BY DAVE BATTAGELLO, THE WINDSOR STAR JUNE 29, 2011
Ottawa's move to get toughwith "crooked" immigration consultants who falsely promise victims easy entry into the country at a steep price is being applauded by a local lawyer who often helps immigrants who get scammed.
Immigration lawyer Andrew Porter talks of unscrupulous consultants who travel overseas with Power Point presentations that feature Calgary with mountains in the background, vows of automatic medical care, plus cheaper gas and housing prices.
"They paint a real attractive picture," Porter said. "They entice people to sign over money, from $10,000 to $50,000. These consultants give the impression there is a way to jump the queue. They advise people to lie and manipulate.
"But what they are doing is taking people's money - often from those Joe Comartin in desperate circumstances - and give promises that can't be kept. It happens again and again and there is no one to hold them accountable or they disappear."
The new legislation, to regulate the industry in a similar fashion as the legal and medical profession, goes into effect Thursday, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced Tuesday in Mississauga.
"The Government of Canada has promised to crack down on crooked immigration consultants and their shady practices, and with Bill C-35, we now have the tools," said Kenney.
MP Joe Comartin (NDP - Windsor-Tecumseh) applauded the new federal law, saying it will clean up a system that has been "a total disaster," ripe with abuse and self-interest.
Oversight will now fall under the newly created Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. It will be on the same level of regulatory enforcement as the law society or college of physicians, Comartin said.
Bill C-35 also strengthens rules for those who provide immigration advice and make it an offence for anyone besides an accredited representative or anyone not in good standing to conduct business.
"You have consultants doing a good job, but the previous (regulatory) agency was not doing anything to patrol and enforce the proper standards," Comartin said. "The new legislation puts into effect a new governing body with teeth and clear mandate to regulate.
"It's a significant improvement. I'm cautiously optimistic after several years of enforcement that with people who take advantage of victims we will force them out of business."
The most noteworthy case locally of alleged immigrant abuse revolves around former Windsor consultant Francesco Salvatore (Sam) Burgio, facing 28 criminal charges after allegedly bilking more than $1 million from immigrants hoping to become Canadians.
The RCMP, which investigated with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, have been in contact with at least 25 alleged victims. The amounts Burgio is accused of defrauding from his clients start at $1,300 and escalate to $394,080, according to court documents. The allegations haven't been proven in court.
Victims allege Burgio and Associates agreed to submit applications and accompanying fees on their behalf to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to help them gain status in this country. Burgio told the victims he had submitted the applications, but they eventually learned he had done no such thing, police said.
Burgio has maintained his innocence and is next scheduled to appear for a court preliminary hearing starting March 5.
But the largest amount of abuse is said to happen in the Toronto area, where consultants often operate in tandem with others inside the countries of origin.
Despite the good intentions of the new legislation, Comartin said it can't address the unscrupulous consultants based in other countries.
He indicated the next step is diplomatic agreements with nations overseas to allow enforcement.
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