The Auditor General report heavily criticizing the Immigration Department for not properly preventing and detecting citizenship fraud, it is serious but neither a surprise, nor an indictment against the Immigration and Immigrants. I completely agree with the minister of Immigration and Citizenship, John McCallum, when he says that the vast majority of cases are properly dealt within the system and the fraudulent cases amount to one per cent of to total. It doesn’t mean that a couple of thousand of fraudulently obtained Canadian Citizenships are not a serious matter, but it is within the same parameters of ‘institutional’ frauds we see in other sectors like Income Tax returns, Welfare cheaters, EI illegitimate payments or improper business charges sustained by consumers in dealing with some companies.
Not that we should accept all of the above, but I agree with the Minister that we shouldn’t use the AG report to criminalize an entire sector, all those working in Citizenship and Immigration who are doing the best they can, and all the people, immigrants and refugees, who are honestly dealing with the system.
However, if the minister believes that implementing the recommendations of the Auditor General will fix the system, he is wrong. The problems with the system are not just the illegalities committed by a small number of people, properly identified by the AG and that must rightly be identified and punished; the real problem are those who can legally obtain the Canadian Citizenship with the intent to abuse the immigration system abusing Canada’s tolerance and hospitality.
Canada is known in the World as a Country of immigrants, and this is true. However, what many don’t know is that Canada is also a Country of ‘emigrants’.
According to a report of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, in 2010 there were 2.8 million Canadian citizens ‘emigrated’ from Canada. It is a huge number, almost 10 per cent of our population and a population larger than most of our Canadian Provinces.
But don’t feel sorry for them, they are not leaving this Country looking for jobs abroad.
I am talking about those who are obtaining the Canadian Citizenship only to take advantage of the generosity of Canadian people abusing our social services or those people who need the Canadian passport only because, as someone told me, “those with the Canadian passport, in certain Countries, receive higher salaries and find easily a job.” I am referring to people that legally obtain the Canadian Citizenship not because they care about this Country, but only because they want to use it as a policy insurance when living abroad and are in need of help. People that came temporarily to Canada only to take advantage of our system, take the passport and go back to their Country.
We all remember what happened in July 2006 when war erupted again in Lebanon and the Canadian government had to evacuate over 30.000 people living there showing the Canadian passport.
There are no official statistics, but according to some reliable sources there are almost 400.000 people with Canadian passport living in Hong Kong, 150.000 in the Gulf region and over a million in the United States.
Of course there are many who have to move outside Canada for genuine reasons and go back to their own Country; or, as it is the case of many Canadian seniors, move to Florida to spend some of their time in a warmer region. There are, however, many Americans, especially along our long border, who become citizens only to exploit our social services like Medicare.
And they can do that because our legislation to become Canadian Citizen, whose noble purpose is to help people in need, it also gives the opportunity to people with creativity to exploit our generosity. The AG has diligently exposed some of the loopholes, but most of the changes required are of political nature and fly well over the head of the Auditor General.
I am convinced that changes can be made protecting, in fact enhancing, the aspiration of those who want to come to work and live in Canada and, at the same time, weeding out those who are just trying to exploit our generosity and use our passport as an insurance policy.
The previous legislation required the physical presence in this Country of 1,095 days in four years to be qualified to apply for Canadian citizenship; then it was extended to 1,460 days in six years and now back to 1,095 days in five years. Considering the loopholes easily identified by the AG it is not difficult to fulfill the requirements, but the major issue are not the illegalities, indeed things that are completely legal but still upsetting. There are many applicants that arrive in Canada, stay the minimum time required by the legislation, then go back to their Country of origin. They come back to Canada and, at times directly from the airport still with their briefcases, go to the final interview, the swearing-in ceremony and back to their Country as a Canadian living abroad.
We need reform to weed out those who are trying to exploit the misery of thousands of people looking for a better place to live and prosper with their family; we must weed them out because with their applications clog the system, waste government resources and take time away from legitimate potential immigrants who cannot afford pricey lawyers and are forced to years of wait time; we must weed out those who don’t need Canada but only the Canadian passport; we have to do that to protect the name of real immigrants and refugees who need us and we need them; and we have to protect the taxpayers’ money used by international gamblers taking advantage of our generosity.
Believing that implementing the AG recommendations will solve the problem, is an indirect admission that people working in the Citizenship and Immigration Ministry are not doing their job, and this is not true. Considering the loopholes in the legislation, considering the shortage of personnel, and considering the political marching orders requiring quantity of files processed not the quality of the process, the implementation of the recommendations is only a futile public relation exercise.