Thursday, June 26, 2008


Allow more foreign investment, bank mergers in Canada: panel of experts says

3 hours ago

OTTAWA — A government-appointed panel of experts has called for a major overhaul of Canada's investment and competition laws that would make it easier for foreign firms to buy Canadian companies.

The major recommendations would end a 10-year prohibition on bank mergers, essentially make only foreign takeovers of over $1 billion reviewable, and allow more foreign competition in the airline sector, telecommunications and uranium mining.

The 134-page report does not directly tackle the hottest topic facing the government on competition policy - national security and investments by state-owned enterprises - but does assume such a test will be enacted by government.

The panel was given a letter from Industry Minister Jim Prentice stating that the government would deal with the issue separately.

On most other matters, the report's 65 recommendations, plus sub-recommendations, place emphasis on opening the doors to foreign investment rather than closing them.

"The panel believes that Canada needs to be more open to competition, as competition spurs the productivity enhancements that underpin our economic performance and ultimately our quality of life," said chair Lynton (Red) Wilson in a release issued alongside the report titled Compete to Win.

The panel calls for increasing the threshold under which foreign takeovers would be reviewed under the Investment Canada Act to $1 billion from the current $295 million, an impact that would eliminate about two-thirds of buyouts that are reviewed.

And it recommends that the onus for determining that a foreign acquisition is to the net benefit for Canada should be shifted from the applicant to the government.

As well, the panel says the government should:

-Liberalize restrictions on foreign investment in air transport, uranium mining, and the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.

-Remove the de facto ban on bank mergers.

-Allow foreign companies to own a telecommunications business as long as it does not have more than 10 per cent of market share in Canada.

-Increase limit on foreign ownership in the airline sector to 49 per cent.

-And establish a permanent Canadian Competitiveness Panel to encourage competition and report to Parliament annually.

As well, the panel urged all governments to reduce corporate and personal taxes, eliminate all internal barriers to trade and establish a national security regulator to replace the 13 different regulating bodies of the provinces and territories.

The government should use the immigration system to bring in more skilled workers, particularly in areas where Canada faces shortages, the panel said.

If enact, the measures could be as significant to the economy of Canada as the free trade agreement signed with the United Sates in the late 1980s, predicted Thomas D'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

"This is sweet music to our ears," he said. "It's comprehensive, it's deep, its far reaching. It really is a phenomenal blueprint for taking Canada into the 21st century."

While some of the recommendations would be easier to enact under a majority government, Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a former Tory cabinet minister, said some need immediate attention.

"A lot of the recommendations can start right away," he said. "A good start is the Canada-U.S. border (restrictions to travel and trade). There's a problem there and it's growing daily on the border and we need to act."

One of the hardest selling points may be the overall underlying vision of the report, which appears to downplay concerns that domestically-owned enterprises are vulnerable to foreign acquisition.

The Wilson panel, named after the former BCE Inc. executive who heads it, was formed last July following a wave of foreign takeovers and attempted buyouts in recent years that had many Canadians concerned the country's business core was being hollowed out.

Over the past several years a number of iconic Canadian companies, including the Hudson Bay Company and Alcan Inc. have been bought up or been targets of foreign firms.

But the panel recommendations, if adopted by government, would have the effect of inviting more foreign investment into Canada rather than less.

Wilson said at a press conference following the release that those concerns were taken seriously by the panel.

Current financial conditions and tight credit markets make large leveraged buyouts more difficult today, he said.

"We decided it would not be in Canada's interests to try and erect more barriers, to play defence. It would serve our interests to make sure this economy is vibrant, competitive, productive and is participating in consolidation," he said.

"If you like, we prefer the game go to the other end of the rink."

D'Aquino said he too was concerned about foreign acquisitions, particularly if they involve the loss of headquarters in Canada, but said the way to deal with the issue is not through protectionism but by allowing Canadian firms to become big enough to compete globally.

"Why is it instead of Vale (do Rio Doce) in Brazil buying Inco, why did we not form a national Canadian giant?" he asked. "Part of the impediment was in our competition laws ... the national interest is that we don't put anyone in Canada at a disadvantage who wants to bulk up to be competitive."


Lessons from Down Under

Lesleyanne Hawthorne, National Post
Published: Monday, June 23, 2008

There has been a lot of discussion of late about the Harper government's proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. When it becomes law, Bill C-50 will refine Canada's economic selection policy, giving the immigration minister the authority to identify priority occupations and fast-track applicants with skills and experience that correspond to employers' needs.

Indeed, the government's attempt to modernize the immigration selection process will bring Canada more in line with the demands of today's labour market.

Until recently, Australia and Canada had the same approach to economic migration. Canada continues to maintain a human capital approach to the immigrant selection process, which has resulted in admitting applicants with limited host-country language ability, non-recognized credentials and qualifications in fields that have weak labour market demand.

The deterioration of labour market outcomes for recent immigrants to Canada has been known for some time. The problems associated with underemployment, skills wastage and earnings gap relative to Canadian-born counterparts are now being compounded by the chronic poverty experienced by skilled and educated newcomers.

While the economic selection process has remained status quo in Canada, Australia has taken a markedly different course. Indeed, major policy differences have emerged between Canada and Australia in terms of point-based selection in the past decade. In Australia's experience the human capital model of selection had proven flawed--delivering principal applicants lacking the attributes employers sought.

Since 1999, Australia has used research evidence to exclude economic category applicants at risk of poor employment outcomes at point of entry by considerably expanding pre-migration English language testing and mandatory credential assessment, and awarding bonus points for high-demand occupations.

In redesigning its economic selection criteria, the Australian government affirmed the program's original intent: to select economic migrants who can make an immediate contribution to the economy by employing their skills at an appropriate place in the labour market. Parallel goals were to reduce skills wastage among recent arrivals and to limit the level of government investment required to support their labour market adjustment needs (by the mid-'90s, this amounted to some AUD$250-million of annual federal funding for employment, credential recognition and English-language training -- and even this was inadequate). Former international students have become important participants in the program. In theory, such students have financed their own efforts to meet domestic employers' demand: they are young and acculturated, and they have advanced English language ability and fully recognized credentials. To what extent have Australia's revised selection criteria transformed employment outcomes relative to Canada's, in a context where governments frame migration policy but employers retain the power to offer or withhold work? Simply put, degree-qualified economic migrants have performed indisputably better in Australia than in Canada in the past decade.

Far greater proportions of newcomers in Australia secure positions fast, achieve professional or managerial status, earn high salaries and use their professional credentials in work. In the process, unprecedented numbers of economic migrants have avoided labour market displacement and overqualification. These policy changes have not discouraged or distorted migration flows -- the number of economic migrants increased from 77,800 in 2004-05 to 102,500 in 2007-08. Racial and ethnic diversity has been strongly maintained. Most importantly, employment outcomes have dramatically improved for traditionally disadvantaged groups -- including economic migrants from Eastern Europe, India, the Philippines and China -- as a result of more effective screening. The Australian experience suggests such outcomes are highly amenable to policy intervention.

Important Canadian policy initiatives are already underway to improve foreign credential recognition, the transition of former international students and temporary workers to economic migration, and to expand the Provincial Nominee Program. Major sums are being invested to address labour market barriers for skilled migrants, including language and bridging courses.

These are timely initiatives, given that many skilled migrants are more likely now to face chronic low income and poverty than did previous cohorts. Alongside such measures, Canada should consider adopting mandatory pre-migration Englishand French-language assessments. It would also make sense to reevaluate the proportion of points allocated to pre-migration work experience, as it is currently systematically discounted by Canadian employers.

In the knowledge economy the stakes are high, both for economic migrants and for the nation. - Lesleyanne Hawthorne is associate dean, international, at the University of Melbourne and the author of The Impact of Economic Selection Policy on Labour Market Outcomes of Degree-Qualified Migrants in Canada and Australia, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy,

Friday, June 20, 2008


Hezbollah sleeper cells may be active in Canada: report

Adrian Humphreys and Stewart Bell, National Post
Published: Thursday, June 19, 2008

Disturbing "chatter" picked up recently by intelligence agencies about attacks against Jewish targets by Canadian-linked supporters of Hezbollah has prompted an alert to Canada's Jewish community urging added caution.

Anti-terrorism officials, however, are officially downplaying a startling U.S. news report that says the banned terrorist organization, which is backed by Iran, has activated four suspected "sleeper cells" in Canada and that a known Hezbollah weapons expert was followed here and seen at a firing range south of Toronto.

An ABC News report on Thursday said three U.S. law enforcement agencies confirmed being briefed on the developments.

"Suspected Hezbollah operatives have conducted recent surveillance on the Israeli embassy in Ottawa, Canada, and on several synagogues in Toronto, according to the officials," according to the ABC report.

The report says one of the cells is known as "Rashedan" and that cell members have been told to send their family members home to Lebanon.

Over the past week, the National Post has been investigating its own reports of an intelligence-led investigation of Hezbollah activities in Canada, including activity focused on the Ontario border cities of Windsor and Niagara Falls.

Those under suspicion include men who were overseas in the summer of 2006 to fight with Hezbollah during the renewed conflict with Israel in Lebanon.

There has indeed been chatter -- references to various bits of intelligence picked up by various security sources -- that attacks should be carried out against Jewish targets in Canada and abroad, the Post has learned.

The Jewish communities in Toronto and Rome were mentioned as possible or desirable targets. That does not mean an attack is imminent or a specific attack has been mapped out.

When asked on Tuesday about the Hezbollah threats, Stockwell Day, the Public Safety Minister, confirmed that Canadian authorities were keeping an eye on the organization, which is listed as an outlawed terrorist group under Canadian law.

"It's something that's watched," Mr. Day said.

On Thursday, Mélisa Leclerc, a spokeswoman for Mr. Day, declined to be any more specific.

"As you can appreciate, the Minister cannot comment on operations that Canada's security agencies may or may not be undertaking. The government of Canada remains vigilant in our efforts to preventing a terrorist act both at home and abroad.

"Hezbollah is a listed entity. It is a crime to knowingly participate in certain activities of this organization," Ms. Leclerc said.

CSIS, Canada's spy agency, referred calls on the matter to Mr. Day's office.

RCMP Superintendent Jamie Jagoe, one of the federal police force's top national security officers in Ontario, said details of ABC's report do not reflect his understanding.

"We open investigations and routinely conduct investigations relative to the national security of Canada. We treat every one seriously and conduct complete and thorough investigations," he said in an interview on Thursday.

"At the present time there is no known specific threat to any specific location in the city of Toronto or anything like that. We have many ongoing investigations involving listed terrorist organizations. I can't get into specifics, but I can say we have lots of ongoing investigations."

Special Agent Richard Kolko of the Federal Bureau of Investigation similarly characterized the report.

"Hezbollah remains a threat to security in different parts of the world. The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces conduct investigations into different groups that potentially pose a threat to the U.S. or our interests overseas; however, the FBI and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] have no specific intelligence about any group or so-called sleeper cells planning an attack."

That leaves Canada's Jewish community facing mixed messages.

Bernie Farber, chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said an alert is being sent to Jewish cultural institutions and synagogues.

"We will ensure that everyone is aware and remind everyone that you never let your guard down because we, as a community, just can't do that," Mr. Farber said.

"What we have been told is that there is nothing specific to Canada. That's what we have been told. Yes, there is chatter. We don't have anything to suggest there is any significant change in terms of imminence. There are some mixed messages but the bottom line is: we're aware, our security is aware and we will keep an eye out."

Supt. Jagoe said Canada has long been home to terrorist operatives.

"Every terrorist group out there has an infrastructure which allows them to raise funds, move goods or what have you. That is part of their modus operandi and Canada is not immune to that. Particularly fundraising," he said.

"Terrorist groups operate in Canada - they may not necessarily be building a bomb in their basement to kill a bunch of people, but they could be raising money or building support mechanisms or it could be a safe haven for them where they come here and bed down and not be noticed."

According to a 2006 report by Canada's Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, Hezbollah "has a presence in Canada." The report says Hezbollah "activities in Canada include fundraising ... collection and the procurement of equipment."

Another threat assessment report says Hezbollah "has had a presence in Canada since 1987, with supporters in major Canadian cities."

Concern about Hezbollah's interest in attacks on the West have increased significantly since Feb. 12, when key Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mugniyah was killed by a car bomb in Damascus.

Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's Secretary-General, blamed Israel and promised revenge. Since then, counterterrorism officials have closely watching Hezbollah for signs of an attack. In 1992, Hezbollah bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 22 and, two years later, blew up a Jewish community centre in the Argentine capital, killing 85.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Embassy, June 18th, 2008

Immigration Consulting Industry a Mess, Needs Major Reforms: Committee

A law society-like organization should replace the current Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, the Commons' immigration committee has recommended in a report.

By Michelle Collins

It was just over a decade ago that the federal government first waded into the flourishing and troubled business of immigration consultants, those who help prospective immigrants navigate the bureaucratic hurdles to settling in Canada.

With no oversight body to monitor their activities, just about anybody could claim to be an immigration consultant with the skills and access necessary to help those who want to obtain permanent residency in Canada.

But the business was rife with problems and as allegations of unacceptable practices surfaced at the federal level, the Commons' standing committee on immigration responded in 1995 by conducting a study into the matter and soon thereafter, an advisory committee was struck.

As a result, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) was established in 2003 as a regulatory body at arms-length from the government. As of April of this year, the only people the government will recognize to conduct affairs on behalf of immigrants are licensed members of CSIC, lawyers and notaries.

But four years later, yet another Commons' immigration committee study has found that the industry remains a mess and that CSIC hasn't been able to sort things out.

Following three weeks of cross-country hearings, the committee tabled a report in the House last week, and made a total of nine recommendations.

First, members found that CSIC is powerless to regulate and discipline so-called "ghost consultants"—those who are not at all licensed and who often mislead and rip-off vulnerable would-be immigrants. To that end, it found the organization is failing to protect the public from unscrupulous activities as per its mandate.

In order to fulfil its role, the committee recommended, the organization should be set up similar to a law society through stand-alone legislation, rather than as the non-profit corporation it functions as now.

In addition to re-vamping the structure of CSIC, the committee recommended the government "assist in re-establishing the new regulator and remain involved in its affairs until it is fully functioning."

But the recommendation that would have the greatest impact is that the government require the disclosure of the names of all those consulted in preparing an immigration application, even those who help with pre-submission work—that which is done before it reaches the government level.

The government would require that every one of the individuals who advises or consults a person who is the subject of a proceeding or an application be an authorized representative, "whether for a fee or unpaid."

The committee also called for better co-ordination between the enforcement bodies, such as the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP, and that websites of Canadian embassies and missions abroad present information about immigration consultants in the local languages, along with a list of authorized representatives.

Immigration committee members have requested that the government table a comprehensive response to the report. However, with the House set to rise for summer break, this will take until the fall at least.

Cross-Canada CSIC Concerns

The findings that CSIC hasn't been working as well as it should come as little surprise to most observers and even those in the industry itself who for years have been calling on the department of immigration to address problems ranging from CSIC's lack of authority to its troubled governance and fiscal operations.

A year ago, a Toronto Star investigation uncovered that even some consultants who were licensed with CSIC were making false promises to migrants and charging high fees with no results.

In several letters to the minister of immigration over the past few years, the Canadian Bar Association has urged the minister of the day to respond to ongoing concerns that the organization has failed to put an end to rogue consultants and ongoing allegations of fiscal mismanagement by CSIC's board.

"The CBA recommends that if CSIC is not fulfilling its mandate, then its members should no longer be recognized as authorized representatives...and appropriate steps should be taken to regulate consultants," states the most recent letter, sent earlier this year to Immigration Minister Diane Finley.

While CSIC members contacted by Embassy say they are pleased the committee has recognized that the organization lacks the tools and authority needed to properly do its job, larger problems related to CSIC's governance are taking on an increasing urgency amongst some of its 1,300 members.

During the committee's study, most of the immigration consultants who testified on the issue were CISC members who expressed strong criticisms of the regulator.

Many delivered strong critiques of the overall lack of transparency and accountability that has persisted since the inception of CSIC and complained that the annual $2,000-plus in membership fees to the non-profit corporation are too high.

Other concerns included alleged extravagant compensation and spending by board members, including a spacious Bay Street office in Toronto and frequent travel that contributes to unnecessary overhead costs.

"I have watched with concern as non-legally trained directors appointed to CSIC, entrusted with significant legal powers, appeared to disregard the rule of law, interpret the mandate in self-serving ways, and run roughshod over members' rights," said Lynn Gaudet, a lawyer and Canadian immigration consultant based in Calgary, in her testimony to the committee.

In March 2007, CSIC's board amended the rules of professional conduct to make it an offence for members to bring discredit by "undermining or attempting to undermine the Society's mandate and/or governing principles."

Despite this, one of the more outspoken members has been Kay Adebogun, a Regina-based immigration consultant and a member of CSIC since it started. Mr. Adebogun said he's willing to voice his concerns publicly because all are rooted in fact.

During his time before the committee, Mr. Adebogun said CSIC lacks a strong foundation and requires the minister of immigration to become more involved.

"The initial board members have not delivered a self-governing profession, as was their task," Mr. Adebogun said. "Rather, they have usurped themselves all authority in all areas comprising a self-governing profession and have denied members their rightful role in the society. The go-it-alone attitude is, in my view, destroying the profession."

At the beginning of the committee report, several of these concerns are highlighted, reflecting the fact the committee heard from many consultants "whom expressed great dissatisfaction with the way CSIC is currently governed."

Among these are that the CSIC membership exam was prepared and marked in a questionable way; that CSIC decision-making lacks transparency and is not conducted democratically; that the ability of members to voice concerns with CSIC has been limited since the CSIC Rules of Professional Conduct were amended, making it a professional offence to "undermine" CSIC and compelling members to treat CSIC with "dignity and respect."

Chair Defends Organization

But in an interview with Embassy last week, CSIC chair John Ryan dismissed the concerns and said the organization follows best corporate practices and is transparent with its membership.

"I think there's no reason for us to respond because many of the complaints that were voiced were simply not correct, the bylaws provide for a democratic expression at the members' will," Mr. Ryan said. "I think in essence many of the comments that were made at the House of Commons committee are just dead wrong."

Mr. Ryan said he was pleased with the committee's recommendations, but that many of CSIC's problems are the result of growing pains.

"So we're certainly pleased to see the committee's recognized that CSIC certainly has to get at the other problems people to seem to want us to get at require more tools to do in that sense we're pleased."

But Liberal committee member Andrew Telegdi said concerns about CSIC were voiced at each stop as the committee held hearings across Canada in April.

"We heard that loud and clear across the country," Mr. Telegdi said. He said the committee was aware members were afraid to speak out and he had to stress to Mr. Ryan that witnesses who criticized CSIC and his board were under parliamentary immunity and their comments could not be the basis for action against them.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Tough rules urged for immigration consultants

June 13, 2008
Nicholas Keung
Jim Rankin

The organization that oversees immigration consultants is toothless and should be dismantled, replaced by a statutory body empowered to go after unscrupulous advisers who prey on vulnerable migrants, urges a report tabled in the House of Commons yesterday.

The report by the standing committee on citizenship and immigration, following three months of cross-country consultation hearings examining issues facing Canada's immigration system, found the current regulatory model is full of glaring loopholes that allows anyone to call themselves an immigration consultant and to operate with little or no scrutiny.

The introduction of an "Immigration Consultants Society Act" to govern such professionals is a key recommendation by the all-party committee. It proposes a new regulatory body be set up to run like a provincial law society and have the power to pursue and punish non-members who pass themselves off as consultants. The committee, however, says the federal government must assist in re-establishing the new body and remain involved until it is off the ground.

The committee's report – to be followed by two others on temporary foreign workers and Iraqi refugee resettlement – comes a year after a Star investigation found serious flaws with the 4-year-old Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC), the current organization set up in 2004 to protect would-be immigrants, sponsoring families and refugees who place their trust and money in the hands of consultants.

"The committee believes that problems at CSIC are attributable to more than just growing pains," said the 30-page report. "Fundamentally, the Society has not been given the tools it needs to succeed as a regulator ... (and) has no power to sanction immigration consultants who are not members of the Society."

The report also lashed out at the mismanagement of the regulator's board, which has drawn numerous complaints from its roughly 1,000 members for its lack of transparency, accountability and democracy.

Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the report reflects the advocacy community's feelings toward consultants.

"We have seen immigrants and refugees being exploited and abused for so many years, the question is whether there is a will for the government to make things happen and better look after migrants' interests," she said. CSIC could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Schools will not turn away illegals

'Our Responsibility'; Premier resists call to adopt 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy

Diana Mehta And Natalie Alcoba, National Post
Published: Thursday, June 12, 2008

Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday all students are welcome in Ontario schools, even as a new Toronto report suggests illegal immigrants face difficulties enrolling their children.

"A child shows up at the door looking for an education and our responsibility is to provide that education," Mr. McGuinty told reporters yesterday.

"If the federal government feels that child, that family, should not be in our province, then that is something they should do something about. But we are not going to start picking and choosing which kids are going to be allowed into the classroom."

The Premier stopped short of saying whether or not schools should ask parents about their immigration status.

He also did not address the "Don't Tell" part of a public campaign to shield people who are living illegally in Canada from police or immigration officers who seek their deportation.

A report released yesterday by the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto urged the government to adopt a province-wide "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to ensure that families feel safe sending their children to school.

"School officials [should] not be allowed to 'ask' about a student, parent or guardian's immigration status, and if s/he learned that a student, parent or guardian was without status, the staff, administrator or educator would not share this information with others, particularly law enforcement or immigration officials," the report says.

Researchers say it's the first Canadian study about access to education for the children of illegal immigrants, albeit with a small sample size of 17 participants.

Four participants could not enrol their children in Toronto District School Board schools because of their immigration status and one parent was turned away four times. Almost all were asked to provide some sort of immigration documentation by the school, even though the Toronto District School Board adopted a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy last year following the high-profile deportation of four children who attended Toronto Catholic schools.

The 17 participants -- 14 parents, two youths and one grandmother -- were originally from the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe and had been living in Canada from three months to 18 years. In total, they had 17 children who were eventually able to enroll in a Toronto school without immigration status.

Toronto police have implemented a partial policy by which they are not supposed to ask for the immigration status of victims or witnesses of a crime, unless they have a bona fide reason to do so.

The City of Toronto has started implementing an unofficial policy to ensure that undocumented workers have access to basic municipal services, including emergency response services, public transit, public health and programs for children.

City employees are not supposed to ask anyone for their immigration status unless required by law, such as in the case of the Ontario Works program.

The policy has not come before city council for debate or approval.

Councillor Joe Mihevc (St. Paul's) said it's not the city's role to act as an agent for another level of government through its services.

"We think [the policy] is helping people normalize their functioning in this city and that is a good thing. It allows them to have their kids in school, feel safe and secure in their homes and yes, there may be a concern of another order of government, but that's their issue," he said.

Not demanding proof of status for most city services, and not sharing status information with other levels of government also help keep all Toronto residents safer, Mr. Mihevc said.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Commons passes sweeping changes to immigration law

Liberals oppose reform, but few show up for fear of sparking election

June 10, 2008
Bruce Campion-Smith
Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA–Sweeping – and controversial – immigration reforms that will shake up the way Canada chooses its newcomers passed a final vote in the Commons last night.

Bill C-50, a budget-implementation bill containing the immigration reforms, passed 120-90 despite the criticism of opposition parties. The Liberals say they oppose the changes, but, in a deliberate move to avoid sparking an election, they didn't vote in sufficient numbers to defeat the legislation.

Under the changes, Immigration Minister Diane Finley will have the power to issue "instructions" to her department to give priority to categories of immigrants whose job skills are in demand in Canada. She would also have the power to refuse applications in other categories.

Concentrating such power in the hands of the minister will invite the "politicization" of the immigration system, immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said yesterday.

"There's no longer a transparent, predictable, outcome in any immigration application," he said. It's no longer first come, first served. In comes ministerial priorities and cherry-picking."

Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan) was left defending the Liberal opposition to the bill, even though most of his caucus colleagues stayed away from the vote.

"We don't support the direction in which the government is going and we will have ample time in an election campaign to in fact illustrate that the Liberal plan for this country is much better," he told reporters.

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) suggested the Liberals were being two-faced in their public denunciations of the bill, while letting it pass.

"How could it be possible that they let this pass? It's unbelievable. It's betraying the trust of ordinary Canadians and it's hypocrisy to the nth degree," she said.

Kurland said he's heard that Finley's "instructions" have already been prepared and are ready to be introduced once the Senate gives its endorsement and the bill becomes law.

"I'm suggesting they're already out there, at the (foreign offices) and not disclosed yet. It's that far advanced," he said. "There will be no delay in implementation."

He said the move away from the traditional points system to determine successful applicants will unleash a wave of political activism in Canada among immigrant groups seeking to ensure their respective groups are fairly represented amongst newcomers.

However, Finley spokesperson Tim Vail said the minister's "instructions" would only set quotas for job categories and not specific locations.

In the hours before the vote, NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the Liberals to oppose the changes and stand up for "immigrant communities."

"We're changing the whole nature of the way in which we approve immigrants," Layton said.

"We're reducing the number of immigrants and families who are coming in under the family programs and we're increasing the number of people coming in as temporary workers to the tune of tens of thousands of these people who are now coming in with no possibility of bringing their family or helping us to build the community," he said.

Layton said if Finley is truly interested in cutting the backlog of more than 900,000 applicants, she should deploy more staff to the offices where the waits are the longest.

"This is the more logical approach," he told reporters.

In defending the changes, Finley has said that the immigration system faces "collapse" and is already losing skilled workers who are migrating to other countries rather than face the lengthy wait to get into Canada.

She was not available for an interview yesterday. However, in an email, Vail called the Conservative party the "pro-immigration party."

"We value the contribution newcomers have made in building Canada. We want more newcomers to join us, more to be reunited with their families and more to become successful Canadians," Vail said.

He said the minister's instructions to immigration officers will enable "people with those skills (to) enter Canada more quickly."

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where a committee has already begun a review.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Too many new immigrants unaware of tax-filing requirements: revenue agency

1 day ago

OTTAWA — One of every three recent immigrants to Canada who have never filed an income-tax return were either unaware of the requirement or simply didn't know how, suggests internal research for the Canada Revenue Agency.

A study, based on focus groups involving more than 500 people, also found that almost half were unaware that all of their income from around the world, not just in Canada, must be declared.

"The survey results showed that the level of awareness of the requirement to report worldwide income was quite low," says a report obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The study was based on 10 focus-group sessions held in the Toronto area in 2002. A total of 522 people participated, most of them referred by local schools offering English-language training.

Surveys filled out anonymously by the recent immigrants showed that most - almost two-thirds - had never filed a Canadian income-tax return. Many of these were low-or no-income students who were not required to file.

But 16.5 per cent failed to file because they didn't know they had to. And another 16.1 per cent did not complete the complex tax forms because they did not know how.

The relatively high numbers of poorly informed new Canadians suggested to researchers that an education campaign was sorely needed.

The agency's study - its most recent on the tax-filing behaviour of new immigrants - was a pilot project that was prompted by alarms the auditor general sounded in the 1990s that Canada was not collecting enough tax on foreign income.

The concern was compounded by consultations with tax professionals, who said many new immigrants know little about the Canadian tax system, especially the need to report foreign income.

The 2002 findings have since sparked a second round of focus-group studies, partly intended to help craft a multi-media advertising campaign designed to ensure recent immigrants know all the rules.

Last month, the survey firm Ipsos-Reid held six focus groups: two in the Punjabi language in Vancouver, two in Mandarin in Toronto, and two in Arabic in Montreal.

Forty-eight people took part in the sessions May 13-15, which the agency commissioned for $62,000. Analysis and results are expected in the late summer or early fall.

The focus groups were asked "to discuss reasons why they might not file, what type of information they require in order to help them file and what is the best way to provide the information," says an agency planning document.

The tax department had hoped to launch its new ad campaign this summer, but the project has been postponed until after Ipsos-Reid reports its findings.

"We don't have any early (survey) results," said agency spokeswoman Jacqueline Couture. "That ad campaign for now is not moving forward."

The proposed multi-media advertising, expected to run until 2010, may include motivational messaging that paying taxes is a "duty" and the "Canadian way of life," says an agency document.

Officials also want to raise the prospect of penalties.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


This story appeared in the Times of India:

Now, rent-a-wedding route to Canada

8 Jun 2008, 0214 hrs IST,Neelam Raaj,TNN

NEW DELHI: Kabootar-baazi has been the time-tested way of getting to Canada. Now, some hopefuls have discovered a cheaper and less risky option.

Not Malta or Turkey, this route goes via the altar. A phoney wedding to a Canadian has become the easiest way of acquiring a resident visa.

In this rent-a-wedding route to immigration, the finery, garlands, guests and even the spouse are all conveniently arranged by an unscrupulous consultant who is hand-in-glove with a local temple.

What tipped off Canadian visa officials in Delhi were photographs of different weddings submitted as evidence for sponsoring overseas brides and grooms to Canada all with the same guests.

Further investigation led them to the conclusion that marriage-for-convenience syndicates were at work. "At a price, you can get packaged services with a wedding ceremony where people stand in as guests and relatives, posing for photos as in a real marriage," says Canadian immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained an internal government report through an access-to-information request.

What makes the rent-a-wedding option so attractive is that under the current immigration system, an Indian can go to Canada within six months of marrying a Canadian.

What’s more, unlike countries like Australia where it is mandatory for a newly arrived spouse to spend at least two years with his or her partner to be eligible for permanent residency, Canada grants this status on arrival.

This has led to the phenomenon of sham marriages. "Cases have come to light in which Canadian nationals have agreed
to sponsor Indian spouses for monetary gain around 10,000-12,000 Canadian dollars. The couple then lives apart and
get divorced within one year," says Ramesh Maharaj, vice-president of a group called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud.

A risk analyst for a Toronto bank, Maharaj says he is a victim of another kind of sham marriage in which a foreigner ties the knot and then jilts the Canadian spouse. Recently, a woman from the South Asian community was on her way to Toronto’s Pearson airport to meet her Indian groom when she got a call on her cellphone. "Don’t bother waiting for me," he told her. "I’ve just landed in Vancouver and I’m staying here."

In an email response, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said it was concerned about marriages of convenience and had been investigating such cases. Visa officials were also being trained in better interview techniques so that they could determine whether a couple genuinely wants a life together.

"Marriages of convenience have become a huge problem in Canada and in as many as 80% of the cases, Indians are involved," says Maharaj, whose wife left him soon after he sponsored her entry into Canada from India. What's worse for jilted Canadian nationals is that in order to sponsor their immigrant spouses, they have to agree to financially support them for three years.

If the newcomer draws on social assistance even if they have run out on their spouse the Canadian sponsor is still on the hook to pay that money back to the government.

"Unwitting Canadian sponsors invest not only their hearts but thousands of dollars in paperwork, long-distance phone calls and airfare," points out Maharaj, who fought a long battle to get his wife to Canada not knowing she would abandon him.

But it isn't just Indians who do the jilting, the wed-and-fled route has been taken by some Canadians as well. There have been many instances of Indo-Canadians travelling to Punjab to marry for dowry and then leaving their brides behind.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Illegal immigrants warned

Francis tells border jumpers not to consider Canada a soft touch

Steven Edwards
Canwest News Service

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

NEW YORK - Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said Monday Ottawa needs to begin a massive publicity campaign across the United States to warn illegal immigrants they should think twice about seeing Canada as a soft touch.

Speaking after telling an immigration conference in New York of the crisis Windsor suffered last fall -- when hundreds of Mexicans fleeing an illegal immigration crackdown in Florida crossed through the tunnel and made refugee claims -- Francis said undocumented people need to know that heading for Canada may not be in their best long-term interest.

"It should be made clear that, yes, they may be allowed entry into Canada, and yes, there may be a delay before your case is heard, but once your case is heard, the likelihood of success is very slim," Francis said at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College.

"And they should also be told not to relocate your families because you may be sent back."

Starting in August, Mexican illegal immigrants began crossing from the United States into Windsor by the hundreds, followed by Haitians -- many originating in Naples, Fla., where some say they paid a local operator $500 for an information and transportation package that would supposedly result in their receiving refugee status in Canada.

Under Canadian law, Windsor and Ontario were obliged to offer shelter and welfare funds to applicants while cases made their way through the process.


But the majority of such cases are rejected -- and the people are deported back to their home countries.

The success rate for Mexicans is about 13 per cent, although the rate for Haitians is higher. More than 550 have come to Windsor, though the numbers have slowed considerably since the first two months.

"In Naples we were reactive in terms of the federal government of Canada," Francis said of a publicity campaign the government launched in Florida to warn locals of the likely outcome unless they were bona fide refugees.

"The government at the federal level now has to be proactive in terms of communicating, and getting out ahead of the curve in other parts of the United States."

The necessity of an immediate campaign, Francis said, stems from the observation of several conference speakers that state and city authorities in the U.S. are expected to become increasingly involved in turning in illegal immigrants in the absence of comprehensive federal reform to deal with an estimated 12 million undocumented people. As the threat they will be discovered increases, people search for a way out.

"That's what triggered the Naples (exodus)," Francis said.

He acknowledged the campaign might be costly -- but financing it was "better than having to provide social services and health care" to increasing numbers of people.

"We have our consulates, we have our local agencies, we have the network there to get the message across," he added of Canada's reach into the United States.

Francis also said the federal government should work to speed up the refugee application process -- which can currently take up to two years to complete. Doing so would reduce the window during which applicants who are eventually unsuccessful can live in Canada.


Vicious gang planned murder of law enforcement worker; 17 charged

2hours ago

TORONTO — Police in Toronto have charged 17 alleged members and associates of a notorious international gang that officers say was plotting to kill a member of the criminal justice system.

Toronto and Halton Regional police executed 22 search warrants, made 17 arrests and laid 63 charges after a five-month investigation into the gang known as MS-13, which has an estimated worldwide membership of more than 60,000.

More detailed information about the individual who was allegedly targeted by the gang was not immediately released to protect the ongoing investigation, as well as the safety of the unnamed target and the public, police told a news conference Thursday.

The targeting of law enforcement officials is a typical practice of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha - a Central and South American gang that has infiltrated the United States and has activity in Canada.

"We uncovered (the plot) during our investigation and as a result the arrests were effected (Wednesday)," said Staff Insp. Greg Getty.

Four men - Jorge Salas, Luis Salas-Reyes, Hector Sanhueza and Ronald Moratay-Cruz, all of Toronto - are charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Charges against 13 others include drug trafficking, obstructing police, possession of counterfeit money and numerous firearms and weapons offences.

Those charged range in age from 19 to 46. All are from Toronto, according to a police release.

Members of the gang are allegedly implicated in the distribution of drugs and firearms and have been linked to several violent robberies.

Police seized 6.5 kilograms of cocaine, prohibited weapons - including a sawed off shotgun - and more than $40,000 in what police described as the "proceeds of crime."

Toronto police Chief William Blair said the gang's activities in Canada have been monitored for years, but the investigation leading to Wednesday's crackdown marks the first time the gang was seen as attempting to organize.

"We have seen members of MS-13 in municipalities across Canada engaged in some types of criminal activity - robbery, drug trafficking, firearms offences, assault against police," Blair said.

"But this is the first investigation that has revealed the organization of a clique of the MS-13, where the members identified themselves as members of that gang, where there is some leadership within the clique itself."

Police are working with other police departments and federal authorities, as well as agencies in the United States, Central America and South America, to monitor and control the gang, he added.

Blair said the gang doesn't have national leadership and tends to structure itself around local leaders in a cell, or clique, formation.

"What we saw emerging here in this investigation here in Toronto was one of those cliques," he said. "And so we have dismantled that clique by cutting off its head and arresting the people responsible for its organization."

He said he believes police have effectively stopped the Toronto-based cell, but that Canada remains exposed to the threat of MS-13.

"Given their history of violence and transnational nature, their disregard for borders, their propensity to use violence particularly against participants in the criminal justice system and in an attempt to intimidate witnesses and communities, their threat remains a significant one here in Canada."

Canada's borders and criminal justice system is vulnerable to gang infiltration, he said, noting that many of those charged came to Canada as refugees from Central America.

Police are working with border services to establish backgrounds on some of those charged, many of whom entered Canada from the U.S.

Authorities say they will continue to monitor the gang's activities both in Toronto and across the country so it cannot gain a strong local foothold.


Here is a story from Not surprisingly, most mass conferences in the past, especially those dealing with religious or AIDS groups, have served as an excuse for hundreds of people remaining in Canada and asking for "refugee" status.

Hundreds of religious conference delegates in Que. denied visas

Marianne White
Canwest News Service

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

QUEBEC - Organizers of a series of conventions to be held in Quebec City in the coming weeks are pulling their hair out over Immigration Canada's decision to turn down the visa requests of many African citizens.

Citing fears that the delegates will refuse to leave the country after the events, Ottawa has refused to let many of them in.

Among those rejected candidates are priests and participants in the International Eucharistic Congress expected to bring together 11,000 delegates starting June 15.

Of the more than 1,200 people who have requested a visa to attend this specific event, fewer than 500 have so far received their visa. Many have been sponsored by local religious groups.

Organizers are baffled by the situation, especially since they notified Canadian immigration authorities more than two years ago about the event.

"I got calls from four different embassies asking me if I personally know the people requesting a visa," said Msgr. Jean Picher, secretary general of the event. "Of course I don't know them all personally, but they are not random people, they were selected by bishops in their country."

The situation is also causing headaches to organizers of a meeting of young people of the Francophonie. Their meeting started Tuesday without their president, a Guinea resident whose visa request was turned down like that of 12 other participants.

"What does it say about Canada, this so-called open and welcoming country?" said disappointed Mohamed Salem, organizer of the event.

A meeting of international librarians and an international conference on seniors also bumped into problems with Immigration Canada.

Opposition parties in Ottawa jumped on the story Wednesday and accused the federal government of being overzealous.

"We are talking about priests and laymen recommended by religious authorities in their country, not about bad terrorists. What can explain this zeal?" Bloc Quebecois MP Pierre Paquette asked in the House of Commons.

"It's impossible to guarantee that all requests will be approved because every single one has to be reviewed individually," Immigration Minister Diane Finley replied. "That being said, I asked my civil servants to treat all requests in a timely and fair fashion."

Paquette fired back that the situation is shameful and hurts Canada's image.

"The security and protection of our people here is our first responsibility as government," Finley said, refusing to explain why so many requests were turned down.

The Quebec government also voiced its concern and asked the federal government to speed things up.

"We have voiced concerns repeatedly," said Philippe Couillard, the minister responsible for Quebec City's 400th anniversary celebrations.

As part of the year-long festivities, dozens of major conventions are held in the city this year, including the Francophonie Summit in October.

"I understand that security matters, but this being said, this situation is not good for our country. It doesn't convey a good image of Canada and Quebec," he added.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008



Ottawa drops English exam

Move on immigrant test follows Star story

June 04, 2008
Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Immigration Reporter

Ottawa has dropped its idea of making all immigrants take a rigorous British-made language test to get into the country.

"They realized the ludicrousness of it," Alex Stojicevic, chair of the immigration section of the Canadian Bar Association, said yesterday.

"The optics of it were terrible. Telling Americans they need a language test to come to Canada makes us look silly."

Stojicevic wrote to Immigration Minister Diane Finley three times to object to the rule change and Monday night got a call from Leah Olson, Finley's senior policy adviser, with the news the immigration lawyers had won.

The Star published a story Monday about the three-hour International English Language Testing System exam created at the University of Cambridge in England. Immigration officials championed its impartiality and efficiency, but language experts objected to its academic tone and un-Canadian content.

The ministry proposed all immigrants, without exemption, take the three-hour International English Language Testing System exam – or a French equivalent – already used by Britain and Australia to judge how well newcomers speak English. A mandatory test at one of hundreds of testing centres around the world would make the system fairer, quicker and more efficient, the government said when it proposed the changes in April. Immigration lawyers had wanted exemptions for native English speakers or lower pass marks for tradespeople.

"It was just a simple proposal. It's not moving forward," was all Finley press secretary Tim Vail would say.

That means the status quo remains and prospective immigrants can produce their own documents to prove how well they speak English, or take the IELTS test.

If the government wants a fair and efficient test, Carleton University Professor Janna Fox of the School of Linguistics has a plan ready to go. "A team of Canadian experts could quickly come up with a practical, efficient, economical and Canadian solution" that visa offices could use around the world, she said. "It isn't as if we don't have a long history of excellent test development."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Commons to vote on motion to offer haven to American military deserters

16 hours ago

OTTAWA — American military deserters who fled to Canada rather than serve in Iraq hope Parliament will grant them what the immigration system and the courts have denied them: a safe haven.

The House of Commons votes Tuesday on a motion urging the government to allow deserters and their families to stay in Canada as permanent residents, as was done for the draft dodgers and war resisters of the Vietnam era.

The vote comes a little more than a week before Corey Glass, a 25-year-old Californian and former national guardsman, is supposed to voluntarily leave Canada, the first of what may be a stream of American deserters rejected as refugees and ordered out of the country.

Glass claimed he didn't see the national guard as an instrument of war.

"I signed up to defend people and do humanitarian work," he said in pleading to be allowed to stay in Canada.

The motion, brought in by Toronto New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, has the support of all three opposition parties and should pass handily.

But it's a non-binding resolution and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, which wants to deport these people, is free to ignore it and likely will do so.

"Mr. Harper while in opposition, said that ignoring Parliament is an insult to democracy," Chow said. "If he chooses to insult the people of Canada and their elected representatives ... he could choose to do so."

The government says it opposes creating a unique policy in these cases.

"The creation of a special program just for deserters is at odds with our belief that every applicant to Canada should be treated fairly and equally, and that all should be required to follow our laws and rules and apply through normal immigration or refugee channels," said Mike Fraser, director communications for Citizenship and Immigration.

Supporters say there are several hundred former American servicemen and at least one servicewoman, living in Canada after deserting and fleeing north.

During the Vietnam War, at least 50,000 draft dodgers and deserters came to Canada and were given the status of permanent residents by the government of Pierre Trudeau. In an era rocking with the rhythms of Woodstock and marching under peace symbols, they came to symbolize Canadian opposition to the war.

But four decades later, with Canadians fighting their own war in Afghanistan, the latest fugitives are fleeing an unpopular war, not the conscription of the 1960s.

There is no draft in the United States and each of these "resisters" enlisted voluntarily.

"People do not join with their eyes closed," said Laurie Hawn, a Tory MP from Edmonton and parliamentary secretary to the defence minister. "If they do, then they have their own problems."

The retired fighter pilot said soldiers don't get to pick and choose.

"As for volunteer soldiers in the United States who have difficulty with the mission they are on, first of all, soldiers do not get to vote for which missions they go on. They are assigned by their legal government, which is making legal decisions."

But Chuck Wiley, a 15-year veteran of the United States navy who deserted after a tour in the Persian Gulf aboard an aircraft carrier, said it's not that black and white.

"It's a war that was based on a lot of lies and there were a lot of people that enlisted that believed those lies," he said.

And international law requires individuals to make their own judgments about illegal or immoral acts, even in the military, he argued.

"If you have the information available, you have to make the moral choice and act on it.

"What really carries more weight? Does a contractual obligation to commit criminal acts carry more weight or should I follow my conscience and refuse to commit those acts?"

Wiley himself is facing deportation. The Immigration and Refugee Board rejected his claim - as it has all the others made by American serviceman. The Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have all refused to hear appeals in these cases.

The refugee board's position is that people such as Glass and Wiley are not bona fide refugees. They face prosecution, not persecution, the board says.

They could face jail, said Chow.

"That means they would have criminal records, which means they would not be able to get jobs," she said. "They would not be able to get a mortgage. Their entire lives would be destroyed."

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Canada border documents missing: audit


Canadian Press

June 1, 2008 at 2:36 PM EDT

OTTAWA — Thousands of blank forms used to issue work permits and other valuable documents for visitors to Canada are going missing because border officers are sloppy about security, says a new audit.

Security for the forms, which are highly coveted on the black market, has been mismanaged by poorly trained staff at the Canada Border Services Agency, investigators found.

At least 44,000 of the blanks disappeared from just one office, and although most of those have been recovered 2,000 remain unaccounted for.

The audit report notes that the forms are especially valued by criminals because they can be used as identification to rip off welfare and health programs, or to secure other official documents.

“The risk associated with the forms may not only be fraudulent use to gain entry to Canada, but also the ability to access secondary services offered by the country,” says the internal report.

Not only are the forms disappearing, but top officials at the agency have been kept in the dark about the problems.

“The reporting of immigration controlled forms that were unaccounted for and of other security incidents related to them was not always performed properly,” the agency's auditors warned.

“Senior management had not always been properly informed of security incidents.”

The blank forms are used to create work permits, study permits and temporary resident permits for qualified immigrants at major customs points, such as the airports in Toronto and Vancouver, and the land crossing at Douglas, B.C.

Each coloured form features a unique serial number, the Canada logo and Canadian coat of arms, along with embedded security markings similar to those on a passport. They're required to be kept under lock and key at each location.

The agency declined to provide examples to The Canadian Press for security reasons, although images of the forms are readily available on the Internet.

Almost 285,000 completed forms were issued at immigration points in 2006-2007 by border officers, who took over the job from Citizenship and Immigration more than four years ago.

But the transfer of that responsibility came without proper training, policies or procedures — which has meant hundreds of blank forms remain awol.

After visiting eight border points from British Columbia to Quebec, the auditors found that four stations did not properly document whether they had shredded unused forms. The offices “cannot confirm if the forms . . . were destroyed in the appropriate manner or were actually destroyed.”

Paperwork was incomplete or missing in many offices. Security procedures were lax at almost all locations. And the Canada Border Services Agency had not even appointed a senior official to ensure that policies were up to date and being followed everywhere.

A spokesman said the agency is still looking for the 2,000 missing blanks.

“The CBSA takes the accountability of controlled forms very seriously and will make every effort to locate these forms as quickly as possible,” Derek Mellon said in an e-mail.

Mr. Mellon said the office where the forms went missing, which he did not identify, had been undergoing renovations at the time of the disappearance.

“The CBSA has initiated a review of the current procedures surrounding the recording of the controlled forms and will continue the investigation until all the forms are accounted for.”

Mr. Mellon also said the agency is improving training, has appointed a senior official to oversee forms security, and by October this year will have a monitoring system in place to ensure staff across the country are following the rules.

Applicants seeking work permits must pay a $150 fee; study permit applications cost $125.