Immigration consulting firm shuts doors

Hundreds of Haitian-Montrealers who sought help from an immigration consulting firm to bring their loved ones to Canada appear to have been left out in the cold.

Firm had offered help to members of Haitian community

Hundreds of Haitian-Montrealers who sought help from an immigration consulting firm to bring their loved ones to Canada appear to have been left out in the cold.

Last week, lineups formed outside the downtown Montreal offices of Immigration 911 after the company advertised it was offering pro bono help to fast-track immigration applications for survivors of the Haitian earthquake.

But on Tuesday, the company’s doors were locked and the man behind the company was nowhere to be found.

Calls to the company’s offices are being re-routed to another company — Immigration International 911 — where the person who answered calls on Tuesday refused to comment.

On paper, the business is owned by Jean-Michel Labelle, a man with seven convictions on fraud-related charges.

In the most recent case, Labelle pleaded guilty in September 2008 to allegations he defrauded a recent immigrant out of $45,000.

Labelle was sentenced to 12 months to be served in the community and ordered to reimburse his victim $27,000.

One woman, who asked that her name be withheld in order to avoid jeopardizing an upcoming investigation, claims she was provided false information by Immigration 911 and was bilked out of $1,500.

"Unfortunately, [Labelle] is still free and is still taking money from people who don’t know any better," she said.

In a statement released last week, Labelle claimed he was just a volunteer working for the company.

This type of situation is all too common in Quebec, said Hugues Langlais, president of the Quebec Bar Association’s immigration and citizenship committee.

There are no regulations in Quebec for immigration consultants in the province.

"The consultant has no reliability," Langlais said. "He can provide you with any advice he wants."

In every other province, Langlais said immigration consultants are accredited and bound by a series of regulations.

The situation is different in Quebec, where the province has a special agreement with the federal government regarding the selection of immigrants.

Quebec’s immigration ministry is working on a system of accreditation for immigration consultants — a plan it launched in 2004, officials said.