The Canadian citizenship of more than 3,000 people is being revoked and thousands of others who hold permanent resident's status will be denied the chance to swear allegiance to this country as the federal government cracks down on fraudsters who have not met the basic requirements to become a citizen.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told a news conference on Monday that his department, with the help of the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP, is targeting people who game the system by faking the amount of time they have spent in Canada.
The rules say immigrants must have resided here for at least three of the four years immediately prior to filing their citizenship application. But Mr. Kenney says thousands of people have found ways to fake proof of lives spent in Canada – many with the assistance of crooked immigration consultants. The going rate for simulating residence for a family of five is about $25,000, said the minister.
"In many jurisdictions around the world, simply having a Canadian passport can double your salary. It can give you access to some of the highest quality health care in the world at no cost," he said. "It can give your children access to subsidized post-secondary education at our excellent colleges and universities, and, of course, can represent a political insurance policy."
In addition to the 3,100 people who have been told that their citizenship is being cancelled, Mr. Kenney said there are 5,000 people who have obtained permanent resident's status, but who have not been living in Canada and who will be flagged for additional scrutiny if they apply for citizenship. For the most part, said Mr. Kenney, these are wealthier individuals, many of whom reside in tax havens like the Arab Gulf states.
"This is an economic calculation for many of them," he said. "If you can make big money in a tax haven while letting your kids go to McGill [University] for a fraction of a non-resident fee, and if you can come to Canada for expensive surgery when you need it, why wouldn't you do it?"
Some of the schemes for fabricating Canadian residency have been easy to expose as fraudulent. Mr. Kenney said his favourite trick was one concocted by a Montreal consultant who literally created a fake address for his clients. "There was a door and a post box, but if you opened the door, there was a brick wall behind it," he said.
Jinny Sims, the immigration critic for the NDP, said Mr. Kenney has made previous announcements about getting tough with citizenship fraudsters. "All he's done this time is change the numbers," said Ms. Sims, who said the government should instead be doing more to go after the unscrupulous consultants.
Kevin Lamoureux, the Liberal critic, said the minister's time would be better spent trying to speed up the process for the tens of thousands of people who are waiting years to become citizens.
But immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said most people in his profession will applaud the crackdown.
"It's about time," Mr. Kurland said in an e-mail. "We're talking about outright fraud, where the person is counselled to fabricate a life in Canada, from false addresses and 'lost' passports, right to the false statements on the application that they were in Canada, when in fact they were not."
Mr. Kenney said the process of revoking a citizenship can be cumbersome. The suspected fraudsters must be informed of the decision in writing, the federal cabinet must approve the revocation, and an appeal can be launched at the Federal Court.
"However, in a majority of these cases where we've already commenced revocation proceedings, they have basically surrendered," he said.
"Frankly they don't have a lot of skin in the game because we're often talking about people who have never lived in Canada."