Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he’s preparing to toughen Canada's immigration law to crack down on what he characterizes as a serious problem, marriage fraud, but he also wants the Canada Border Services Agency to do its part.
The agency has been criticized for failing to act quickly in dealing with allegations of marriage fraud. In some instances, individuals complain that the agency fails to even acknowledge their request for an investigation.
In an internal document, the agency has conceded that it does not consider marriage fraud a high priority.
When CBC News covered this story in November of 2010, Kenney urged the agency to do a better job.
"We have told the CBSA that marriage fraud… should be an enforcement priority," he said at the time.
Now, a year later, he’s repeating the same demand.
"It’s not for me to dictate how many cases they take up," he said during an interview with CBC News. "When they get complaints, we want them to follow up on those and, whenever they can build a credible case, bring charges for fraud against the person who is breaking our immigration laws."
Lainie Towell knows all about waiting for her complaint to be heard.
In 2007 she married a man from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa. Three weeks after they began life as a couple in Canada, he left. The performance artist complained to the Canada Border Services Agency, but says it wasn’t until she launched a media campaign, which included wearing her white wedding gown, strapping a door to her back and literally crawling up the steps of Parliament Hill, that the media — and the agency — seemed to take notice.
"I think it’s fair to say that I’ve become the poster girl for the issue of marriage fraud in Canada," she says, pointing out that a deportation order is still pending against her former husband.
In an email to CBC News, the CBSA said it "focuses its investigative efforts on high-priority cases where individuals pose a safety or security risk and where national security, organized crime, crimes against humanity, serious criminality and criminality are involved."
When pressed on Kenney’s demand to place a higher priority on marriage fraud cases, the agency spokesperson said in an email "it is not the practice of the CBSA to respond to statements made by others."
Changing the law
Kenney says he wants to make two key regulatory changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act:
- Implement a sort of probationary period of at least two years during which time a spouse could lose his or her landed immigrant status if they entered the marriage under false pretenses.
- Impose a five-year sponsorship "bar" which would prevent the person who has come to Canada as a spouse from sponsoring a family member for five years.
Critics have complained the two-year period during which the person is only granted conditional landed immigrant status could force them to stay in abusive relationships. Kenney says a provision in the act would make allowance for someone offering proof of domestic abuse.
The minister said the goal is to prevent people from using a marriage as a quick and convenient ticket into Canada.
Internal documents CBC News obtained through the Access to Information Act suggest that Kenney’s department needs more staff to deal with the problem.
But Kenney says hiring more staff is not the answer.
Kenney could not say when the new regulations would come into force. His department would only say it hopes "to do it in the next few months."
In the United States and Australia, couples must prove they have lived together for a defined period before the applicant becomes a permanent resident.
There is speculation that period could be set as two years or more.