A two-year investigation into immigration fraud could lead to 2,100 people having their citizenship revoked and another 4,400 not being able to move from permanent residency status to full citizenship, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday.
Kenney said the people who face losing their citizenship obtained it fraudulently, paying consultants to make it look as if they were living in Canada to fulfil the residency requirement, when they actually spent little or no time in the country.
Of the 4,400 permanent residents under investigation, he said, 1,400 have voluntarily withdrawn their applications for full citizenship. In some cases, the government will withdraw their permanent resident status.
"We will apply the full strength of Canadian law. Where evidence permits, we will seek the revocation of permanent resident status or citizenship and in some cases the deportation of anyone perpetrating such fraud," Kenney said.
The announcement is the culmination of two years of investigations by Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP following reports of consultants who would provide fake proof of residency — such as utility bills or receipts for rent — so people could meet that requirement of their application.
Kenney said he started to hear rumours of systematic fraud by consultants when he became minister three years ago. He also credited Radio-Canada's Enquête, which investigated crooked consultants.
"If you are a consultant involved in selling Canadian citizenship fraudulently to people …we are on to you. It’s just a matter of time," he said.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae says fraud has always been illegal, and he sees no real change in what Kenney announced.
"I don't know anyone who's in favour of fraud...it's a question of giving the sense that he's doing something when he isn't doing anything new," Rae said.
"[Fraud is] something that has to be proven. You can’t just announce that’s what you’re doing. There have to be the facts to back it up and there has to be a due process of law… where these issues are settled not just unilaterally by the minister."
NDP Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said there are plenty of immigration issues that need more attention, including family reunification. But she admitted the party has nothing against cracking down on immigration fraud.
"For example, there are enormous delays on family reunification. When we're talking about, really, many years before we can complete a family reunification, that's dramatic. There's a lack of resources at a number of levels."
'At the heart of our identity'
"Citizenship is priceless. It is at the heart of our identity as Canadians," Kenney said.
The main requirements to get Canadian citizenship are to spend three out of four years in Canada, plus proficiency in French or English, and a basic knowledge of Canada.
Kenney said the crackdown isn't aimed at people who have minor disputes with the department over whether they have spent the precise number of days required for residency.
Kenney announced a large-scale crackdown in July, targeting 1,800 people the government alleges obtained their citizenship fraudulently.
The people were identified through investigations conducted across the country by police and the Citizenship and Immigration Department. People identified by the investigations were to receive letters informing them of the government's decision.
Kenney has also recently stepped up pressure on the Canadian Border Services Agency to tackle crimes related to immigration marriage fraud and abuse of Canadians who are drawn into fraudulent marriages.
The government will reintroduce legislation to regulate citizenship consultants, Kenney said.