PNP statements weren't true and minister should have known, says opposition
PCs say Canada Border Services Agency briefed minister about provincial nominee program
The Official Opposition took P.E.I.'s minister of economic development to task during question period Wednesday for comments from May which the opposition said the minister knew "not to be true" regarding a federal investigation into P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program.
While the minister Chris Palmer himself had already corrected some of his own comments days after he made them, the opposition has learned, through a freedom of information request, that Palmer's department was briefed by Canada Border Services on the case in the days before the statements were made in the House.
"The minister says he was briefed by his staff, so if the minister was briefed by his staff, he knew full well what was happening out at the Sherwood Motel because they were briefed by border services prior to briefing the minister," said PC MLA Steven Myers. "It all shows up in the emails here. If that's the case, then the minister came to this House and that minister told this House something that he knew not to be true."
The statements Myers referred to included:
On May 8 Palmer said only 17 of the hundreds of immigrant files reviewed by CBSA were for immigrants participating in P.E.I.'s PNP. The rest, he said, were bound for other provinces. The next day Palmer told the House he made a mistake on the numbers. According to provincial briefing notes obtained by the PCs, the department was told by CBSA on May 7 all 605 files they examined were from P.E.I.'s PNP.
In clarifying his comment on the numbers on May 9, Palmer said "all files reviewed by border services were provincial PNP clients from the 2008 program, which no longer exists." Two days later he clarified saying all the cases that led to charges were from the 2008 program. Myers pointed out Wednesday some of the cases examined by CBSA were for immigrants who arrived as late as 2015.
Opposition 'talking about foolishness'
"We're working with border services, we're giving them all the information that we have, they're sharing information with us, and we're happy to do that and we're going to continue to do that, Palmer said in response to Myers' line of questioning Tuesday. "This program was not meeting our expectations, so we closed it and that's something that a good government can do. It's about action, not standing around and talking about foolishness all the time."
The trial of two people accused by the Canada Border Services Agency of immigration fraud stemming from CBSA's Sherwood Motel investigation is set to begin Nov. 30 in P.E.I. provincial court.
Ping Zhong, 60, and her brother Yi Zhong, 58, have each been charged with multiple counts of aiding and abetting misrepresentation under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Penalties under the act include fines of up to $100,000 and up to five years in prison if they're convicted.
In court documents, CBSA investigators say 566 immigrants used the same addresses between 2008 and 2015 — the siblings' Sherwood Motel and Ping Zhong's Charlottetown home. Nearly all were granted permanent residency.
The P.E.I. government announced in September it was scrapping the controversial entrepreneur stream of its provincial nominee program.