Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to begin by noting that over the last number of years, the department has made significant strides in laying the groundwork for a modernized client experience that simplifies the application process while maintaining the integrity of our immigration system. Our hope is that these continuing improvements will make it easier for people to access our services without the use of a consultant.
That said, we recognize that many prospective immigrants to Canada seek the services of immigration representatives or consultants, both in Canada and overseas, for help in navigating the immigration process. Similarly, prospective citizens may enlist the help of citizenship consultants before they seek the final step of applying to obtain their Canadian citizenship.
In June of 2011 the House of Commons passed legislation designed to better protect prospective immigrants from unscrupulous or fraudulent practices by such representatives. At the heart of that legislation were changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requiring that a paid immigration representative used at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding be a lawyer or a paralegal who is a member in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society.
In addition, an immigration representative can be a notary who is a member in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec, or an immigration consultant who is a member in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, the ICCRC.
There are also provisions in the law for the government to enter into agreements with certain organizations who provide valuable services to immigrants and applicants for citizenship.
In effect, the 2011 legislation made it illegal for anyone other than those I've just listed to operate as a paid representative at any stage of an immigration or citizenship application or proceeding. At the same time as these amendments came into force, the government of the day also designated the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, or ICCRC, as the regulator of immigration consultants. In June of 2015, similar amendments were made to the Citizenship Act in regard to the laws governing citizenship consultants, and the minister at the time designated the ICCRC as the regulator for such consultants.
The ICCRC is a self-governing, not-for-profit organization that has an arm's-length relationship with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. There are currently more than 3,700 active members of the ICCRC. The organization 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.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is always prepared to take aggressive action against unscrupulous and fraudulent activities by immigration and citizenship consultants when we become aware of or suspect improper activities. These damaging activities can include acting as a so-called ghost consultant; that is, providing, or even offering to provide, advice or representation for a fee at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding without being a member in good standing of the ICCRC.
When Government of Canada officials believe that an immigration or citizenship consultant has contravened any professional obligations, they have clear authority to share this information with the ICCRC, in a manner consistent with the Privacy Act.
Examples of information that can be shared are allegations or evidence of false promises made to an applicant, providing false information about Canada's immigration processes, failing to provide services agreed to between the representative and client, or counselling to obtain or submit false evidence.
The ICCRC 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. The RCMP and the CBSA are responsible for investigating both authorized consultants who engage in fraud and ghost consultants who operate outside of the law governing immigration representatives.
The ICCRC and the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants have approached our department and the CBSA about making changes to governance frameworks for the regulator of citizenship and immigration consultants. According to documents we've seen, they're interested in having the council operate similarly to law societies, with increased powers of investigation and the ability to discipline members.
To give the council these authorities would require significant legislative changes and could also impact the mandate of our security partners who are currently responsible for investigating ghost consultants and authorized consultants who engage in fraud.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada remains committed to continuing to meet regularly with representatives of the ICCRC to discuss governance issues and the council's overall effectiveness.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.