Reasonable Doubt: Citizenship fraud, “residency evils”, and the fear tactics of Jason Kenney
Recently, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that the federal government has identified some 3,100 Canadian citizens who may have obtained their citizenship through “residency fraud”. In other words, the government suspects these citizens lied about living in Canada and intends to investigate these alleged fraudsters to potentially revoke their citizenship.
To qualify for citizenship, an individual must have been physically present in Canada for at least three of the four years prior to applying for Canadian citizenship. Minister Kenney stated that in some cases, immigrants pay representatives to help them fake residency in Canada. The minister even provided an anecdote of a Montreal consultant who created a fake address and post box for his clients that contained nothing behind the door but a brick wall.
Many Canadians are outraged that foreigners are scamming their way into Canada, and that these immigration representatives are making a quick buck by selling out our country. Minister Kenney said he wants to amend the Citizenship Act to require all immigration representatives to be members of a regulatory body.
For once, Minister Kenney enjoyed popular support for his stance.
Unfortunately, boosting Kenney’s popularity is about the only use this news release has served. The press about these alleged fraudsters is overstating a relatively small problem and vilifying immigration consultants.
According to Minister Kenney, nearly 160,000 permanent residents become Canadian citizens each year—legitimately. The government states it has identified approximately 3,100 people who may have obtained their citizenship by lying about their residency. These investigations are ongoing. In fact, the government has only started revoking the citizenship of 600 identified fraudsters.
Assuming, for argument’s sake, that all 3,100 identified individuals have committed residency fraud—in the same year—this accounts for less than two percent of new citizens.
It is also not clear how many of these 3,100 citizens are suspected of purposefully lying about their residency as opposed to how many have misunderstood an arguably vague law. While the requirement to be physically present in Canada for at least three of the last four years seems clear cut enough, there is no clear definition of “residence” for citizenship purposes. What if a person regularly travels abroad for work? What about participating in a student exchange in another country? What if a person has to spend several months with an ailing parent in a hospice overseas?
Immigration law has developed on a case-by-case basis to allow exceptions to the physical presence requirement of residency for exceptional circumstances, but these circumstances are not clearly set out and there is little certainty for applicants, immigration representatives, or even immigration officials themselves. On review of several inconsistent Federal Court decisions respecting citizenship and residency issues, Madam Justice Reed stated that gaining citizenship “was akin to a lottery”.
Minister Kenney suggests the Citizenship Act needs to be amended to require immigration consultants to be members of a regulated body. This sounds reasonable, but most immigration consultants already are members of a regulated body—a regulated body that the minister himself created last year. In order to receive payment for representing a person in an immigration matter, or offering immigration advice, a representative must be a member of a law society or the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Counsel. It is unclear how this amendment to the Citizenship Act would further “cut down” on fraudulent consultants when the proposed amendment is already largely in place and apparently in Kenney’s view, ineffective.
Before we leap to pat Kenney on the back for a job well done, let’s look at the facts: very few new citizens are obtaining their citizenship by fraudulent means; the laws respecting residency for citizenship purposes are not clear; and immigration consultants, for the most part, are already regulated.
Fortunately for Canada, there may not be as many immigration fraudsters as Kenney would like to make it seem. Unfortunately for Canada, we have an immigration minister who uses fear tactics to distract us from the very real issues and concerns at play in the Citizenship and Immigration office.
Carmen Hamilton is an immigration and civil litigation lawyer in Vancouver. Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at email@example.com.
A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.