Canada

Council overseeing Canada's immigration consultants faces criticism over transparency, directors' fees

Criticism is being directed at the organization that regulates immigration consultants in Canada, echoing complaints about the previous body it replaced.

Non-profit ICCRC was created 5 years ago after preceding body saw complaints of inefficiency, mismanagement

There are currently about 3,700 registered immigration consultants in Canada, with hundreds more joining each year. These consultants aren't required to apply for residency or citizenship, but can help guide potential immigrants through the process and the paperwork. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Criticism is being directed at the organization that regulates immigration consultants in Canada, echoing complaints about the previous body it replaced.

It's been just over five years since Ottawa created the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) following complaints of inefficiency and mismanagement by the preceding body.

But now, complaints from within the membership are surfacing about the way the new non-profit regulator watches over those who take money from new immigrants and refugees coming to Canada.

Non-profit organization faces questions over transparency, directors' fees 2:27

"Right now, for this organization to be very accountable to the public and the members, it is the right thing to do," said consultant Gabrielle Fortin, who is running as a candidate in elections for the council's board of directors.

The results of the vote will be announced tomorrow at the council's annual general meeting in Toronto. 

At least two other candidates, Isabelle Vachon and Gino Paesani, are voicing concerns similar to Fortin's.  

Fortin is calling for several changes, including:

  • Sharply reducing or capping fees paid to the council's board of directors.
  • Releasing minutes of board meetings.
  • Hiring a new permanent CEO. The organization has been without a permanent chief executive for almost a year.

Payment a contentious issue

Perhaps the most contentious issue is compensation for the 15 directors — most elected from the ranks of consultants.

Fortin initially asked that directors' fees be cut by 50 per cent, from $1,500 per meeting to $750. As the board meets several times a year, Fortin said it is excessive for an organization with a $6-million budget.

"I think it is too much. And it is not just compensation, there are a lot of other fees around that," she said. "They are paid for accommodation, food and transportation."

After Fortin made her views public, she said she was told by other board members the change would be difficult to implement. Then, earlier this fall, the board changed the formula. Directors are now paid $80 an hour for board meetings and $50 an hour for committee meetings.  

That is still not good enough for Fortin. She pointed out that the board's most recent meeting lasted a total of 20 hours.

A spokesman for the council, Daniel Roukema, confirmed that the last meeting ran past 18 hours. That means directors were paid close to $1,500.

The board of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) is shown in this image taken from the group's website. (Courtesy of ICCRC)

The directors want to reduce the number of hours they meet to save money, Roukema said.

Isabelle Vachon said she has heard from other consultants who agree the compensation needs to be lower, in part because they are paying what they see as overly high annual dues. Consultants pay $1,809 per year to practice.

Roukema agreed that consultants pay "very high" dues compared with others who work in regulated professions, but said it is because the industry itself is quite small.

Calls for public board meetings

There are currently about 3,700 registered immigration consultants in Canada with hundreds more joining each year. 

Fortin's demand for greater transparency stems from what she said is the council's duty to protect the public and be accountable to it. To do that, she wants the minutes of board meetings made public.

"I tried to get the minutes of [the board's] meetings, but I cannot find them and nobody would send them to me," she said.

The council confirmed the board does not release records of its meetings.

"I think as an organization, as we continue to build ourselves and improve ourselves, as a regulatory body that is certainly one thing we should look at," said Roukema. 

Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks with a Syrian family during a visit to a refugee camp in Lebanon. Canada is expected to accept 300,000 new immigrants in 2017, including about 40,000 refugees. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

As for Fortin's third concern, Roukema acknowledges the council is still looking for a permanent CEO, after cycling through four of them in five years (two took on the job on an acting basis, while two were permanent). 

He denied the lack of continuity pointed to problems, citing the fact that the last permanent CEO stayed on the job for three years.

"I don't think there is any trouble at ICCRC. To the contrary, in the last year we have been very successful in becoming a stronger regulator," Roukema said. 

Investigating complaints

The council is investigating nearly 400 complaints against consultants, including one case prompted by a CBC report earlier this year that caused the immigration minister to order the council to look into the situation.

When former immigration minister Jason Kenney announced the council as the new regulator in June 2011, he noted that there were "serious concerns" about the previous regulator, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.

They included a "lack of transparency, a lack of accountability, questions about financial management and concerns about lack of appropriate disciplinary action and many other concerns" that Kenney said were detailed in two reports from a Commons committee. 

One of the primary aims of the regulator is to weed out those who are unethical, unqualified or acting illegally. 

One issue that Fortin and the council agree on is the need for the federal government to give the organization more legal authority to do its work.

That could also include more direct involvement by government in appointing directors and overseeing their work. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of the story said the council had five CEOs in five years. In fact, there were four CEOs in five years.
    Nov 11, 2016 10:35 AM ET

About the Author

Laura Lynch

Correspondent

CBC Radio correspondent Laura Lynch has reported from many parts of the world, most recently Europe and the Middle East. She has also worked as the CBC's Washington correspondent and as a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. She is based in Vancouver.