Mr. Speaker, this is a very important motion for us to engage in, and I certainly hope that every member of this House, who has constituents who rely on immigration consultants to help them go through and navigate the process of immigrating to Canada or getting access to a pathway to Canada, supports this motion.
We are talking about a report that was done at committee; and by the way, the committee spent a series of meetings listening to witnesses on the critical issue of the immigration process, and more specifically about how so many of them have been ripped off by what we call crooked consultants. In that process, we also learned that the self-regulating body from the profession has been failing those individuals.
It has not only been failing the applicants, but I believe it has been failing all of Canada. I say that because so much of the integrity of our system depends on consultants' work. When the body fails in ensuring that people are doing their job properly, when it fails to ensure immigration consultants are acting responsibly and ethically, then that infringes on our reputation in Canada. Hence, this report is absolutely urgent. It was one of those rare occasions where a report was supported by every member of the committee, across all party lines. There were no dissenting reports, no supplemental reports of any sort, and we all agreed that urgent action needs to be taken now.
As I mentioned earlier, the report was submitted to the government back in June. We waited and waited for the government to respond, and finally in October the minister wrote to the chair of the committee in response. The letter, dated October 13, basically comes down to the government saying that it will look at the issue further. When I received that letter, I was devastated. I was so disappointed with that response, because it is not as if this issue emerged yesterday. It is not as if this was some sort of controversial issue. Rather, it was an issue where every member of that committee unanimously accepted the recommendations. In total, I believe there were 21 recommendations advanced. Each of them is valid and supported by every committee member, yet the government does not have the wherewithal to act on even one of them.
In my view, if the government seriously wants to ensure people are protected, at minimum it could take action on recommendation number 10 in the report before we break for the holiday season, which states:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a mechanism that will effectively allow individuals who have been abused by unscrupulous representatives to file a complaint without fear it will jeopardize their application or status.
That is the minimum the government can do, and that would send a very clear message to all those who have been cheated and abused in this process that they have protection afforded to them. The most important protection they are seeking is to ensure their application or status would not be put in jeopardy. Surely the government can do that.
For many of the individuals, immigrating to Canada is not an easy journey. The immigration process is often difficult and complex, so some have sought the help of third parties such as family members, friends, lawyers, or immigration consultants. Sadly, in some of these cases unscrupulous representatives take advantage of those individuals' dreams of having a better life for themselves and their families.
I have to go back in history a bit. The regulatory body, which used to be the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, was the first governing body established in 2003 as an independent federally incorporated not-for-profit body operating at arm's length from the federal government and responsible for regulating paid immigration consultants. In 2004, CSIC was recognized in the regulations as the organization responsible for regulating paid immigration consultants.
Fast-forward to 2008, and the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration undertook a study of the immigration consultants and its report highlighted issues with CSIC's governance and accountability framework, which did not ensure that immigration consultants were being adequately regulated in the public interest with respect to the provision of professional and ethical consultation, representation, and advice. That was back in 2008. Problems existed with the first self-regulatory agency, and the government undertook a study on this. It found all sorts of problems and then put forward the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, in this place, which was incorporated and came into force in October of 2014.
Just this year, we undertook to do a study and found that, lo and behold, problems exist with that regulatory body that was newly established, though maybe not so new because it was established back in 2014. The problems were so grave that the committee put forward a report with 21 recommendations, unanimously urging the government to act. It said the time for self-regulation of this industry has come to an end and it cannot be trusted to do this work. The situation goes on and on, and people continue to be hurt in the community. The committee called for the government to establish a government-regulated agency. Until the profession can prove that it can be trusted again, we cannot allow this path to continue. That is what we are talking about.
Let me highlight, by the way, what happened in committee, so every member of this House knows. The committee heard from some 50 witnesses during eight meetings that were held between March 6, 2017, and May 29, 2017. It received a number of written submissions as well. It was not as if it was a quick study. The committee did an in-depth study. A number of witnesses highlighted tremendous problems that have been going on with ICCRC, and said the time has come for drastic action to be taken by government.
Let me share the issues we face with members of the House. First, on the issue of investigation, the ICCRC is responsible for regulating paid immigration consultants. It also has the authority to investigate allegations of unethical or unprofessional behaviour of authorized immigration consultants. The RCMP and CBSA are both responsible for investigating authorized consultants who engage in fraud, and ghost consultants who operate outside the law governing immigration representatives. I bring this up as a major issue. Why is that? Let us take this information for a spin.
One witness at committee informed us that she trusted an immigration consultant with her live-in caregiver application and paid her for services, only to be left stranded one day after her arrival in Canada, with no employer, no financial resources, and none of her belongings. Sadly, this is a story we have heard before. In fact, there is a current class action lawsuit, which I will highlight later, on the vulnerabilities of many individuals like the witness who presented to the committee. While the in-depth problem is unknown to all of us, more and more stories of exploitation are emerging, and that is what we are seeing.
Currently, there are approximately 3,600 ICCRC members. ICCRC stated that it receives on average 300 complaints a year. As of the end of December 2016, there were 1,710 complaints filed against consultants, which is almost two complaints for every member. How is that the situation?
CBSA stated that it has 126 active investigations of immigration consultants related to the IRPA offences. In the context of the number of complaints we have, I submit that CBSA does not have enough resources to do its work.
I have a case that should be of interest to every single member in the House, and more importantly, to the government, because as I said, when we have unscrupulous practices taking place, such as these kinds of situations, they undermine our reputation as a country and undermine our immigration system.
It is inhumane for someone to take advantage of individuals and families who rely on them, who have scarce resources. They come up with the resources, because they desperately want to make sure that their applications are done properly and that they enhance their chance of success in getting a permanent pathway to Canada. However, when we allow the situation to continue, when we know about it, we are part of the problem. That cannot be allowed to happen.
I mentioned the class action lawsuit. Let me share this information with members of the House.
Canada has admitted more temporary foreign workers than immigrants since 2006. Migrant workers are desperate to seek opportunities to better their lives and those of their families. As a result, as I mentioned, they are often subject to abuse and exploitation.
Recently, four foreign temporary workers won the right to a class action suit against Mac's and three immigrant consulting services: Overseas Immigration Services, Overseas Career and Consulting, and Trident Immigration Services. These companies are controlled by a Surrey resident, Kuldeep Bansal, who allegedly charged the workers money to obtain jobs at Mac's, but those migrant workers arrived in Canada only to find that most of those jobs did not exist.
Access to information requests revealed that LMIOs were issued for 486 positions with Mac's through these immigration consultant companies between 2012 and early 2014. Charles Gordon, one of the lawyers representing the workers, said:
Victims of this scheme were recruited in job fairs held in Dubai. They paid around $8,000 in fees in exchange for the promise of a job in Canada. Typically, they paid $2,000, often in cash, in Dubai, to get the process started, and then once they received an employment offer and an LMO, they had to wire another $6,000 before Overseas would provide them the documents allowing them come to Canada.
It was extremely disturbing for me to learn that potentially hundreds of temporary foreign workers were victimized. People were duped with a false promise and treated as commodities that could be shipped into Canada, used up, and discarded. What is even more disturbing is that this practice continues.
CBSA has supported a number of the victims from overseas in obtaining temporary resident permits while it conducted an investigation into Bansal overseas. We understand that CBSA has been waiting for some time for approval of the charges.
Hundreds of migrants in this class action suit were exploited, and they are trying to seek justice from the government. With respect to this case and to the depth of this issue, I would like to share with the House a typical story.
This is the story of Amila Perera. He is from Sri Lanka, where his wife and children live. While living and working in Dubai, Amila was introduced by a friend to Mr. Bansal, who encouraged him to attend a seminar put on by one of Mr. Bansal's companies, Overseas Immigration Services. Overseas was advertising that it was recruiting for certain positions in Canada and would guarantee job allocation.
Mr. Amila paid Overseas an initial installment of approximately $2,500 Canadian to get the job placement process started. That was around March 2013. Mr. Bansal then told him that Overseas would find him a job in Canada. Shortly after, Amila received a labour market opinion, a job offer, and an employment contract to work as a food service supervisor at Mac's, in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, as part of Canada's temporary foreign worker program.
Once Amila received his visa, Mr. Bansal asked for the remaining $6,000 Canadian. Amila asked if he could pay it in instalments, but Mr. Bansal stated that the whole amount had to be paid before Amila could come to Canada. Amila then sold everything he had in Dubai to raise $5,000. He borrowed the remaining $1,000, all of which was paid in January 2014.
For several months thereafter, Amila was without work, and his income had ended, of course, in Dubai, and he returned home to Sri Lanka, waiting for confirmation to come to Canada. Months went by while he pursued it. When he was finally able to connect with Overseas, he was informed that it was sending him a plane ticket to leave for Canada the following day and that he had to have $1,000 Canadian with him when he arrived in Canada, or he would be denied entry.
He and his wife then spent their last 24 hours rushing around selling all of her jewellery and borrowing money to gather the additional $1,000. Overseas representatives then instructed Amila not to bring any documents to Canada that could connect him with Overseas, and specifically instructed him to destroy all the emails and receipts connected to Overseas.
Upon arriving in Canada, in April 2014, Amila followed Overseas' direction and took a taxi to a basement suite in Surrey, where three other workers were living in a two-bedroom suite. Over the following week, 10 to 12 workers arrived at the apartment. There was nowhere for him to sleep, and he had no food.
Ready to work for Mac's, Amila went to Overseas' office, where he was informed that he had to wait for a position to become available. After a couple of weeks of waiting, Amila was sent to work as a cashier at a Mac's in Kitimat, B.C., where he was set up with a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment with another temporary foreign worker.
Upon beginning work, Amila was initially working a lot of hours, but gradually his hours were reduced. He and the other worker began panicking, because they had very little money to buy food and to pay for rent and the household amenities they needed. The two workers shared a blanket and slept on the floor. They could not even afford a mattress. This went on, and the hours of work died down. Every day they were walking into town to try to find work, without success.
At some point, they met someone from a community group, a good-hearted person, who raised the money and sent Amila back to the Lower Mainland. He then hooked up with community organizations there to pursue justice.
That is the history. That is the reality of many people who are being cheated by unscrupulous immigration consultants. We have a report before us with 21 recommendations dealing with this issue. They are recommendations the government can act on now.
We need to make sure that those being abused are not afraid to come forward to pursue justice. We need the government to make a commitment that it will act on these recommendations. I get that it will take some time to set up a new system to do this, but the government must make that commitment and say that it will do it. Let us put in a transition process to transit to a proper process, a proper regulatory system, a proper complaint system, so that the people are not taken advantage of. Last but not least, I call on the government to resource CBSA so that it can do its job.
Finally, where CBSA has done its job and is waiting for the government to prosecute these crooked consultants, let us get on with it and do it. Justice needs to be served, and we can start here by making it happen in the House.