July 28, 2014
Blatant lying loses family its citizenship - but earns them a $63K bill from Canadian government
By Adrian Humphreys
It is a punishment historically associated with only the most egregious cases, usually accused Nazi war criminals who hid past when fleeing to Canada
Ottawa has stripped a Lebanese family of their Canadian citizenships - and handed them a $63,000 bill - after they were caught blatantly lying about living in Canada, part of a government crackdown on bogus citizens that could extend to thousands of cases.
The family - a father, mother and their two daughters - signed citizenship forms claiming they lived in Canada for almost all of the previous four years when they really lived in the United Arab Emirates, a fact even posted online in the daughters' public résumés on LinkedIn.
The bold nature of the fabrications - that successfully won them citizenship in 2008 and 2009 - and their attempts to fight Ottawa's decision brought rebuke from both the government and the Federal Court of Canada: not only have their citizenships been revoked, but they have been ordered to pay all of the government's $63,442 in legal bills.
It is a punishment historically associated with only the most egregious cases, usually accused Nazi war criminals who hid their involvement in atrocities when fleeing to Canada after the Second World War.
This case is only the beginning. The RCMP has targeted about 11,000 people from more than 100 countries suspected of fraud by misrepresenting their residency in Canada.
RCMP identified more than 3,000 citizens and 5,000 permanent residents under suspicion in ongoing large-scale fraud investigations. Most are residency claims like in this case.
After questions from officials, nearly 2,000 other people have withdrawn their applications, said Nancy Caron, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.
"Canadian citizenship is not for sale. The government of Canada is taking steps to revoke citizenship from those who have obtained it fraudulently by misrepresenting their residence in Canada while continuing to live abroad most, or all, of the time," said Ms. Caron.
"There is no statute of limitation on the revocation of citizenship."
The crackdown was announced by then minister Jason Kenney in 2012 and reiterated this year by current minister, Chris Alexander.
"My understanding is that the government didn't, in the past, go after cases like this in this way and now they are," said Robert Rastorp, a Toronto lawyer who represented the family in court.
"I think there is a strong political direction coming, ultimately from the minister's office, to pursue these cases very aggressively.
"I don't think this is the last case like this we are going to see."
'The government of Canada is taking steps to revoke citizenship from those who have obtained it fraudulently'
A spokesman for the Minister's office declined to comment on the case. A spokeswoman for the citizenship ministry confirmed the case stemmed from the 2012 crackdown that has been moving through the system.
The family arrived in Canada on Aug. 16, 2004. In 2008, each of the family members successfully applied for Canadian citizenship.
Boutros Naim Houchaime, the father, said he had lived in Canada every day for the four years prior to his application for citizenship, except for 15 trips totalling 307 days outside Canada.
Canada, however, after granting the family citizenship, revisited the case and made a diplomatic request to the United Arab Emirates for travel records on the family. (The UAE maintains strict entry and exit controls over residents who are non-citizens, court heard.)
"Mr. Houchaime was, in fact, spending the vast majority of his time living in Dubai during the relevant period, leaving the UAE only periodically for short trips abroad," Justice Anne Mactavish ruled.
Jacqueline El-Ksayer, the mother, claimed she was outside Canada only seven times for a total 133 days, during the past four years when, in fact, she left Canada a month after arriving in 2004, returning to Dubai where she remained almost exclusively except for a few short trips.
"Ms. El-Ksayer's travel history bears no relationship to the Canadian residence declared in her citizenship application," said Judge Mactavish.
Jennifer Hochaime, one of their daughters, claimed she left Canada only three times for a total of 134 days in four years.
According to UAE records, however, she actually returned to Dubai a month after coming to Canada in 2004.
She left Dubai for a couple of weeks each summer - consistent with someone attending school in Dubai. In fact, she was attending the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management from 2004 to 2008, and for most of 2007 she was in Switzerland on an exchange program, court found.
The schools confirmed she was physically present at each institution during periods she claimed to be living in Canada.
'I think there is a strong political direction coming … I don't think this is the last case like this we are going to see'
Lynn Hochaime, another daughter, claimed to be away from Canada for only 87 days during the four year period when, like her mother and sister, she returned to Dubai on Sept. 7, 2004, and remained in Dubai for most of the next four years, with short trips out of the country, mostly in the summer.
She actually was attending high school at Al Mawakeb School in Dubai until her graduation in 2007 and, contrary to her claim she enrolled at McMaster University in Hamilton in 2006, she did not start at McMaster until 2008, court heard.
Even her online LinkedIn profile showed that.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration sought a declaration from the Federal Court that the family obtained their Canadian citizenship by false representations or fraud.
In making that declaration Judge Mactavish declared their applications contained "patently false information."
"Canadian citizenship is a valuable privilege," she said when ruling that the government was entitled to be paid its legal costs from the proceedings. The extent of the costs were accepted by the court this month.The ruling and cost award is causing surprise in the legal community, said Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer and analyst who is a former chair of the Ontario Bar Association's immigration section.
"I've never seen an award of costs like this in connection with a citizenship case. The court is trying to send a message to people who abuse the citizenship program," he said. At the same time, the government is paying more attention to bogus claims after several scandals, he said.
"People should really pay attention to this case and heed the warning it provides," said Mr. Karas.
The Federal Court does not actually strip citizenship, but assesses evidence and makes a finding on each case brought before it. The Governor in Council makes decisions on actual revocations.