Provincial nominee program 'unfair and unjust,' Manitoba immigration lawyer alleges in lawsuit

A Winnipeg immigration lawyer says Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program is "arbitrary, capricious, procedurally unfair and unjust" — and she’s filed a lawsuit, asking the courts to declare that publicly.

Vanessa Routley's suit alleges a lack of transparency in Manitoba's provincial nominee program

Winnipeg immigration lawyer Vanessa Routley has filed a lawsuit against Manitoba's minister of education and training, alleging a lack of transparency in the Manitoba provincial nominee program. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A Winnipeg immigration lawyer says Manitoba's provincial nominee program is "arbitrary, capricious, procedurally unfair and unjust" — and she's filed a lawsuit asking the courts to declare that publicly.

"We're asking the court to take a look at the way that the nominee program operates and to make a declaration for everyone to hear whether or not these policies are just, and whether or not it's fair and appropriate to provide different levels of access and information to different people in the province," Vanessa Routley said in an interview with CBC News.

Her lawsuit, filed with Court of Queen's Bench on Sept. 30 against the province's minister of education and training, alleges several problems in the provincial nominee program, which began in 1998 as one of the first experiments in Canada to match foreign workers with specific job openings.

Nominee programs allow provinces or territories to nominate people who want to immigrate to Canada, are interested in settling in a particular province or territory and have the skills, education and work experience to contribute to the economy.

In particular, Routley argues there is a lack of transparency in Manitoba's program.

The allegations in Routley's affadavit have not been proven in court. No statement of defence has yet been filed.

As an example of her allegations, Routley cites problems she says were experienced by clients she represents who own trucking companies in Winnipeg, most of whom are from India.

According to her affidavit, in August, they asked her to help applying for provincial nominee positions for truck drivers.

However, in September, one of the clients accused her of accepting their cases — and retainer payment — even though the Manitoba nominee program is closed to trucking companies.

He provided her an email from the provincial nominee program, dated Sept. 11, that he had received from someone else in the industry. The notice said all truck driver recruitment through the nominee program was being paused until further notice, according to Routley's lawsuit.

When she called the nominee program employee who sent the email, Routley says she was told there was no public notice about the "program pause for drivers."

"Some lawyers and employers were made aware of this change but I was not," her affidavit reads. As a result, she alleges, she's been asked to refund fees to her clients and "will likely have to take a loss for many thousands of dollars of billable work."

'An element of access that's unfair'

The affidavit also states one of the largest trucking companies in Manitoba, Bison Transport, has ads online now, stating it has positions available to sponsor foreign workers under the nominee program.

CBC News has verified an ad on the company's website with a banner reading "apply now."

One of Bison's executives, Garth Pitzel, is also a member of the Manitoba Advisory Council on Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, raising concerns about conflict of interest or an unfair advantage, Routley alleged in the lawsuit.

"There is definitely an element of access that's unfair to these programs. It certainly appears that that company in particular is still able to access the nominee program when others have been excluded," she said in an interview.

"At this time I have no comment," Pitzel said in an emailed statement to CBC. "Bison Transport or myself are not named as a respondent."

A spokesperson for Minister of Education and Training Kelvin Goertzen says it would be inappropriate for the minister to comment because this is now before the courts.

Routley told CBC News she has tried to address her concerns about the provincial nominee program through the program itself, but has been stonewalled.

She said she hopes the lawsuit will create awareness and open dialogue about what's wrong with the program, and that it will lead to changes that will make it more transparent.

"The courts can give us a declaration that will force the political powers that be to take action and to introduce critical protocols," she said.

"For example, giving the applicant a way to have their decision reviewed under the program rules, having a free and fair access to program policies for everyone in the province of Manitoba, and not preferring the interests, in some cases, of business owners over the immigrants themselves," she said.

The first court hearing in her suit is scheduled for Oct. 31.

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