Oct 24, 2017 – Canada’s federal government will employ a further study approach before acting on the changes needed to address the failures of the regulatory body governing immigration consultants.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has issued a statement saying the government will not decide on how it plans to act until 2018, due to the ‘complexity and inter-dependencies’ of the issues raised by a Parliamentary report submitted in June 2017 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship & Immigration.
This to indicate the minister intends to give his department more time to decide the best way forward.
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As we have outlined previously, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) is not doing its job in properly self-regulating the industry. Several previous attempts have tried and failed to correct the problem. If the current government eventually finds the right solution, it will prove right for it to take its time in doing so.
Hussen’s statement comes in response to a report by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration suggesting the regulation of immigration consultants should be overhauled. An overwhelming concern is that unregulated ‘ghost’ consultants are allowed to slip through the net. The current legal framework does not enable ICCRC to police unlicensed consultants inside Canada or abroad. This leaves the task for CBSA and RCMP, as well as the federal government to try and address this problem. A number of high-profile fraud cases have made their way into the Canadian legal system as we reported earlier.
Those who are harmed the most are immigration candidates, who stand to lose their opportunity for immigration status in Canada because of the actions of fraudulent consultants.
Hussen’s statement outlines the three main areas in which the Standing Committee has called for fundamental change:
- The legislative framework for the body responsible for governing immigration and citizenship consultants.
- Investigations and enforcement concerning the offence of practising while not authorized and other offences.
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada procedures for processing applications and for communicating with clients and with prospective applicants.
Hussen writes: “The government acknowledges that there is a strong need and commitment to ensure that: those who are providing services operate in a professional and ethical manner; that public confidence and program integrity are maintained; and that the interests of newcomers and applicants who wish to retain the services of consultants are protected.”
Central to the decision the federal government has to make is whether to pursue the current policy of self-regulation, to bring the regulation of the industry under direct government responsibility, or to end the practice altogether, leaving immigration cases to be exclusively handled by qualified lawyers.
It is clear that, as with previous attempts, the overhaul of the regulation of the industry is going to take a number of months and possibly years.
In the meantime, the failing ICCRC is left to regulate the industry, despite the widely-reported incidences of in-fighting and outright unprofessionalism that caused the Standing Committee to review its role in the first place.
What is the difference between hiring a lawyer and hiring a licensed consultant?
A consultant is any person called on to give advice. A lawyer (attorney, barrister or solicitor) is licensed to perform legal functions. These may include:
- Drafting documents
- Interpreting and applying laws
- Giving legal advice
- Representing clients in court
The practice of law is regulated by each of the provinces. A lawyer must have the following credentials:
- Bachelor of law degree from recognized university
- Law admission examinations
- Training under practicing lawyer
The conduct of lawyers in Canada is regulated by the Professional Order of Lawyers (POL).
POL rules cover areas including:
- Separate trust bank accounts for client fees
- Obligations of lawyers towards clients
- Performance of mandates
- Extensive mandatory continuing legal education
The advice for immigration candidates is to take care and be selective if hiring an immigration consultant. The ideal path is to opt for a qualified immigration lawyer, who can offer expert guidance with an immigration project.
The Canadian Bar Association (CBA), representing 36,000 lawyers in Canada, has had its say, withdrawing its support for immigration consultants and telling the parliamentary committee there are ‘serious questions about whether immigration consultants are capable of self-regulation’.
Ottawa Must Take Action
Ideally, Ottawa will move to disband the ICCRC in 2018. In its place, and given the persistent failure of the federal government to establish a self-governing body, it should revert back to square one. It must permit representation for compensation only by lawyers who are members in good standing with a law society in Canada, or notaries with similar standing in Quebec.
Alternatively, it should consider setting up its own regulatory body with proper oversight and safeguards to ensure impartiality, within Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). There is ample precedent and strategic benefit for this. In Australia, the Office of Immigration has set up a highly successful in-house regulatory body, the Migration Agents Registration Authority.
In Quebec, which has its own authority to manage a comprehensive immigration program, regulates immigration consultants within the Quebec Ministry of Immigration. There is an established infrastructure that successfully regulates immigration consultants, without the repetitive problems faced by ICCRC and its predecessor.
The immediate need to protect the public is clear. Hussen must consider implementing transitional measures to relieve its current executive and appoint a suitable temporary replacement. This could also include participation from each of the 10 provincial and territorial law societies, pending the creation of a new entity. Such action would go a long way to help preserve the integrity of our immigration system and ensure it does not become further compromised.
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