The federal government believes some 1,800 Canadian citizens have obtained their citizenship through fraudulent means and it intends to revoke their status, Postmedia News has learned.The federal government believes some 1,800 Canadian citizens have obtained their citizenship through fraudulent means and it intends to revoke their status, Postmedia News has learned.
Photograph by: Richard Lam, Reuters
OTTAWA — The federal government believes some 1,800 people have obtained their Canadian citizenship through fraudulent means and it intends to revoke their status, Postmedia News has learned.
After a lengthy investigation by police and the department of Citizenship and Immigration, letters have been issued to hundreds of Canadians telling them the federal government intends to revoke their citizenship.
Individuals can challenge the decision in Federal Court but if they don't, cabinet will move to void their passports and strip them of their citizenship.
Some of the people targeted are believed to have used crooked consultants who submitted fraudulent applications on behalf of people who didn't meet the qualifications for citizenship — such as residency requirements.
"The bottom line is three years residency in Canada but a lot of people misrepresent the amount of time they spend here . . . (They) are actually living and working in Dubai, for example, but claiming they are in Canada and may be using consultants to manufacture evidence that they are here," immigration lawyer Andrew Wlodyka explained Tuesday.
Many people benefit from Canada's generosity while living in places where they don't pay income tax nor do they declare their worldwide income as they are required to under Canadian law, he said.
"I know some people who declare their income to be $30,000 when they live in a $5,000,000 house and they have a lot of property in Asia," he said from his office in Vancouver.
"We lose a lot of clients because we demand full disclosure, and a lot of the really good lawyers in town do the same, but clients don't want to disclose so they find consultants that will do whatever they want as long as they pay them," he added.
It is difficult for the government to track such cases because Canada doesn't have exit controls, residents can move easily across borders and it is difficult to track how long some have been gone.
Still, Wlodyka, acknowledged it is possible that some of the 1,800 may be victims themselves and have unknowingly committed immigration fraud by hiring unprincipled consultants.
Citizenship revocation is relatively uncommon in Canada. According to data from 2010 only 63 people have had their citizenship revoked since 1977, when the revocation process was established. Most were for reasons related to residence fraud, criminality, false identity and seven were for concealing their involvement in war crimes.
Speaking in Vancouver Tuesday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the federal government was trying to discourage immigration fraud.
"For those who simply touch down and try to get a Canadian passport as a . . . passport of convenience, who don't pay our taxes but who do consume our social benefits, I think that's dishonourable," he told a group of reporters after delivering a speech to a Vancouver Board of Trade.
"There are many ways that we are combating immigration fraud and abuse of our generosity, whether it is from (bogus) asylum claimants, crooked immigration consultants, people smugglers, people who are abusing out citizenship program," he added.
During a trip to the Punjab capital of Chandigarh in India in January 2009, Kenney said he was "floored" after seeing thousands of faked documents that had been submitted with visa applications. Many of the documents came from unscrupulous document vendors, counterfeit artists and fake immigration consultants who can charge $15,000.
Canadian citizenship can at times be a safety-net. Approximately 15,000 passport holders in Lebanon used their citizenship to get out of a war zone in 2006. The federal government spent almost $100 million bringing them home only to find out that some had rarely, if ever, set foot in Canada and that most returned to their Lebanon, their real home, as soon as situation calmed.
Last year, the Conservative government introduced legislation to streamline the time-consuming and expensive revocation process. The Tories wanted to remove the decision making from cabinet and place it in the hands of the Federal Court, which could also issue removal orders earlier in the process.