Thank you and good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and honourable members of the committee.
I'd like to thank the committee for inviting the CBSA to participate in its study of how to strengthen the integrity of the spousal sponsorship program.
Superintendent Jean Cormier, a colleague of ours from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, has agreed to be present today to support our agency and to take any questions you may have that might fall within the RCMP's purview.
As the committee has heard, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is the lead department for the policies relating to, and management of, the spousal sponsorship program.
Through this program, Canadian citizens and permanent residents may sponsor close family members for Canadian immigration. In order for a family class application to be successful, both the sponsor in Canada and their sponsored family member must meet the immigration requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The CBSA's involvement in this program is quite limited and specific. Once an immigration officer has processed an individual's application and issued a visa, the individual will be deemed to have met the admissibility requirements to enter Canada. When the individual arrives at a port of entry, a border services officer will direct them for secondary examination to validate their documentation and land them as a permanent resident in Canada.
The only other involvement the agency has in the spousal sponsorship program is during an appeal. Should an application for spousal sponsorship be denied by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the sponsor in Canada has the right to appeal the decision. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the CBSA represents the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada before the Immigration and Refugee Board in such cases, and will work closely with the responsible immigration officer to obtain and review the case file and present the government's position on the case before the board.
Having outlined the role that the agency plays in the spousal sponsorship process, I would like to turn my remarks to the more challenging aspect of the committee's study, which relates to the potential vulnerability of sponsored spouses and partners.
One of the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is to facilitate family reunification. The spousal sponsorship process is open to abuse when individuals enter into non-bona fide marriages to facilitate entry into Canada.
Both Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the CBSA understand that to combat marriage fraud effectively, there is a need for joint anti-fraud measures to deter individuals who might otherwise use a marriage of convenience to circumvent Canada's immigration laws. A marriage of convenience is a marriage or common-law relationship whose primary purpose is not the reunification of a genuine couple.
The CBSA has various enforcement options under Canada's immigration laws to pursue suspected marriage of convenience cases. The agency may remove an individual from Canada if that person misrepresented himself or herself, or if it is found that the sponsored person did not comply with the condition of living in a legitimate relationship with their sponsor for a minimum of two years, as required under the new regulations.
The CBSA investigates cases of marriage of convenience, and subsequently criminal charges may be laid for misrepresentation. In such cases, the CBSA conducts a criminal investigation and recommends to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada that charges be laid in criminal court. The CBSA investigates and pursues criminal charges under IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, against a person who counsels an individual to misrepresent himself or herself.
The CBSA's criminal investigators focus on potential fraud cases in which both parties are wilfully attempting to circumvent and abuse the immigration system. In some cases, the sponsor may be given a financial benefit in exchange for the sponsorship, or there may be an organizer or facilitator involved in setting up fake marriages for the purposes of immigration.
The CBSA also investigates cases in which a foreign national spouse used their relationship with a Canadian solely for the purpose of gaining a permanent status in Canada. However, these types of cases are challenging to investigate due to the limited availability of documentary or independent evidence to support allegations of this nature.
The issue of victimization by an abusive sponsor, however, goes far beyond marriage fraud in the immigration context. While the CBSA is mandated to actively pursue enforcement action against any permanent resident or foreign national against whom a reportable criminal conviction is registered, the CBSA is not mandated criminally to investigate cases in which domestic violence may be suspected. Unlike the CBSA, the police have the authority to pursue charges under the Criminal Code of Canada with respect to domestic violence incidents. The police are trained to deal with victims of domestic violence and work in cooperation with social services at agencies and non-governmental agencies that focus on helping victims.
Social service agencies provide shelter and other assistance to victims where needed. Many of their staff are trained to assist with domestic violence victims from immigrant communities.
Another area of concern relating to the potential vulnerability of sponsored spouses and partners is in situations of non-bona fide marriages that are used to cover human trafficking.
Trafficking in persons is a crime that involves the recruitment, transportation, or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, typically in the sex industry or for forced labour. It is an investigative responsibility of the RCMP. Trafficking in persons and related conduct are criminalized through specific offences in the Criminal Code of Canada and IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Trafficking in persons is not to be confused with human smuggling, which is the illegal movement of people across a border. Trafficked persons are always deprived of liberty when they arrive at their destination, whereas smuggled migrants would not be restricted in their movement and freedom after arrival.
Through field guidance and their enforcement training, CBSA officers receive information to assist in the identification and interception of individuals who are either suspected of human trafficking or who may be victims of such activity. Any time an officer encounters a situation in which human trafficking is suspected, they are required to separate the potential victim from the suspected human trafficker; to seize and hold any means of transportation, document, or other item if the officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that it was fraudulently or improperly obtained or used; and to take detailed notes and notify their supervising manager of the case as soon as possible so that the information may be reviewed and direction and support may be given.
A regional intelligence officer is the next point of internal contact. They will in turn coordinate further action with all the implicated CBSA partners, such as the police of jurisdiction and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The RCMP will investigate to ascertain whether trafficking in person charges can be laid under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or the Criminal Code of Canada against the alleged traffickers.
Citizenship and Immigration will conduct an interview on immigration options with the victim and may issue a temporary resident permit for up to 180 days when a preliminary assessment is made that the person may be a victim of human trafficking. The fee is waived for that permit.
A longer-term temporary resident permit or a subsequent permit can be issued if verification of the facts provides reasonable grounds to believe that the person is indeed a victim. Immigration officers will counsel the victim regarding the need to submit an application for a work permit should they wish to work and will provide victims with interim federal health documentation. The assistance is available for up to 180 days if the victim has no health insurance or is unable to pay for their own health care services.
Mr. Chair, despite its limited role in the spousal sponsorship program itself, the CBSA is very sensitive to the very real potential for individuals to be victimized by those that would circumvent the law.
To this end, the agency will remain vigilant in detecting and reporting potential cases of domestic violence as part of its core duties. It will also continue to support Citizenship and Immigration Canada's policy efforts to ensure that new immigrants are not trapped in violent relationships for fear of loss of their immigration status.
We would be happy to answer any questions you may have.