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Immigration consultant Larry Wang, centre, speaks to Chinese millionaires on March 4, 2014, as they make a plea to the Canadian government to ditch its plans to end its backlogged investor immigrant program.Andy Wong/The Associated Press

A group of angry Chinese millionaires is threatening legal action against the Canadian government after Ottawa cancelled a popular immigration program that dashed the hopes of thousands of wealthy foreigners.

The immigrant investor program offered a way to buy entrance into Canada for people with a net worth of $1.6-million who were able to lend Ottawa $800,000 interest-free for five years. Citing its "limited economic benefit," the Conservative government said on Feb. 11 that it intends to kill the program, leaving behind the 65,000 people on an enormous backlog of applicants.

About three-quarters of those were Chinese, most of them eager for a ticket into the British Columbia Lower Mainland, with its familiar culture and access to Canadian food safety and health care.

Their hopes now dashed, a small group of those millionaires is now lashing out and demanding compensation, saying they have given up much in waiting to come to Canada – and deserve something for their pain.

They made their case from a location that hardly engendered much sympathy for their plight. On Tuesday, 10 of the applicants gathered on the 61st floor of the Beijing Park Hyatt, in one of the poshest corners of China. They are by their own admission wealthy. One of the men bought a house in Vancouver for $2-million as he waited for admission to the country. Asked if that caused him any hardship, he offered a blunt no.

Those here see the path to Canada in the kind of crass commercial terms that might make some Canadians uncomfortable.

"The applicants have submitted their applications in good faith and submitted their fees. There is a reasonable expectation that this is a business transaction, and that they will be processed," said Victor Lum, vice-president at Well Trend United Consulting, a Beijing immigration agency that has helped to co-ordinate those speaking out against Ottawa's decision.

Those fees, about $2,000, will probably be refunded.

But that's "far, far from enough," Well Trend president Larry Wang said. There is lost opportunity, the costs incurred by thousands of people and their families who put lives on hold as they waited for what seemed a sure ticket to Canada, the consultants said. The applicants "are the victims in this case," Mr. Lum said.

They have consulted lawyers, but are waiting on Ottawa to formally cancel the program before they finalize their legal strategy. They say the program's cancellation is a breach of contract law, and, in a letter sent to members of Parliament, "neither lawful nor ethical."

It is not clear what their chances might be in court. Canada is a sovereign nation, and citizens of other nations have no guaranteed right to a Maple Leaf passport, nor residency in Canada.

And the immigrant investor program was fraught with problems. The Conservatives, in cancelling it, cited a statistic showing that, over 20 years, an average millionaire immigrant investor pays nearly $100,000 less in taxes than a live-in caregiver.

The Globe and Mail, in a 2011 investigation, found a striking willingness to engage in fraud by consultants working with immigrant investors to Canada. Of 22 contacted, more than 80 per cent offered to help doctor documents, including many who promised to make even past prison sentences disappear. Jason Kenney, then the immigration minister, acknowledged that "crooked consultants" were a problem for the program.

There are still ways into Canada for a wealthy immigrant, who could, for example, buy a Canadian company and then bring himself or herself in to work for it. But that is a more complicated process, with less assured results.

It may be simpler just to look elsewhere. Canada's initial suspension (in 2012) and subsequent plan to cancel the immigrant investor program have coincided with a dramatic rise in the use of the U.S. EB-5 visa program, that country's avenue for immigrant investors. Washington issued fewer than 2,000 such visas in 2010; last year, 8,567 EB-5 visas went out. More than 80 per cent of the applicants are Chinese.

Meanwhile, the cancellation of the Canadian program offers a window into the hope that this country continues to inspire in the rest of the world. Those on the immigrant investor wait list may be wealthy, relative even to Canadian standards, but they have also made unusual sacrifices to try to move across the Pacific.

Take Du Jun, a 54-year-old who works in information services. Soon after applying in 2010, he enrolled his child in a Canadian-curriculum school in China. Now, graduation is nearing with little hope of the family immigrating to Canada. And that curriculum is poor preparation for China's standardized college entrance exams.

Or take Duan Wuhong, a 49-year-old mother of three. She moved to Shanghai to prepare her immigration application. She chose Canada after putting it to her children, who said it was "the best choice" over the United States, France, Britain and New Zealand. At the time, she thought that her bid to move to Canada "was the best choice and the best decision for me." Now, she sees it as "the worst choice I've ever made." She practically spits when she speaks.

Rong Bing, a 47-year-old former investment banker, has gone without work since 2009 as he waited to move to Canada, hoping that any month would bring positive news. It never came. He offers an unusually poignant argument for coming to Canada. The 1989 student protests that led to the Tiananmen massacre instilled a yearning for Western democracy and human rights that, even decades later, has lodged itself "in our hearts deeply," he said. What he wants most is more of that.

"We are all rich businessmen. We have a rather reasonable life in China," he said. They have the money to buy good health care and imported food. "So that is not all our pursuit for immigration," he said. "I know Canada is a country full of freedom, justice and friendliness. That spirit is the real reason why we want to immigrate to Canada."