Ottawa intends to revoke the citizenship of 1,800 people it believes obtained their status through fraudulent means, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.
The decision to revoke citizenship is rare, and a large-scale crackdown such as this one appears to be unprecedented. Fewer than 70 citizenships have ever been revoked since the Citizenship Act was passed in 1947.
The people were identified through investigations conducted across the country by police and the Citizenship and Immigration Department. People identified by the investigations will receive letters informing them of the government's decision.
Most of the 1,800 individuals are believed to be living outside Canada, Kenney told reporters on Wednesday in Toronto.
The minister said the move sends a "very clear message" to anyone who thinks of abusing Canada's citizenship system.
"We are in the process of notifying them that we will revoke their citizenship because Canadian citizenship is not for sale," Kenney said.
"We believe that the vast majority of new Canadian citizens respect our laws. There is a small but not insignificant number who hired crooked consultants to obtain fake proof of residency."
The decision can be contested in Federal Court, which can be a long process. If individuals choose not to contest the decision, the federal cabinet will order their passports be voided and citizenship revoked.
That doesn't necessarily mean those affected would face deportation.
If citizenship is revoked, the individual returns to whatever status he or she held before gaining it, such as permanent residency, which requires a separate process to revoke, the CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick reported from Ottawa.
Kenney said he didn't expect any of the identified cases to file for the "public battle" of a judicial review and believes the vast majority of the revocations will be resolved quickly.
"There's a very fair and exhaustive legal process," he said. "We have strong, convincing evidence of the fraudulent activity happening."
'If the minister's assuming most people are going to just roll over, he may have a big surprise coming to him.'—Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman
But Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman disagreed with Kenney, saying Wednesday he believes many of those facing revocation of citizenship will try to appeal the government's decision through Federal Court.
"There are several questions that arise from this," Waldman said. "One is, where are they going to get the resources to proceed with this?"
Waldman suggested the cost of the appeals process could force the government to divert funds from other Citizenship and Immigration initiatives, including settling new immigrants — something economic and demographic experts say is badly needed.
"If the minister's assuming most people are going to just roll over, he may have a big surprise coming to him," Waldman said. "Each time someone seeks the right to go to Federal Court, that is an extremely expensive and time-consuming process."
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said it's about time the government brought in a "no nonsense" policy to crack down on fraudsters.
"I would also send in the tax man," Kurland wrote CBCNews in an email Wednesday. "They can't have it both ways. Did they pay tax? Either they were resident and physically present, sufficient to trigger tax on global income, or not.
"Think of all the lost revenue. I sure do."
Kurland said the move will most likely affect individuals from the Middle East and Persian Gulf countries, as well as China.
He added the Federal Court process will protect the rights of the individuals. But like Waldman, Kurland warned the court system doesn't have the resources to handle 1,200 cases quickly.
10-year travel visa announced
Canada is also creating a new visa for frequent visitors, valid for 10 years with limitless entrances to the country, Kenney announced.
The visas will let people come to Canada for up to six months at a time, and as many times as they want, over the 10-year period. The new permit is expected to appeal to travellers who come to Canada frequently on business or to visit family.
Kenney, who made the announcement in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto, said the move creates a "more responsive and flexible" processing system to deal with more applications.
Multiple-entry visas are already recommended for parents and grandparents with sponsorships being processed. But the ministry says it could now be extended to other clientele, such as business visitors.