. The government must do more to combat this. There are external factors, including a lack of adequate client services. We need to do more on this issue.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I would like to thank the member for for his contribution to the debate. I will paraphrase a Yiddish proverb that says, “Gray hair is a glorious crown won by righteous life”. I see the member is just not there yet. He is working on it. I think he would agree that in his situation it is a good thing.
We find ourselves debating this concurrence motion partially because the government provided a response that said, “The Government expects to be able to provide more information on the way forward next year.” It is interesting to note that the government will wait until next year to provide an answer to a report that was completed on June 14, and presented to the House. The report provides 21 pretty reasonable recommendations, so I want to approach this by providing a few points.
Like the member who spoke previously, I am an immigrant to this country. I came here when I was very young and so did my wife who came from Singapore.
I used to work for a professional association. A lot of the contents of the report deals with the relationship between a professional association that watches over its members on behalf of the public in the public's interest, like lawyers, notaries public, doctors. A lot of professions are self-regulated. Typically they have a statute that governs how their members are dealt with. The statute lays out rules for disciplinary action, a code of practice, a code of ethics, and the expectations of the profession while it undertakes work on behalf of the public. That is the way a lot of professional associations in Canada are regulated. The provinces regulate different professions.
Having worked for a professional organization and having worked for a minister of immigration in a previous government as well, those are the kinds of perspectives I want to bring to today's debate.
The 21 recommendations before us and the report itself are pretty reasonable.
Recommendation 3 talks about the need for a regulatory body to develop, establish and require high standards for admission, including but not limited to, the areas of training, education, and a standardized curriculum across the provinces and territories. We are talking about the creation of a pan-Canadian profession with standardized rules for admission.
Some members have said that not all immigration consultants, not all persons involved in this new and emerging profession are bad. There are those who steal. There are those who, through theft or subterfuge, specifically target people who are trying to come to Canada or new arrivals in Canada who do not understand our immigration system.
I cannot blame them for not understanding the system. It has become more complicated over the last 30 or 40 years, and that is not the fault of the Liberals or the Conservatives. It has become more complicated because life has become more complicated. There are more regulations, more rules, and more exceptions.
All governments in general across all provinces have attempted to toughen up our system to ensure it is fair, just, and equitable toward persons who apply to enter Canada under different programs. We sometimes change our immigration programs. We provide different programs for work permits, economic class, express entry, and they all come with rules and regulations that are sometimes hard to navigate.
Then we have what I will call an emerging profession of immigration consultants who advise members of the public, new arrivals to Canada. We find ourselves in a situation where some people have leapt ahead of what the government is able to regulate. The 21 recommendations in the report are an attempt by a committee of the House to provide the Government of Canada with some observations, some proposals, and recommendations on how to reign in some of the more corrupt and vile practices out there, where people go out and steal.
Before I continue, I should mention that each of us as members of Parliament probably has a case file manager in our offices. I have two fantastic people who work for me, Connor and Sukhi. They do amazing work on behalf of my constituents of Calgary Shepard to try to process files. None of us would say that we do the work all by ourselves. We owe a great deal to our staff members, who figure out the rules as they go along. They meet with some of these consultants, some of whom are good and some of whom are bad. It is usually the bad ones who give us more work, because we have to figure out what went wrong, how did it go wrong, and then try to undo the damage that was done by these crooked immigration consultants.
Recommendation 4 states that the new regulatory body should have training and education standards, more rigorous than current standards, for those seeking to become immigration consultants. It brought me back to a May 5 email I received from one of my constituents, Daniel Brière, who is an immigration consultant registered with the RCIC. I met with him and he had some observations that tie in directly with these 21 recommendations. A lot of what he wrote to me about I now find in the recommendations of the report we are now debating in the concurrence motion before us.
In my time at a professional association, having worked in human resources, I remember when HR was an emerging profession. In some provinces it is self-regulated and in some provinces it is not. It provides a designation that members of the public can achieve. There are educational standards and qualifications that have to be met. However, there is also a code of ethics to which people have to live up. That is a really important element of this.
I remember when I became the registrar for the human resources profession in Alberta. We had cobbled together six different associations to create one governing body to oversee human resources professionals in the province of Alberta. The parallel I draw here is that we introduced rules for disciplinary measures against members who violated the code of practice and the code of ethics. When we developed the code of ethics, we had a national code, set out by the CCHRA, which no longer exists as a national body. It has a different name now and different composition of what it does.
Volunteer members stepped forward and wrote a code of ethics and a code of practice. I was there to oversee the process as it was developed. At the end of the day, we always thought about one thing, and one thing only, and that was what we were trying to do on behalf of the public. That is what professionals do. That is what professionals are about. There will be that kind of behaviour until the proper rules are set by statute, which is recommendation 1 of the report, a single individual federal statute, that would govern this profession and basically give it the direction and tools it would need to govern its members.
We all have problems in our ridings with ghost consultants who will steal and cheat, but we should give the profession the right tools and statutory rules to discipline non-members, such as sending out cease and desist orders, which other professions have. The legal profession has this tool. The medical profession has this tool. Dentists have this tool. All professions do. Engineers have this tool as well. A member mentioned, too, engineers, the largest professional association in Alberta, with 70,000-plus members, have this tool. Therefore, those who are not members of the profession cannot pretend to be. It is the job of professionals and the professional associations to tell the public what to watch for, such as whether people are dealing with a professional or not.
Here is where the problem exists with the RCIC as it currently exists and immigration consultants. It is really hard to tell whether one is dealing with someone who meets some reasonable standards of professionalism or someone who does not. A licence sometimes is just not enough when it is nicely framed, in French we call it encadré, on a nice piece of paper. However, it does not really convey that the person is a true professional and will have the organization's best interests in mind instead of its own financial interests. That is also important to take into consideration.
Some of the other recommendations proposed in the report talk about better coordination with other federal governing bodies. That is an important component. CBSA and RCMP have a role to play in all of this. Recommendation 21 states, “That the Government of Canada provide adequate, sustainable and targeted funding to CBSA to allow for an expanded ability to investigate and lay charges...”
Recommendations like recommendation 21 are perfectly reasonable. We should give CBSA the tools it needs to police the system. What more can be said? In our constituency offices, we all deal with situations where people have abused the system or individuals have lied on their applications, either the immigration consultants or the applicants themselves. We owe it to our constituents, ourselves, our staff, and constituency offices to concur in this report and vote in favour of the motion. I will be doing just that.
Madam Speaker, I wish to share my time with my colleague, the member for .
I may be a new member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration who was not directly involved in drafting the report and recommendations in its study, “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants”, but the report is relevant to all 338 members of Parliament due to the nature of its contents.
Before I begin, I want to personally thank the member for for her tremendous leadership as the Conservative caucus's shadow minister for immigration. She has been tenacious in holding the government to account, while also providing meaningful alternatives in everything the immigration committee does. For that, I congratulate her and am honoured to call her a colleague, as I am with regard to both of the previous speakers, my colleagues from and .
Before I got into politics at the provincial level in 1999 and then at federal level in 2013, I never expected the amount of immigration cases my office deals with daily. We heard the same from my colleague across the way from . Even in western Manitoba, not traditionally known as the destination of many new Canadians, there has been a tremendous influx of immigrants who have decided to call west Manitoba their home. I would be willing to suggest that close to 50% of the people who call and visit my constituency office are seeking assistance with the immigration process. I suspect I am not alone in seeing this immigration caseload.
The mere fact that 50% of my constituency office's work deals with immigration is perhaps a sign that we need to improve the service delivery of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. While that is a debate for another day, I am pleased that we are having a discussion today on the committee's report regarding immigration consultants.
Individuals seek out the assistance of immigration consultants because the process is complicated, the wait times can be atrocious, and in many respects people are looking for guidance on the myriad forms they are expected to fill out. It is unfortunate that there are those in Canada who prey on vulnerable immigrants.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this problem is not getting any better. Just this week in the news, a Winnipeg man was charged with illegally acting as a certified immigration consultant, which he most certainly was not. This is not the first time the CBSA has charged someone in Winnipeg with acting as an unlicensed immigration consultant. Just last year, an individual was charged for illegally supplying immigrant workers to restaurants, who were then coerced into giving back part of their paycheques to their employers. If this were not bad enough, another individual was charged for scamming more than 80 people into paying him thousands of dollars.
It must be said, this committee's report was unanimous in its findings. In support, I certainly have other anecdotes from my own constituency that I could offer through my office from the files that we have deal with. That is why it is so important that we deal with these unanimous findings. It is very rare to have unanimous findings from parliamentary committees. It speaks volumes to the importance of getting the necessary recommendations moving.
The reason we are having this debate today is that the government's response to the committee's report was an injustice to the 50 witnesses and dozens of hours put in by committee members and staff to provide the 21 recommendations to the government.
This report shines a beacon on the actions of unscrupulous immigration consultants. If we, for one moment, could put ourselves in the shoes of a temporary foreign worker who has been scammed by a crooked immigration consultant, we could get a better understanding of why the recommendations in this report are vital to cleaning up the industry.
Temporary foreign workers are vulnerable to begin with. They are far from home, come to Canada to work in a job that probably is not that glamorous, and then are taken advantage of because they have nowhere else to turn. The problem with immigration consultants is that while many follow the proper procedures of getting licensed and do provide meaningful assistance, there is very little one can do to stop others from printing business cards and portraying themselves as fully licensed consultants. That is why this report is so important.
I want to briefly go through some of the recommendations. The first is that the Government of Canada create an independent public interest body empowered to regulate and govern the profession of immigration consultants. The reason this recommendation is so critical is that previously, the tasks associated with governing consultants was given to an body outside of the government. While l am not one to suggest that the government needs to control every aspect of society, it is quite apparent that what we are currently doing is not working.
The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council stated at committee that it receives over 300 complaints a year. The acting president of the regulatory council said that since it became the regulator six years ago, it has received over 1,710 complaints filed against consultants. Between 2010 and 2015, the active number of consultants in Canada has more than doubled. To put this into context, that is a significant number of complaints considering there are only 3,600 licensed consultants.
If we could just step back for a moment, we know that the number of complaints is probably far higher, as many immigrants are afraid of the repercussions that may arise from making a formal complaint.
The reason we should create a new independent public interest body is to maintain high ethical standards, preserve the integrity of the system, and protect applicants from exploitation and outrageous fees. The other thing an independent public interest body could do would be to set training, education, and experience standards before anyone could become an immigration consultant. The new regulatory body should also be empowered to investigate and deal with complaints in a timely manner. For these purposes, the new regulatory body should be provided with investigative and disciplinary powers similar to those exercised by Canadian provincial and territorial law societies.
The other important aspect of the report is that not only would a new body be created, but there would also be a regular review by the House of Commons to ensure that it is meeting its objectives. There should be a mechanism that would allow individuals who have been abused by unscrupulous immigration consultants to file a complaint without fear of it jeopardizing their application process or the status of their applications. Furthermore, it is important that organizations that provide the most basic of immigration services be allowed to assist applicants without fear of sanctions. In this regard, I know firsthand the amazing work that Westman Immigrant Services does in Brandon, as it fill gaps and eases the transition of newcomers adjusting to life in Canada.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada should start working with organizations that provide immigration services to educate applicants about the new regulatory body to determine if a prospective immigration consultant is in fact legitimate. The era of back-lane immigration services and shady practices must come to an end.
In Canada we must demand more than what has been happening and think of the larger consequences for those who have been negatively impacted, and also for our reputation abroad. If we must increase fines and sentences for offences carried out by crooked immigrant consultants, then let us do it. Let us work with the RCMP and provincial and municipal law agencies to find new ways to deter these individuals from ever thinking of working outside the law again. I acknowledge that not everyone in the immigration consultant business is taking advantage of others, but for far too long we have turned a blind eye to this epidemic of deception.
The committee is a great example of co-operation across party lines in putting forward a great list of recommendations, and the government should adhere to its advice. The has done a great disservice by signing off on it with the most boilerplate response humanly possible, one that was clearly drafted by his officials. There was little evidence that the government and, in particular, the minister took any serious consideration of the report. Indeed, the government refused to take a stance on any of the recommendations.
In closing, I would like to say that we should not allow the report's 21 recommendations to collect dust in the minister's filing cabinet. For one moment, if we could put ourselves in a newcomers' position, think of what it must feel like to be taken advantage of, to be cheated and to be lied to and then to find out that one is being sent away through no fault of one's own, I believe we would all agree that the time is now to move forward and implement the committee's recommendations.
Madam Speaker, being a consultant in this country is indeed a lucrative business. Do members know why? It is because there is a very weak regime for policing the consultants.
I want to thank the committee for bringing forward a very important issue and its recommendations to the House. I also want to thank my colleague from Calgary Nose Hill, and the government.
I agree with the previous speaker that because this is a unanimous report, it should be brought to the attention of the government. I do not agree with what the said, that there is so much work to be done that some of these reports will not be seen. I have been in government as well. It was unanimous, including members of his own party, that this issue needs to be corrected. It is a very small recommendation.
There is a full department of immigration. There is a who can devote his time to dealing with it as quickly as possible. Why? It is because Canadians are demanding it.
I have been in Parliament for 20 years. For 20 years my office has been inundated with requests from newcomers. When someone comes to our office, and we cannot provide the services they need, we tell them to go to a consultant. That is what the consultant regime was set up for. When we advise them to go to a consultant, of course we do not recommend which consultant, because the consultants ask for money. However, more and more, newcomers are coming back to our office and telling us that their applications have failed, yet they paid the consultant so much money. If they paid so much money, why did the consultant not do his job properly? I have then delved more into the details, and I have found, shockingly, that the recommendations given by these consultants do not match what our immigration rules require.
Our immigration rules are very clear and are on the website. Nevertheless, many people will go to a consultant, because there is a sense of comfort that if they go to a consultant, they will get the right advice and may not miss something that will cause their file to be rejected. Unfortunately, the regime is so weak that anyone can become a consultant. We have ghost consultants. Anyone can say, “I am a consultant, and I will charge you this much money.” That is why this matter was brought to the committee.
As my colleagues here, including the ones from the other side, have articulated so clearly, there is a need for quicker action on this. Just because these people are newcomers does not mean we should not have a sound regime in this country. This country is a rules-based country. Our laws are rules-based, and we believe in the law. When we have a regime that is not regulating these unscrupulous consultants who are doing these things, we must come to the conclusion that there is a serious gap in our system that needs urgent attention. Therefore, I will tell the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader that it is important that he tell his government that it needs to look at this report more carefully, and urgently, because it is a unanimous report.
Based on my experience, this is what I like about the report. I love the specific recommendation for an independent body to regulate consultants that would have the power to deal with consultants who are cheating their clients or who are ghost consultants. This is one of the best recommendations, but it should have some teeth. The current regulatory board does not have teeth. That is why we see violations by more and more consultants.
My colleague from Calgary Nose Hill was right that the Conservatives, under our former colleague Jason Kenney, brought this issue forward. We have to admit that the problem with that was that while it was voluntary, it did not achieve the result, and it was misused.
This recommendation, after listening to all the stakeholders and everyone else, clearly states that there is a need for an independent body with teeth. If there are no teeth, this will become another bureaucratic institution, probably filled with patronage appointees.
Let us go back to the whole situation and say that we have experience. Someone asked how we do that. The law societies in Canada have regulations. Every professional body has means and ways by which to regulate itself and has the teeth to bring to account people who abuse their positions. I do not see why those same simple rules cannot be applied to this regulatory body. All it requires is for the current government to act on it very quickly.
I join with my colleagues in the House to ask if we could please have the minister look at it and address the issue, because while it may not be an issue for Canadians or new Canadians, we cannot have a gaping issue in our system that is being abused because people are not following the law. Numerous examples have been articulated by MPs of how their own offices are inundated with immigration issues.
The government just announced the next batch of over 300,000 people coming to Canada. While we cannot do much about the consultants overseas, who are also abusing huge numbers of people coming in, we can indeed use the website to advise them of the issues. However, those who are here in this country should have the ability to address those issues.
Once and for all, if this is done right, this issue will go away. A lot of the workload in our offices will decrease. As well, there will be a level of comfort that we can then say that the rules are being followed in our country.
It is very important in immigration that the rules are followed. Every Canadian becomes upset when rules are not followed, as we can see with the people trying to come into our country and bypassing the rules. We have to have rules. A system without rules would not have the confidence of Canadians. That would be a matter of serious concern.
I am very happy to say that the committee came up with recommendations. If these were done, I would be one of the happiest men. This has come after a very long time. I congratulate everyone in the House. I congratulate the committee and all the members from all sides on the committee. We heard speeches in the House. It is unanimous that we want the government to take strong action in meeting the recommendations of the committee.
I will conclude by asking my friend, the , to please look at this. Let us get it done. Let us get this under way so that the regime of immigration in this country will get back on track and Canadians can have confidence in the system.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in support of the concurrence of this report, approving the government oversight of immigration consultants. What I am not pleased about is the debate that I have heard today. Although every person on that committee supported the 21 recommendations in this report and they brought it forward 10 months ago, there is no evidence that anything has happened about that.
All day long we have seen members in the government talk about this and are not able to provide any evidence of whether they will support the concurring of the motion, let alone the 21 recommendations in the report. What a waste of the taxpayer money it is when people sit at committee, come with a reasoned report that everyone is in agreement with, and the government does nothing with it.
This is not the only case I have heard of. I was part of the pay equity committee where we put a special committee together in Parliament. We heard testimony. We took a lot of time. There was an extra cost to the taxpayer and what we heard there was that the Bilson report done in 2004, 12 years ago, was actually the answer. The recommendations in there that were unanimously supported at the time were the answer. We are still trying to fix this, but no action has been taken.
It is very frustrating when I see that waste of taxpayer dollars. I also know that we have heard MPs on all sides of the House talk about how each one has nearly a full-time person in their office who spends time trying to fix up these screwed-up immigration issues. If we add that all up, that is a cost of $150 million a year. That is a huge cost to the taxpayer to fix this.
I do not understand what is so difficult about fixing it when it seems that there are people walking across the border from Quebec and Manitoba who seem to be able to get their PRCs in a matter of days or weeks instead of the aggravation of years that we are seeing in these examples.
To illustrate the toll that this is taking on people's lives as new immigrants coming to Canada, I want to share some specific cases from my riding of Sarnia—Lambton. I will protect the identity of the people.
There was one fellow who worked in a global company and his company decided to transfer him. He was a citizen of New Zealand, but he was working in Australia and the company moved him from its office in Australia to its office in Sarnia—Lambton. He came with his wife and his son. The company at the time took care of all the immigration protocols, which was fine.
He was here for three years working away and then he decided to apply to be a Canadian citizen. He hired an immigration consultant. When I look at the files that are coming through my office in immigration that are screwed up and there are lawyers who have been involved in them, there are three lawyers' names who are probably responsible for 40% of the screwed-up cases that are coming through my office. I have recommended in every circumstance that people complain to the Bar Association about this, but to no effect. They continue to operate. They continue to impact lives.
Back to the story. The fellow applied and was refused by immigration saying that the initial papers filed originally when he first came here were not correct. The guy had been here for three years, working and paying taxes. His wife was working and paying taxes, his son was attending high school. He came to our office and we tried to help him and get the original papers from New Zealand and Australia that were required to remediate. Those were submitted and then the government came back and said it has been a year and a half, almost two years by the time it looked at this, now his labour market survey had expired and he would have to start with that again. We began to undertake that. That was done and submitted.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was a downturn in the economy and the guy was laid off. He received a deportation order. Of course this is ridiculous. These are law-abiding, tax paying, hard-working citizens, the exact kind of people that we want to have come to our country and help our economic growth. Of course I intervened with the minister. I intervened five times on this file alone and it was not fixed. When officials decided to deport him back to New Zealand it was the week after a big earthquake in New Zealand. We sent this guy back with no job to an earthquake disaster zone. This is the kind of toll we are seeing from consultants who get involved and screw up files.
It is just totally unacceptable. It seems to me that if the system is so complicated that people think they need to get a consultant in the first place, something that needs to be fixed. I really like recommendation 16, which states:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada undertake a review of the use of consultants..., and develop a formal working group with members of the department and the new regulatory body to explore ways of simplifying its processes to reduce the need for third party assistance.
If it can be done for people crossing the border in the wink of an eye, certainly we must be able to simplify it so people can come and apply.
The other thing I want to say is that when it comes to foreign markets, I have had examples of people who have paid consultants in foreign places and have been totally ripped off for the money they paid, and have then been in our country and had to be deported at a huge personal cost there as well. Recommendation 14 speaks to that, and talks about educating and publicizing in these foreign places to make sure people do not think they need those consultants in order to come to our country.
I see my time is running out. I am very happy to support this, and I hope the government will take this seriously and take some action.