'Dozens of victims' allege Vancouver consultant scammed them with fake immigration scheme
Liza Lucion denies wrongdoing as her licence is suspended and former clients file class action lawsuit
A Vancouver woman has been accused of defrauding dozens of migrants with promises of a pathway to permanent residency in Canada through an immigration program that doesn't actually exist.
Liza Lucion's registration as a licensed immigration consultant was suspended indefinitely this summer in the face of numerous complaints from former clients who claim they were scammed, and she is the subject of a proposed class action lawsuit making similar allegations.
She denies all allegations of wrongdoing.
According to an amended notice of claim filed in October in B.C. Supreme Court by representative plaintiff Andres Barrios Medellin, Lucion and her company Canadian Global Immigration Consulting Services "advertised and charged exorbitant fees to file immigration applications for migrants through a program that did not exist."
It alleges that "dozens of victims paid Lucion and company fees of roughly $5,000 or more" for a COVID-related program she claimed would give them two-year open work permits that would allow them to bring their families to Canada and provide a route to permanent residency. It also claims that Lucion misrepresented herself, saying she was a lawyer.
The claim goes on to say those affected were in "severe mental distress" after learning "they were in Canada without legal status or with expiring status and had no genuine application in progress to obtain, renew or extend their status."
Barrios, a Mexican national, told CBC that he felt confused, frustrated and desperate when he learned he wouldn't receive the work permit he was expecting.
"I'm always in touch with people that hired Liza, and I would say that the common feeling that we have ... it's about losing time," Barrios said — time that could have been spent with aging parents back home or going through legitimate immigration channels.
He compared the situation to Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot.
"We were waiting and waiting and waiting for so long — waiting for something that wasn't going to arrive."
Lucion's husband, Jose Guadalupe Garcia Hernandez, and a contracting company he directs are also named as defendants in the suit.
The couple have both filed responses to the proposed class action denying all allegations of fraud, negligence or conspiracy.
"Ms. Lucion absolutely denies she took advantage of any workers," her lawyer Melanie Samuels told CBC in an email.
"She is being unjustly vilified by this group of complainants as no fraud has been proven, it is only alleged. … It is most likely that they misunderstood what she told them and have been encouraged by others to make this vicious attack on her business and reputation."
Samuels alleged that Barrios breached his retainer agreement with Lucion and did not cooperate with the immigration process, despite her "best efforts" to help him.
Lucion's response to the claim says she "acted honestly and in good faith" at all times, relying on real immigration programs and policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It goes on to allege that she often paid out of pocket to keep her clients' immigration status up to date.
Lucion also denies telling clients she was a lawyer. However, the Law Society of B.C. confirmed she has agreed to an undertaking to comply with the Legal Professions Act in relation to those allegations.
Her husband Garcia's response to the claim denies any involvement in providing advice about immigration programs or promoting them. It says that while he sometimes provided Spanish-language translations for his wife, he was "simply facilitating communications between parties and was not himself a party to the communications."
Lucion allegedly threatened clients who complained
Lucion's licence as an immigration consultant was suspended by the College Of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants in an interim order in July, and she was ordered to pay $10,000 in costs.
The college's discipline committee chairperson, Susan Heakes, wrote that the college was investigating 11 complaints filed by former clients within 25 months. Heakes said that if the allegations against Lucion are proven, her licence would likely be revoked or at least suspended for a "lengthy" period of time.
"This alleged misconduct would be amongst the most serious breaches that an immigration consultant could commit as it has serious consequences for the victims and it casts a poor light on the profession," Heakes said.
The complaints outlined in her decision closely mirror those in Barrios's statement of claim.
The two documents show that several former clients allege Lucion hosted group information sessions where she claimed that foreign nationals living in Canada could apply through her to a new government program. She allegedly guaranteed open work permits if the clients retained her services.
"When this did not happen," Heakes's decision says, "and some of these former clients complained to Ms. Lucion, and asked for repayment of their fees, Ms. Lucion allegedly threatened them and brought meritless civil lawsuits against them."
Those alleged threats, the decision says, included telling a former client she would accuse them of tax evasion or have them deported.
Barrios said reading about those allegations has been deeply upsetting.
"After hearing those stories, I feel ... I do not want to say that I feel this, but it's something close to rage," he said.
The allegations outlined in the college's decision and the court documents in the proposed class action lawsuit have not been proven.