More than 300 people linked to suspected case of citizenship fraud

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Filling out a Canadian visa application form. (AP)

More than 300 people who claimed to live at the same address in Mississauga are being investigated by the RCMP in what police suspect may be a massive case of citizenship fraud.

The case revolves around an address located in the same building as Palestine House, a Mississauga centre that offers language classes and settlement services to new immigrants and also acts as an advocate for Palestinian and Arab causes.

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Citizenship judges were briefed on the file late last year and were warned to look for large numbers of immigration applicants claiming the same address, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The RCMP would neither confirm nor deny the investigation.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney didn't comment on this case specifically, but said he met recently with immigration enforcement officials who briefed him on the issue of citizenship fraud. He said it's a matter of increasing concern.

"There are a number of ongoing police investigations into this practice of people abroad hiring consultants to establish for them evidence of residency in Canada, to meet the three-year residency requirement, when, in point of fact, they are often living abroad most or all of that time," Mr. Kenney said.

Pay scales in foreign countries that vary according to nationality are acting as a new kind of catalyst for this kind of fraud, he added. In places such as Dubai, for example, an employee with a Canadian passport can earn a substantial premium compared to those from poorer nations.

"The notion is that there's a more costly labour market in Western countries. If these people can get a Western passport then they move up the salary scale," Mr. Kenney said.

No one actually resides at Palestine House, a school-house type of building with classrooms on the ground floor and an upper floor where office space is leased to a range of small businesses. Citizenship and Immigration Canada gave the centre $2.4-million for English-language training in a multi-year agreement last April.

A building manager at Palestine House, who spoke on condition he wouldn't be named, said his understanding is that the investigation is connected to a rented office suite on the upper floor. He stressed that those offices are leased by private entities and are not connected to Palestine House by anything other than a shared roof.

The building manager said he found brown government envelopes that came through the mail addressed to people who didn't live or work at Palestine House. He said the envelopes contained government cheques for the national child benefit, but the recipients weren't actually living in Canada. It was shortly after he noticed this discrepancy that he was paid a visit by the RCMP. That was in late 2007.

He said the person who was the subject of the police inquiries no longer has an office in the building and hasn't been seen for more than two years.

It's not known how many of the 300 or so citizenship applicants who claimed the Palestine House building as an address actually gained citizenship, or whether those applications are now under review. It's possible some were living in Canada and making genuine applications but used Palestine House as a mailing address.

In order to become a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident must prove he or she has lived in Canada for three of the four years preceding their application. The benefits of obtaining Canadian citizenship are considerable for the applicants, including access to subsidized health care and university tuition among many others.