Yellowknife immigration consultant ordered to pay $185K to former client
Lawsuit claimed he acted in bad faith toward woman seeking permanent residency
A Chinese woman with aspirations of becoming a permanent Canadian resident and opening a high-end gift shop in Yellowknife was awarded $185,000 in damages by a Northwest Territories judge on Friday.
Supreme Court Justice Karan Shaner ordered Liang Chen, a Yellowknife businessman and immigration consultant, to pay Jie Qiao $130,000 in punitive damages, $50,000 in aggravated damages and $5,523.29 in damages for breach of contract after Qiao filed a lawsuit.
Qiao claims she was forced to withdraw from the N.W.T.'s nominee program after Chen withdrew $160,000 without her permission from a joint bank account they shared in part to purchase a lodge near Yellowknife, which advertises luxurious lakeside rentals.
Chen did not appear in court on Friday and did not file a statement of defence, so the court order was made without a trial. In an interview with CBC News last week, he refuted many of Qiao's claims but admitted to using the money to buy the lodge.
Qiao, who speaks limited English, moved to Yellowknife from China in early 2019 to seek permanent residency. She hired Chen to help her immigrate and set up a business in Yellowknife.
Chen owns C.L. Pacific Immigration Consulting Ltd., based in Burnaby, B.C., and is listed as an immigration consultant on the website of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.
Permanent residency was goal
In mid-January 2019, Qiao was accepted into the business stream of the territory's nominee program, which requires an investment of $300,000, which in turn leads to support for a permanent residency application.
Chen helped to set up the business and found a rental unit in Centre Square Mall in Yellowknife. The two opened a joint bank account and she deposited $300,000, as required by the nominee program.
At least two local companies were hired to carry out renovation work to the rental unit and, according to court documents, all seemed to be going fine until the summer of 2019. That's when Chen withdrew $50,000 from the bank account without Qiao's knowledge or consent, followed by $110,000 a few months later.
Qiao claims that Chen told her he needed the money to get a personal bank loan approved. But in her lawsuit, she alleged he used the $110,000 on a down payment to purchase a property on Madeline Lake, now home to 7th Aurora Lodge Yellowknife.
When reached by phone last week, Chen said he regrets using the money to purchase the lodge, but he promised to return the funds, and Qiao eventually got her money back.
But according to court documents, Chen did not immediately pay her back, despite promising to do so.
In turn, it caused a ripple effect — Qiao said she was no longer able to operate the company, which meant she was in breach of her agreement with the territory and therefore forced to withdraw from the nominee program. As a result, she may have to move back to China.
Qiao hired a B.C.-based law firm, which sent letters to the federal and territorial governments outlining what Chen had done. When he found out, Qiao said, he intimidated and pressured her to withdraw them.
She eventually fired her lawyer and sent an email to the territory, saying her previous letter did not reflect her intentions. Qiao also said she would withdraw from the nominee program and no longer wished to seek permanent residency because Chen had taken her money.
She hired a Yellowknife law firm to demand payment from him. Chen then offered to settle the matter by purchasing the company from her for $160,000. She decided she would rather cut her losses in exchange for a quick resolution and take the deal — a move her lawyer, Christopher Buchanan, described on Friday over the phone in court as essentially Chen strong-arming her into a settlement for far less than what she initially invested.
Parties enter agreement
In February, the two entered into a settlement agreement that required Chen to pay Qiao the $160,000 within seven days. But it wasn't until April 27 that he did so, and on Friday, Chen was ordered to pay her $5,523.29 in interest for breaching the agreement, on top of the damages.
The judge also ordered that all of the company's liabilities be transferred to Chen as of Feb. 27, 2020. He was also ordered to indemnify Qiao for all amounts owed to the landlord as of Sept. 30, 2019. According to court documents, as far as Qiao knows, the company owes the landlord nearly $15,000 in rent arrears, but the figure may be much higher.
Court documents prepared by Qiao's lawyer argue she was in a vulnerable position — she did not speak English and was completely dependent on Chen to deal with her immigration and business matters. The documents went on to say that his conduct had greatly affected her mental health and caused her to suffer from insomnia and severe anxiety.
Qiao is also unable to recover a $75,000 deposit to the territory, as was required by the business stream of the nominee program.
Her lawyer, Buchanan, said in an email she's asked for privacy and would not be available for an interview.
Chen did not respond to a request for comment following Friday's judgment.
In an interview with CBC News last Tuesday, Chen said the gift store was once a viable business, but because the pandemic virtually paused tourism in the territory since the spring, it can't survive.
"The business is probably going into insolvency," he said, adding he takes "full responsibility" for his actions.
"I think my motto has always been, you know, if you get it wrong, admit it and move forward."