Immigration minister details plans to go after unethical immigration consultants
'It is imperative to create a system that better protects everyone involved'
The federal government today revealed details of its plan to crack down on unethical immigration consultants — a plan that includes the creation of a professional college putting consultants on the same regulatory footing as doctors and lawyers.
The details follow the announcement in the recent federal budget of $51.9 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, and $10.1 million a year after that to improve oversight of immigration consultants.
The decision to take action stems from a 2017 report by MPs on the citizenship and immigration committee. They called for a broad overhaul of how immigration consultants are regulated in Canada and recommended the dissolution of the existing regulatory body — the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC).
The committee heard from 50 witnesses who told harrowing stories of newcomers duped by "ghost consultants" who took their money and exploited them by feeding them false information.
"It is the responsibility of governments to do all we can to stop this kind of unethical and damaging behaviour. At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are many, many honest and ethical professionals who provide important services to clients, and they help them to navigate the immigration system," Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told MPs on the committee Monday.
"It is imperative to create a system that better protects everyone involved. While fraudsters will always seek ways to benefit themselves, we can make it harder for them to succeed and deter others from seeking to do the same."
- Council that regulates immigration consultants accused of fraud, forgery and human rights violations
The changes involve the creation of a new College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants. The legislation setting out the changes will either allow the ICCRC to evolve into the new college or lead to it being scrapped and replaced by the new college.
The college will have a strict disciplinary process, with powers to investigate complaints made against consultants and to publish the names of those being investigated on the college's website.
The college also will have the ability to send cease and desist orders to consultants who do not meet its standards, and to obtain court injunctions to stop the actions of unauthorized consultants.
The college also will set education and training requirements for the profession and develop a tiered qualification regime that will license consultants for different types of services.
A compensation fund also will be set up to help the victims of crooked immigration consultants.
This regulatory regime will be strengthened, Hussen said, by federal oversight by the immigration minister.
The minister will be able to appoint public interest directors to the board of the new college, design the code of conduct, designate a civil servant observer to the board of the college, step in if the college is failing to perform and make regulations that govern the conduct of the college.
The government will be responsible for enforcing the law. That means providing more resources to the Canada Border Services Agency to pursue criminal investigations and increasing criminal penalties.
The federal department also will establish a new administrative regime to penalize non-compliance that doesn't quite break the law — by introducing monetary penalties and bans that will be administered by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
These regulatory efforts will be augmented, Hussen said, by an outreach program designed to counter false information peddled by corrupt immigration consultants abroad. To that end, the federal government will place dedicated outreach officers in offices abroad to help people in those countries avoid fraudulent advice.