The Harper government is going straight to the source of most of Canada's immigration to attack fraud in the system, encouraging officials in countries such as India, China and the Philippines to consider following its steps to crack down on crooked consultants.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will spend three days this week in India, where he will ask officials to focus more law-enforcement resources and share more information with Canada on "immigration fraudsters'' who often charge applicants thousands of dollars and use fake documents to bolster their cases.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Kenney said he will also ask Indian officials to consider whether they may need a bill similar to one introduced in Parliament this June - the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act - which would make it a crime for a person who is not a lawyer, notary or member of a recognized association of immigration consultants to accept a fee for providing immigration advice.
"In Chandigarh, in our consulate there, we have a `wall of shame' with some examples of the thousands of fraudulent documents that are generated by this industry - fake marriage certificates, death certificates, travel itineraries, banking statements, you name it," Mr. Kenney said.
"There's a pretty sophisticated industry that produces these kinds of documents.''
Mr. Kenney is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday, followed by a stop Thursday in Chandigarh, a Punjabi city where the problem of immigration fraud is particularly acute. The minister's trip, which began on the weekend with two days in Paris for meetings with French and European immigration officials, also includes stops in Hong Kong, Beijing and Manila.
The visit to Chandigarh follows one Mr. Kenney made early last year when he pressed state officials to co-operate with Canada on stronger enforcement against unscrupulous consultants, arguing that the more Canadian immigration offices are swamped with bogus documents, the longer it takes for legitimate applications to get processed. Since that trip, Mr. Kenney said, there have been a number of arrests and convictions and Canada's acceptance rate for people from the region seeking visitor's visas is up to about 48 per cent, compared with 32 per cent five years ago.
Mr. Kenney will also discuss ways to improve co-operation on finding and prosecuting crooked consultants when he is in China and the Philippines, which along with India make up the three largest sources of immigrants to Canada.
The Canadian provisions are designed to close a loophole that has been exploited by unscrupulous immigration consultants here at home. To allow the government closer oversight of the industry, Ottawa has simultaneously launched a public process to choose a new regulator for immigration consultants. But because much of the fraud and "exploitation'' of vulnerable applicants happens abroad, Mr. Kenney said the government needs help from countries that make up the bulk of requests to visit or immigrate to Canada.
In India, the minister predicts a "positive'' reception, in part because so many people in Punjab have family and friends among the diaspora of more than one million Indo-Canadians, and the Indian press gives a lot of coverage to the problem. Also, in a discussion with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Canada in June, which Mr. Kenney called "the genesis of this trip,'' Mr. Singh "encouraged more dialogue'' between Indian and Canadian officials on the issue, the minister said.
The government also is sending Mr. Kenney to India with a carrot of sorts.
In New Delhi, the minister will give senior members of the Indian government an update on plans to tweak Canada's immigration rules to avoid a repeat of the furor this spring after Canadian visa officers in India refused to admit dozens of people on the grounds that their service in army, police and intelligence units made them complicit in human-rights violations.
Mr. Kenney apologized at the time, saying officials never intended to cast aspersions on India's institutions, while conceding the flap showed visa officers have too much latitude, and Canada and India agreed to move on. This week's visit gives Mr. Kenney a chance to keep relations with an important ally and export market smooth, and ease co-operation on fraud and security.
"We're looking at possible changes to our law to clarify its intent, so it's not a broad brush that effectively condemns people who have never committed any crimes,'' Mr. Kenney said.
The government is also looking to keep tabs on what's being done by Canadian and local officials in countries such as the Philippines, a well-known transit point for human smuggling, to stop ships of migrants from leaving ports in Southeast Asia for Canada undetected.
While he wouldn't go into specifics, Mr. Kenney said he expects the issue will come up during his visit to Manila. Canada is seeking better co-operation in the region after the MV Sun Sea last month carried nearly 500 Tamils to British Columbia, where many are being detained as they seek refugee status.Report Typo/Error