Canada's Immigration Department did not properly detect and prevent citizenship fraud, resulting in the review of about 700 cases as of January, according to Auditor-General Michael Ferguson's spring report.
The report, tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday, found a number of concerns in the citizenship program affecting the department's ability to prevent fraud, including the absence of a method to identify and document fraud risks.
"We concluded that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's efforts to detect and prevent citizenship fraud were not adequate," Mr. Ferguson said at a news conference on Tuesday. "These gaps make it difficult for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to assess the impacts of its efforts to combat citizenship fraud."
According to the report, which covered the period between July, 2014, and October, 2015, the most common reasons for revoking citizenship are residency and identity fraud, and undeclared criminal proceedings.
The report found that citizenship officers did not consistently apply the department's methods to identify and prevent fraud when dealing with suspicious immigration documents, such as altered passports. For example, in one region, citizenship officers have not seized any suspicious documents for in-depth analysis since at least 2010.
It was also found that citizenship officers did not have the information they needed to properly identify "problem addresses" when making decisions to grant citizenship. Problem addresses are those known or suspected to be associated with fraud, and used by citizenship applicants to meet residency requirements.
Mr. Ferguson cited an example where one address was not identified as a problem, even though it was used by 50 applicants, seven of whom were granted Canadian citizenship. He said the fact that it was so simple for his office to find that example is concerning.
"The steps that we took to try to identify cases of citizenship fraud were not complicated. We're not talking here about indications necessarily of very sophisticated fraud. So it was fairly simple for us to find these 50 cases and fundamentally I think that means its 50 cases too many," Mr. Ferguson told reporters.
NDP MP David Christopherson questioned how the government missed the 50 cases.
"It strikes the common-sense chord in people," Mr. Christopherson said. "I think the average Canadian would think with the technology we have these days, you have nothing in place at all that raises a red flag with that?"
The problem was further complicated by poor information sharing with the RCMP, which provides information about criminal behaviour among permanent residents, and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which leads investigations of citizenship fraud, the report said.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Immigration Minister John McCallum said the government will implement all of the Auditor-General's recommendations as quickly as possible, adding that it has already taken action on the concerns regarding the use of fraudulent documents by citizenship applicants.
"I'm very pleased to say that one of his [Mr. Ferguson's] recommendations we have already implemented through our Bill C-6 on citizenship … is to give additional powers to officials to seize documents that they deem to be fraudulent," Mr. McCallum said.
Bill C-6, introduced by the Liberals in February, is being studied in the House of Commons.
Mr. McCallum said the government is investigating the suspicious cases identified by the Auditor-General, which could lead to citizenship revocation. He also said work is under way to improve information sharing among his department, and the CBSA and RCMP, with a completion date of December, 2016.
Although the Conservatives were in power during the time period under audit, the party's immigration critic, Michelle Rempel, said the Liberals are weakening citizenship requirements through Bill C-6, which would repeal a Tory measure that revoked citizenship from dual Canadian citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. If passed, the Liberal bill would automatically reinstate citizenship for Zakaria Amara, a member of the "Toronto 18" who planned to bomb the city's downtown and had his citizenship revoked last fall under the Conservatives' Bill C-24.
"While our previous Conservative government was committed to cracking down on citizenship fraud, the Liberals are working to weaken existing citizenship requirements by removing the grounds for revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security," Ms. Rempel said in a statement Tuesday.
While the department did not track the exact number of citizenship fraud risks, it reported 700 pending revocation cases as of January. According to the report, revoking citizenship after fraud is discovered is "time consuming and costly."
The citizenship fraud findings were part of the Auditor-General's five-chapter report Tuesday. Speaking about his recent reports, Mr. Ferguson said he is generally concerned about the way data is collected and used – or not used – by government organizations.
"In these audits, we've seen that serious consequences can arise when government data is either not useful, or not acted upon. In the citizenship program, such failings are limiting the effectiveness of efforts to combat citizenship fraud risk," Mr. Ferguson said. "I believe that government departments and organizations urgently need to turn their attention to this issue."