CBSA search warrant applications allege 'well established, organized fraud'
Canada Border Services raises concerns around addresses used by hundreds of P.E.I. provincial nominees
When investigators with Canada Border Services Agency applied for a series of search warrants in Summerside court in February 2016, they told the court they believed they had uncovered "a very well established, organized fraud."
In the applications, investigators allege hundreds of immigrants may have obtained permanent residency in Canada while skirting around rules meant to ensure they were actually living in the country or in P.E.I., the province which sponsored them.
Ping Zhong, 60, has been charged with three counts of aiding and abetting misrepresentation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Her 58-year-old brother, Yi Zhong, faces five counts of the same charge. Both are listed in the province's corporate registry as owners of the Sherwood Motel.
But CBSA has raised concerns regarding 566 cases where immigrants applying for permanent residency in Canada through P.E.I.'s Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) allegedly provided one of two Charlottetown addresses: the first for the Sherwood Motel, the second address for the private home belonging to Ping Zhong.
The search warrant applications are lengthy and outline how CBSA is alleging the fraud took place — and why it says immigrants would want to make it appear they're living in P.E.I. when they're actually living in China or elsewhere in Canada.
CBC News has attempted to contact the Zhong siblings but has yet to receive a response. They are expected to make their first appearance in P.E.I. provincial court on June 11.
Below are a few examples of immigrant files the CBSA has investigated, based on information the agency used to obtain its search warrants. The allegations are based on a three-year investigation by CBSA, and have not been proven in court.
According to the documents, Canada Border Services in Halifax was notified Sept. 21, 2015 of a woman who arrived at Vancouver International Airport, along with her son and husband. She had been approved under PNP.
The family provided the address of the Sherwood Motel on a form to confirm their permanent residency. This address had already been flagged by CBSA.
According to the search warrants, the woman said the address was given to the family by a Vancouver-based consultant she identified simply as "Tony." She told CBSA the family wasn't actually planning to stay at the motel, but that the consultant told them this is the P.E.I. address where permanent resident cards are sent.
The documents go on to say the family had a flight booked to P.E.I., along with a returning flight back to China on Oct. 5 — two weeks after arriving in Canada. The woman told CBSA the family's belongings werre still in China and they intended to move to Canada at a later time.
In Charlottetown, CBSA conducted covert surveillance as the family was driven around the city by Yi Zhong, one of the two people now charged with immigration fraud. They drove to the building housing P.E.I.'s provincial office of immigration, where Mr. Zhong accompanied the family inside. They also went to Service Canada, where an investigator said the woman gives her address as 281 Brackley Point Road — the Sherwood Motel.
In fact, the documents allege, the family stayed at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel, where they were booked for three nights. On their second day in the city, Yi Zhong drove them to the Sherwood Motel, where they spent approximately 10 minutes. He also drove them to West Royalty School, where the woman got out to take a photo, and to Holland College, UPEI, and shopping centres.
CBSA alleges in the search warrants that this was a "familiarization trip," so the family would have "an idea of the area and some photos in case they were ever questioned on proof of residency."
In another case contained in the search warrant application documents, Citizenship and Immigration Canada sent a residency questionnaire on July 9, 2015 to a woman who provided 281 Brackley Point Road as her mailing address. She became a permanent resident in 2010 and on May 27, 2015 completed her citizenship test.
The questionnaire, CBSA alleges, was returned in an envelope bearing the return address of the Sherwood Motel and a postmark with the date of July 27. But CBSA says its travel records and passport information show the woman was not in Canada at all during that period. A stamp in her passport shows she returned to China on May 31, four days after her citizenship test.
According to the documents, CBSA believes the accused Zhong siblings are receiving mail for individuals landed as permanent residents, then re-mailing the documents overseas to make it look as if the individuals reside in P.E.I. when they do not.
According to a third case covered by the warrant documents, a woman who initially came to Canada on a work permit became a permanent resident under P.E.I.'s PNP in May 2009. CBSA records indicate she first provided a Toronto address for her work permit, then in May 2009 provided the address of the Sherwood Motel, then in April 2010 switched back to the original Toronto address.
But CBSA alleges the woman's tax returns, employment and school history records from 2008 to 2013 are all for Ontario.
The CBSA alleges in the search warrants the woman's permanent residency renewal card was mailed to the Sherwood Motel in 2013, then re-mailed to Ontario. The CBSA further alleges the woman misrepresented herself on her provincial PNP application and her federal permanent residency application, "to create the illusion she was going to comply with the P.E.I PNP obligation to show intent to live in P.E.I."
There are two sets of residency requirements for immigrants taking part in P.E.I.'s Provincial Nominee Program.
Permits for permanent residency from Citizenship and Immigration Canada are issued for a period of five years, after which they must be renewed. During that five-year period, a person must have been in Canada for a total of at least two of the five years, with certain exceptions. Permanent residents can have their status revoked if they fail to comply with the residency requirement.
Under P.E.I.'s PNP, applicants sign a form with the province declaring their intent to reside in P.E.I. once granted permanent resident status.
According to the CBSA, if at any time either federal or provincial immigration officials do not believe an applicant intends to stay on P.E.I., their nomination can be refused, or if already granted it can be rescinded. According to the CBSA, P.E.I.'s office of immigration can also withdraw a nomination "if an applicant has provided false or misleading information in declaring their intent to live and work in P.E.I. or no longer meets the criteria under which they were nominated."
Alleged false info given to feds, says P.E.I. minister
In question period Friday, Minister of Economic Development Chris Palmer said any false information that might have been provided by PNP immigrants "was allegedly given to the federal government, not to the province."
A spokesperson for the province told CBC News that P.E.I. has never rescinded its sponsorship of a nominee under PNP for failing to meet provincial residency requirements, adding that permanent residents are granted freedom of mobility under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so the province can't force them to stay here.
CBSA has also cited in its search warrant applications a financial incentive for immigrants to make it look like they're living on P.E.I. even if they aren't. Escrow agreements the province signs with immigrants in the business impact category of the PNP require applicants provide a $50,000 residency deposit, which is returned to them if they reside within the province for a minimum of 183 days within a year of landing in P.E.I.
In its applications for search warrants, CBSA says it believes the accused have "made a business" out of helping clients "create the illusion that they are residing in Canada," calling the operation "a very well established, organized fraud."