Thank you, Madam Chair.
Colleagues, it's a pleasure to appear once again before this committee.
I'd like to begin by thanking the committee for its work on studying the issue of immigration consultants.
The committee produced a very thorough report, which we carefully studied and relied upon in developing the government's proposal. I am very pleased to say that we are implementing the vast majority of the committee's 21 recommendations.
The work of this committee put an important light on the dishonest and predatory practices of some unregulated or unscrupulous consultants, and the real harm they cause to people's lives. This is exactly why our government took the time to develop a thoughtful, multi-faceted plan to address the current gaps and to strengthen the way we protect the public.
Madam Chair, like all my colleagues around this table, in my role as a member of Parliament I have heard harrowing stories of exploitation and suffering from my constituents. Prior to that, when I practised immigration law, I saw the real impacts and harm that unscrupulous and unregulated consultants cause to our clients. It is the responsibility of governments to do all we can to stop this kind of unethical, damaging behaviour.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are many honest and ethical professionals who provide important services to clients, and help them to navigate the immigration system. They, too, suffer from the damage inflicted on their reputation and their profession by the bad apples among them.
It is imperative to create a system that better protects everyone involved. While fraudsters will always seek ways to benefit themselves, we can make it harder for them to succeed, and deter others from seeking to do the same.
I have been intently focused on improving the immigration system. We have made great strides in reducing processing times, eliminating backlogs, modernizing client experiences and enhancing our service delivery. Our hope is that by making these improvements, it will be easier for all clients to access our services, without necessarily relying on a lawyer or an immigration consultant.
That being said, there will always be a demand for service providers, particularly as more people than ever before are choosing Canada as their destination to visit, study, work or build a new life.
While there have been several attempts in the past, the reality is that the field of immigration consulting has never been properly regulated. The current framework fails to provide the tools, the mandate and the oversight the regulator needs to effectively carry out its work of regulating. When the previous government designed the current regulatory body, for some reason it failed to set up the statutory framework that the body required, despite previous studies that had recommended it be done.
Our government is proposing a three-pronged strategy.
First, we will overhaul how consultants are regulated by creating a new statutory regime for the profession. The college of immigration and citizenship consultants will have the explicit responsibilities and new authorities necessary to govern the profession properly, ensure consumer protection, and hold consultants to a very high standard of professional and ethical conduct.
A first-ever statutory regime puts consultants on the same footing as other regulated professionals in Canada, including lawyers, doctors and other trade professions. Clients of licenced consultants who do not receive ethical or competent advice will have, as recourse, a robust complaints and disciplinary process, which includes new powers for the college to effectively investigate complaints against its members. This includes the ability to enter the premises of a consultant to investigate when wrongdoing is suspected, as well as the ability to request court injunctions against unauthorized consultants.
Under the new legislation, the college will be required to establish a fund to compensate people who have been victimized and exploited by a consultant. In addition, the college will establish tiered licensing for providing different types of services. It will also introduce new educational and training requirements for anyone who wants to become a consultant.
The new regulatory framework will be coupled with very strong government oversight. This includes the authority for the Minister of Immigration to appoint public interest directors to the board, design a code of conduct, designate a civil servant observer to the board, step in if the college is failing to perform as expected and make regulations that govern the conduct of the college.
The second area of focus is compliance and enforcement. Budget 2019 commits $51.9 million to strengthen protections against fraudulent consulting practices. While the regulator will be responsible for discipline and professional conduct, the government will be responsible for enforcing the law. Therefore, we will be providing more resources to the Canada Border Services Agency to pursue criminal investigations. We will also be increasing criminal penalties. We will also establish a new administrative regime to penalize non-compliance that doesn't amount to criminal behaviour. The bill proposes the establishment of monetary penalties and bans to be administered by IRCC.
Finally, the government will launch robust public awareness activities in Canada and abroad to help clients protect themselves. This includes placing dedicated community outreach officers in our visa offices abroad. Budget 2019 will also be used for the translation of materials into other languages, making them more accessible to our clientele; social media messaging; and posters, pamphlets and other materials to be placed at visa application centres abroad.
Madam Chair, this committee's recommendations on stronger oversight, more effective regulation, better deterrence mechanisms and expanded public awareness activities were key in helping the government develop this plan. Our primary objective is to protect our clients from fraud and to stop those who choose to prey on vulnerable people.
Thank you. I look forward to answering your questions.