I discussed marriage fraud on Alberta Primetime in early 2014.
Michael: First comes love, then comes marriage, unless it's all a ruse for Canadian citizenship. A 60-year-old Alberta man is the first in our province to be charged by the Canada Border Services Agency for an alleged marriage of convenience, a case falling under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which was given new teeth in 2012 as part of the federal government's much-publicized promise of cracking down on marriage fraud. Is that promise being fulfilled? Joining us now, Raj Sharma, an immigration lawyer with the Calgary firm, Stewart Sharma Harsanyi. Good evening, Raj. Good to see you.
Raj Sharma: Good to be with you.
Michael: All right. This is the first case where border service investigations have resulted in charges here in Alberta. It's also being reported that since April of last year of 10 cases where there were charges, 8 have been concluded; 6 have resulted in convictions. What does that say to you about the government's track record since implementing changes?
Raj Sharma: Well, Michael, the key is to look at this in the overall context. The overall context is that Minister Kenney himself has said that there are countless cases of marriage fraud across the country. CIC, to their credit, has instituted a number of changes to crack down on marriage fraud, but I would characterize these 10 cases and this 1 case in Alberta as too much toast and not enough butter. You've got 10 cases out of countless, out of thousands of cases, so I think it's a little early for CBSA or CSE to start patting themselves on the back as of yet.
Michael: That sounds like a rampant number of cases. You used the word "thousands" there. How much of an underground industry might there be around this?
Raj Sharma: It's huge. In fact, allegedly, Mr. Platts in Edmonton took $5000 for this marriage of convenience. He sold himself short. From what I know in the ethnic communities, a marriage of convenience, you're going at around $25,000-$30,000, maybe more.
Michael: How much of this is collusion? How much of this revolves around Albertans maybe falling victim?
Raj Sharma: There's 2 types of marriage fraud, Michael. There's the dupe. There's cases where foreign nationals are taking advantage of Canadians and simply marrying them and coming to Canada and have no intention of being with them. There's that case, and that is really the tragedy. That's the tragic case, where there's heartbreak, and, of course, there's deception and there's manipulation.
Then, of course, there's the other case, where the foreign national and the Canadian sponsor are in on it, and this is a commercial transaction. This is done to circumvent and undermine the integrity of Canada's immigration system.
Michael: As an immigration lawyer in Alberta, how would you categorize a majority of the cases that you actually come across?
Raj Sharma: It's a huge problem, Michael. In fact, what we're doing right now is we're representing a number of individuals who have been the victims of marriage fraud, and we've presented their complaints to the Canada Border Services Agency and to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. No action has been taken by those departments, even when there's clear evidence of marriage fraud. So, what we've done is we've taken an unusual step of actually going to the federal court for an order of mandamus to force the government to take action on these clear-cut cases of marriage fraud. Surprisingly, the government is digging in their heels, and they're actually defending the inaction and laziness of their own officers.
Michael: So, what is the government doing right? What's it falling short on?
Raj Sharma: I think what the government is doing right is it's instituted 2 changes that are significant. One is they're requiring anyone that comes to Canada to live with their sponsor for 2 years after arriving here. That's a conditional permanent residency. That should have the effect of allowing us to check up on these sort of marriages. Number 2 is that they're preventing anyone that comes here, being sponsored as a spouse, they themselves can't sponsor anyone else for 5 years after that. That should also be a way to limit the numbers of these marriages of convenience. So, I think that they're getting it right there.
What I think that they're not getting it right on is that they are not investigating. They're not investigating, because ultimately it is a relatively difficult case to prove. It boils down to sometimes a he said, she said type of scenario.
Michael: Mr. Sharma, always a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for your time this evening.
Raj Sharma: Thank you.
Michael: Raj Sharma is an immigration lawyer with the Calgary firm, Stewart Sharma Harsanyi.