Canadians are generous people, but have no tolerance or patience for people who don’t play by the rules and who lie or cheat to become a Canadian citizen. The government will apply the full strength of Canadian law to those who have obtained citizenship fraudulently.”
With those blunt words, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Friday in Montreal that his department and the RCMP have gathered evidence on as many as 6,500 new citizens or permanent residents who acquired their immigration status fraudulently. Mr. Kenney intends to strip them of their status and deport them, if they are in the country. He added, “Canadian citizenship is not for sale.”
Mr. Kenney and the police allege that paid immigration consultants have been helping people pretend to meet the residency requirements needed to obtain citizenship or permanent-resident status. Before being accepted, an applicant must have lived full-time in Canada for three of the previous four years. To maintain their status, they must show proof they have lived here at least two out of every five years thereafter. Unscrupulous consultants, Mr. Kenney suspects, have been helping thousands of applicants produce fake evidence that they have been living in Canada.
Many of the case of suspected fraud revolve around two consultants, Nizar Zakka of Montreal, who was arrested in 2009, and Hassan Al-Awaid of Halifax, who was charged last March. Mr. Zakka is suspected of providing would-be immigrants with false evidence that they were living in Quebec. He was also accused of helping file nearly 900 false tax returns, allegedly so absentee citizens could qualify for tax credits for child care, property tax and provincial sales tax.
Not surprisingly, many of Mr. Zakka’s allegedly fraudulent clients are Lebanese who are suspected of never having lived in Canada long enough to acquire citizenship legitimately. Why is not surprising to me that so many Lebanese are suspected? Because of the way so many suddenly remembered their devotion to Canada when war broke out in their country between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
When the bullets began whizzing and the bombs and missiles began falling, hundreds of Canadian “citizens” who hadn’t lived here for a decade or more pulled their passports out of the drawers they’d stuffed them in and started waving them around like “Get out of Hell free” cards demanding Ottawa rescue them (at Ottawa’s expense).
Many of these Canadians of convenience had come here in the 1980s and 1990s, during Lebanon’s long civil war, only long enough to obtain citizenship, then the minute they qualified and the fighting back home subsided, they beetled off to Lebanon never again to live in Canada or contribute to Canadian society. Yet once they were caught in the crossfire between Israel and radical Islamists, they insisted Ottawa send ships and planes to ferry them to safety. Then they complained the rescue wasn’t happening fast enough and, finally, were indignant about the conditions on the ships that were sent.
That’s the kind of insincere citizen Mr. Kenney is targeting. He is right that Canadians are a generous lot. We already accept more immigrants per capita than any other developed nation – more than 250,000 a year, heading towards 300,000 a year over the coming decade. So it does not make us mean-spirited or xenophobic to revoke the citizenship or permanent-resident status of a few thousand applicants who, in his words, lied and cheated to get into Canada. Indeed, doing so preserves the value of Canadian citizenship not only for people born here, but also for those new Canadians who took the time to go through the proper procedures to come here legally – a process that can take up to seven years.
For far too long, Ottawa has been cavalier about granting citizenship, refugee status and permanent residency. It hasn’t screened visa applications adequately. It has accepted at face value too many bogus stories about persecution back home. It has made little effort to deport people ordered expelled by the courts, including hundreds of violent criminals. It has seldom prosecuted people smugglers and has permitted people granted refugee status to travel freely back and forth between Canada and the homelands in which they insisted their lives were in danger. Ottawa has even done a poor job of encouraging new Canadians to adopt this nation’s values. No longer.
Under Mr. Kenney and the Tories, the visa-screening process is to be beefed up, the refugee determination system is being streamlined to help better sort true refugees from sob-story applicants, the immigration consultant industry is being cleaned up and citizenship training has been changed to emphasize the importance in Canada of the rule of law, equality between the sexes and social tolerance. This is not proof of bigotry and vindictiveness by the Tories. Rather it is, finally, a recognition that if Canadian citizenship is to mean anything, it cannot be given away like Halloween candy.
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