How to protect the public from unscrupulous consultants/lawyers

The Canadian immigration system is a system that depends on the smooth and seamless interaction between all its stakeholders. It works in a regime that is built on rules and the credible and impartial implementation of these rules. It is also dependent on the active participation of its constituent members in a process that will promote Canada as a destination for immigrants, a safe haven for refugees and the country of choice for students who wish to pursue education in its western liberal setting.

It is a complex and often misunderstood system that has evolved from the early days of the “stalwart peasant” to the federal skilled worker that is the preferred applicant for the country’s immigration requirements. Along the way it has developed policies that have enabled the country to attract the kind of immigrants that Canada needs for its national development. From the early days it has relied on people to facilitate the movement of people from their home countries to eventually enter and settle in Canada’s vast landmass.

Today the immigration system no longer relies on people to promote Canada since the country is one of the top choices for immigrants to migrate, study and work in. What the country needed to promote and recruit the immigrants it now requires a group of people to facilitate and guide the huge number of applicants through an immigration system that has been described as complex and difficult to understand by the very people it is supposed to serve. This was one of the findings of a survey conducted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (CIC) the very body that is supposed to ensure that the immigration process is accessible to its target clientele.

Thus, the system while designed to be easy to navigate and understand still relies on the services of immigration lawyers and consultants to provide guidance and assistance to immigrant applicants who are unable to understand the immigration process and procedures required to enter Canada.

While I am sure that majority of the Immigration lawyers and consultants in Canada are men and women of great knowledge and integrity there will always be the proverbial “bad apple that will spoil the whole basket”. This is true not only for legitimate immigration practitioners based in Canada it also includes individuals who provide immigration advice with or without compensation.

Through the years the immigration applicants to Canada have increased in number. This has also increased the cases of fraud and incompetence demonstrated by individuals that provided immigration advice. In order to curb these abuses the government established a self-regulating association for immigration consultants and recognized lawyers who were members of their respective provincial bar associations. The problems still persisted because in the case of immigration consultants it was found out that the body recognized by the government to regulate immigration consultants were remiss in disciplining their own ranks and was seen to be more lenient and less fort right in dealing with its errant members.

In order to protect the public from unscrupulous lawyers and immigration consultants the government needs to implement the following programs:

  • Massive educational campaign – The CIC together with other concerned agencies should embark on a massive educational campaign to educate the public and all potential immigration applicant from outside of Canada about the role of immigration lawyers and consultants. There is a need to establish what the role of the immigration practitioner is in the whole process and to clearly delineate what they should do, what they are not allowed to do and what the public should expect when dealing with these practitioners.
  • Robust enforcement mechanisms – The government should establish rules that would govern the practice of immigration consultants within Canada. These enforcement mechanisms should be readily enforceable and should not rely on a system of self-regulation that is prone to the “old boys network” of practitioners covering up the mistakes of their fellow practitioners.
  • Expand the geographical reach of Canadian influence in regulating immigration practice.

The practice of immigration in Canada has been overhauled to the point where it would be difficult for a legitimate or illegitimate practitioner to commit any illegal, immoral or incompetent act. The policies and regulatory mechanisms that were enacted recently have made sure that immigration practitioners within Canada are held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately these changes only deal with practitioners and infractions committed in Canada and are totally useless in dealing with practitioners who ply their trade outside of Canada. International law as it is prevents Canada from enforcing its laws in areas outside its jurisdiction. There is a need to address these issues by engaging in bilateral or multilateral agreements with other countries to ensure that Canada can enforce its immigration laws with the concurrence of the other party/country.

If a bilateral agreement cannot be implemented then I believe the CIC should instruct all its Visa offices in all countries to come out with an educational campaign that will educate potential immigrants from their respective country jurisdictions about the Canadian immigration system and the role of the immigration practitioner in that system. Stress on the optional nature of hiring a practitioner or a lawyer. It would be advisable to inform the public about the reforms initiated to prevent immigration fraud and come out with a list of immigration providers/ visa documentation assistance /immigration consultants/ travel agents/recruitment agencies/ student visa assistance organizations or individuals who are charging fees for their immigration services and inform the public that these entities are engaging in an illegal activity defined under Canadian law. These would enlighten the public about not dealing with them and ensure that would be applicants will not be defrauded by crooked immigration practitioners that are beyond the reach of Canadian law. This action while unorthodox is totally legal and will certainly disparage these entities in the eyes of a gullible public who need to be protected from their own ignorance.

Tony Santiago
Immigration Program Student at Ashton College
under the tutelage of Jose Godoy Toku

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