|Canada (Photo credit: palindrome6996)|
TORONTO – The feds are cracking down on bogus refugees who have either gone underground or returned home while still collecting tax-free welfare cheques.
Immigration officials are moving ahead with a plan to monitor provincial welfare rolls to identify refugees who've abandoned their claims or returned to their homeland and are still receiving benefits.
They will review cases of claimants who've had their cases refused, abandoned or withdrawn but may still be here illegally.
Millions of taxpayers' dollars are being dished out to claimants in Ontario who've lost their cases and have gone underground or returned home without notifying border authorities, government officials estimate.
About 60% of all refugees and immigrants resettle in Ontario and most are eligible for social aid, statistics show.
"(Citizenship and Immigration Canada) said it was pursuing more robust info-sharing on refused/abandoned/withdrawn asylum claims with Ontario social agencies and other relevant federal agencies," wrote Bobby Dagenais, a senior program adviser for the department in a Oct. 2011 memo.
"What is the status of these efforts?" Dagenais asked colleagues that included senior officials of Privy Council and Treasury Board in a document obtained under access to information by lawyer Richard Kurland.
The group was told that Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services "were unwilling to pursue the pilot program that CIC had proposed."
Kurland said Ontario is against the sharing of data on failed refugees.
"Ontario is thwarting Ottawa's efforts to crack down on cases where cheques are sent to people who aren't even in Canada," he said.
Enforcement officials said the program would compare the name of failed claimants against welfare collectors and a match can possibly lead to a person in hiding, their arrest and deportation from Canada.
Many of the failed claimants receiving welfare are sought on warrants for failing to leave Canada after their cases were rejected, officials said.
Some 1,400 hardened criminals and 20,000 others are sought on immigration warrants in the Toronto area, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. It is not known how many are failed claimants.
The proposal was part of a 2003 Canada-U.S. agreement on information-sharing to crack down on fraud, terrorists and failed asylum seekers.
It is among a 30-point action plan to target those who abuse the system following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Charlotte Wilkinson, of the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said her officials have been working with immigration for more than a year on improving the timeliness of their information sharing to ensure only eligible refugee claimants are accessing social assistance.
"We remain committed to ensure that our programs are helping individuals who are legally in Canada and legitimately in need of assistance," Wilkinson said.