BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS DECEMBER 9, 2011
OTTAWA — In what's being dubbed the biggest citizenship fraud sweep in Canadian history, the federal government is set to crack down on 4,700 more people believed to have obtained citizenship or permanent resident status illegally.
The announcement comes six months after the government moved to strip 1,800 people of their Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status for the same reasons. Up until this year, Canada had revoked just 67 citizenships since the Citizenship Act came into force in 1947.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to make the announcement that "Canadian citizenship is not for sale" on Friday, Postmedia News has learned.
He will unveil the details in Montreal where Nizar Zakka — an immigration consultant suspected of fraud — was arrested in 2009. Zakka is suspected of providing would-be Lebanese immigrants with false evidence — indicating that they were living in Quebec when they were not — to support their cases for permanent residency.
He's also accused of filing or contributing to the filing of 861 false tax returns for at least 380 clients between 2004 and 2007. The returns allegedly were then used to claim refunds for child care and property taxes as well as the provincial sales-tax credit.
The bulk of the citizenship fraud cases are said to be linked to Zakka as well as Halifax immigration consultant Hassan Al-Awaid, who was charged in March with more than 50 citizenship fraud-related offences.
The cases are also tied to a third consultant from Mississauga, Ont., west of Toronto, who remains under investigation, according to a government source who noted the others were brought to light thanks to the new citizenship fraud tip line.
Unveiled in September, the tip line already has fielded 5,366 calls.
Letters are currently being sent to the 6,500 people from 100 countries indicating that Canada is revoking their citizenship or permanent resident status due to fraud.
This comes following a lengthy investigation by the RCMP and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
Alleged fraudsters, the majority of whom are not currently living in Canada, have up to 60 days to appeal the decision in Federal Court before cabinet moves to void their passports and strip them of all rights and privileges.
According to Citizenship and Immigration, to maintain permanent resident status a person must reside in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period. Permanent residents seeking citizenship must show proof that they've lived in Canada for at least three of the last four years before applying.
At the time of Al-Awaid's arrest, Kenney said he was suspected of helping people "create the appearance they were residing in Canada in order to keep their permanent resident status, and ultimately attempt to acquire citizenship."
He said investigators had linked Al-Awaid to 1,100 applicants and their dependents, 76 of whom had obtained Canadian citizenship.
He noted that many people were prevented from "fraudulently obtaining citizenship" as a result of the investigation.
The government has been taking action against citizenship fraud for some time. The Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, which imposes tough new penalties for immigration consultants convicted of fraud, including fines and/or prison, is now law in Canada.
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