A company that was sanctioned by the Saskatchewan government for offering fake jobs to would-be immigrants from China has changed its name but is still facing allegations of improper conduct.
In 2013, the government suspended the immigration consultant connected to Canmax, after discovering the company had offered almost 100 fake jobs to Chinese nationals seeking permanent residence in Canada through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program.
In addition, since 2011, Canmax has faced a series of lawsuits from immigration customers who say the company made big promises but failed to deliver.
In the wake of those concerns, Canmax changed its name to Wilson Legal Consulting in 2014. But the company continued to operate out of the same Toronto office space with the other Canmax group of companies.
From that location, it offered immigration services in close partnership with Brightenview Development International and its proposed Dundurn, Sask. megamall. The two companies told prospects an investment in the mall was a ticket to permanent residence in Canada.
One of those prospects now says she wants her money back because the company has failed to deliver what it promised.
Wilson and Brightenview seemed to be the same company: customer
In early 2015, Judy Zhu, a Chinese national living west of Shanghai, decided to buy a 400-square-foot unit in the Saskatchewan wholesale mall and pursue immigration to Canada.
Zhu said that to her, it seemed Brightenview and Wilson were the same company.
She said on Feb. 2, 2015 the Brightenview sales rep handled the entire transaction — assisting Zhu in signing both the contract for the megamall space and the immigration contract, under the name of Wilson.
In an email, that Brightenview employee told Zhu "we will work on your immigration plan after receiving your payment." Zhu says she was told the mall would be completed by 2016 and she understood it would lead to Canadian permanent residence.
She paid the Brightenview sales rep a $110,000 deposit on her $150,000 immigration fee. The receipt from Wilson says Zhu's immigration file is related to the Dundurn megamall and it bears the name of the Brightenview sales rep.
In addition, the Wilson contract itself shows deep connections between Brightenview and Wilson.
The agreement says Zhu was to pay $50,000 to Brightenview as a deposit on the megamall. It goes on to say after she is selected through SINP, that "deposit of $50,000 would be transferred from Brightenview Development International Inc. to [Wilson Legal Consulting] used as the service charge."
'This is a severe blow to me.' - Judy Zhu, Chinese national seeking a refund from Wilson
Three years after paying her Brightenview and Wilson deposits, the Dundurn megamall project is stalled and Zhu is demanding a refund of all of the money she has paid for the mall and her immigration.
- 'I never thought that I would get cheated': Chinese woman refused refund from Dundurn megamall developer
Brightenview has refused, saying the contract allows for construction delays. In addition, it says she would only qualify for a refund if her truthful immigration application was rejected by the Canadian or Saskatchewan governments.
"This is a severe blow to me," said Zhu. "I always think that people are kind in the world. I never thought that I would get cheated."
Brightenview and Canmax/Wilson share long and deep history
The two companies have been deeply connected since Brightenview was founded in 2012.
Brightenview's two initial directors were Mike Niu, the lead investor and Joe Zhou, the company's CEO. Those two were also instrumental in founding some of the Canmax group of companies.
When the project was first pitched to municipal authorities in Dundurn, the minutes of the meeting say Zhou was there as a Canmax representative.
Documents obtained through access to information show that it was common knowledge within the Saskatchewan and Government that Brightenview and Canmax were working closely on the Dundurn project.
In an internal Ministry of Economy email back in 2013, Tony Dou wrote to his boss, Stewart Low, about the megamall.
"There are two partners in this project and they are Brightenview Development International Inc. and Canmax Legal Consulting Group (China) Ltd.," wrote Dou on April 10, 2013. "It appears that Brightenview has contracted Canmax with sales distribution rights in China for Dundurn International Exhibition Centre."
The email chain raises concerns about the way Brightenview and Canmax were promoting the megamall.
Officials highlighted the following claims from a Brightenview/Canmax brochure:
- "Investors... will receive a fast approval procedure from Saskatchewan Immigration Bureau."
- "[Citizenship and Immigration Canada] has been promoting the project as a key project of Canada. CIC will adopt the fast approval procedure."
- "Zero-risk immigration."
These sorts of statements prompted the government to issue 2013 a cease and desist notice to Brightenview.
In a 2013 letter, a government official told Zhou "SINP has not made a commitment, verbally or written, regarding immigration applications from entrepreneurs interested in investing in the Dundurn International Exhibition Centre."
But it wasn't just Brightenview and its megamall that was attracting concern from government officials.
Canmax immigration files flagged
Just months after the cease and desist letter was sent to Brightenview, officials flagged concerns about Canmax's immigration consultant.
The officials found that Canmax had issued 98 fake job offers from 45 different companies. The consultant was suspended from the SINP for two years.
Around that time Canmax started facing legal troubles from disgruntled customers.
In May, a CBC investigation found that Canmax has faced at least 20 lawsuits from Chinese nationals who say the company took large deposits for immigration services but failed to deliver.
- The China Connection: How the Saskatchewan government partnered with a company that was wanted by the Chinese government for fraud
Canmax has lost some of those suits while others have settled or are winding their way through the courts.
Government defends ongoing partnership with Brightenview
When CBC asked Brightenview about its relationship to Canmax earlier this year, company Zhou wrote "there is no active business relationship between Canmax and Brightenview."
The company's vice-president of government relations, Lorne Nystrom, went even further: "We don't need Canmax. There is no relationship now with Canmax at all and there hasn't been for quite some time."
Also earlier this year, CBC asked the premier's office if it was concerned about the close connection between Brightenview and Canmax; especially in light of the fact the Saskatchewan government has itself built a tight bond with Brightenview.
The megamall developer is building a new project out at the troubled Global Transportation Hub with the enthusiastic support and partnership of the Saskatchewan government. That megamall project, called the Global Trade and Exhibition Centre is being marketed to Chinese nationals as a path to immigration.
A spokesperson in the premier's office wrote "the agreement reached between Brightenview and the Global Transportation Hub has nothing to do with the Dundurn mall project." The spokesperson also references Brightenview's statement that it is no longer connected to Canmax.
A spokesperson for the GTH wrote, "We will not comment on Brightenview's relationship with its business partners."
As for Canmax/Wilson, the company's Toronto office has been emptied and it appears to be closed. One phone number is permanently busy while the other has a full voicemail box.