Blog > 2007

Canada Immigration Blogs by Attorney David Cohen


The Missing Link

December 31st, 2007

Over the past year we’ve seen quite a few changes in Canadian immigration. The trend continues towards the decentralization of immigration selection, with more and more power being put in the hands of provinces through Federal-Provincial agreements. More people are coming to Canada through Provincial Nomination Programs (PNP). The PNP’s also show another ongoing trend in Canadian immigration: a focus on jobs. Whether through PNP’s or other streams, the Canadian immigration story of 2007 has been: if you have a job waiting for you, you can get to Canada sooner. Read More »

Canada Should Reduce Visa Application Fees

December 17th, 2007

In Canada, we enjoy first-class social services such as healthcare and education. To pay for these services, the government has a number of sources of revenue… from income taxes to goods and services taxes (VAT). While most government services are free to the user, some – including visa services – charge fees to cover administrative costs. Read More »

Come on in, Just Don’t Get Sick

November 26th, 2007

From the day Permanent Residents land in Canada, they have nearly all the rights and obligations of Canadian citizens. Aside from the right to vote, a Permanent Resident who landed in Canada yesterday and a native-born Canadian pay the same taxes and in return have the same expectation to services from the government. That is, unless they get sick. Read More »

Who is Making our Border Decisions?

October 24th, 2007

Niagara Falls is one of the wonders of the world, and a point of Canadian national pride. The Falls lie on the border with the United States, however the more impressive Horseshoe Falls are within Canada’s jurisdiction. While Canadians take pride in ownership of the better share of the famous waterfall, recent incidents at the nearby border crossing with the U.S. call into question how much control Canada really holds over its famous landmark, and who may enter the country to see it. Read More »

Standing Up for Veiled Voters

September 26th, 2007

Canadians went to the polls earlier this month in a series of Federal by-elections marked by controversy. Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand announced that in light of the Canada Elections Act he would not require women wearing burka or veils to show their faces in order verify their identity. Until recently this was not an issue as there was no requirement to present photo identification when voting. However, that changed when Parliament recently passed Bill C-31, which amended the Canada Elections Act to include a new requirement; that voters present photo identification. As a result, the question of how to identify women who wear veils was raised. Read More »

Preventing Discrimination Versus Encouraging Multiculturalism

August 29th, 2007

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province and a beacon for newly arriving immigrants. In fact, well over half of new immigrants arriving in Canada settle in Ontario. On October 10, residents of the province will head to the polls to elect a new government. As the campaign picks up momentum, it is becoming clear that this fall’s vote will have major implications for multiculturalism in Canada. Read More »

Why All the Secrecy?

July 30th, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” He meant that openness and transparency are fundamental elements of a true democracy. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on the strength of our democracy and the rights which are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Recent events have brought rights and democracy in Canada into question. Read More »

Buyer Beware

June 27th, 2007

Buyer Beware

A series of articles in the Toronto Star recently shone a powerful spotlight on the immigration consulting industry. What they found does not speak well for the industry.

First a bit of background on the subject. For many years only lawyers in good standing with their provincial bar association were allowed to represent clients before immigration tribunals. In reality however, individuals seeking to immigrate to Canada were receiving advice from a variety of sources, including consultants from a wide range of backgrounds. With no regulation however, reputable consultants practiced alongside individuals with little in the way of credentials and credibility.

The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) was created in 2004 as a way to monitor immigration consultants who are not lawyers. CSIC is a self-regulating body meant to ensure that CSIC standards of service quality are met by its members. The incentive to join CSIC is that its members are allowed to represent clients before the Canadian government for immigration matters. This opportunity to be recognized as a visa applicant’s agent by the Government of Canada was intended to draw consultants into the fold as a means to standardize the industry.

The investigation by the Toronto Star however unearthed a series of behaviours that show that many clients are still being exploited, and the system is being defrauded. Why hasn’t CSIC cleaned up the industry? What it comes down to is that the organization is not enforcing its mission.

The idea was that by creating a standard for professionalism, clients of immigration consultants could be more confident in their services and any unethical and illegal behaviours would be weeded out. Building a standard however takes more than words on a mission statement, it takes active enforcement. Since its founding, the CSIC has not established a pattern of disciplinary proceedings to punish unethical behaviour. Memberships have been revoked for failure to pay dues or to meet language requirements, but very seldom for improper practice.

Unscrupulous behaviour is by no means limited to immigration consultants. The difference however is that if a client is defrauded by a lawyer, his or her law society will use its power to disbar the lawyer. In addition, bar associations can also provide a kind of insurance policy for consumers, by ensuring that defrauded clients are compensated. Potential immigrants, often unfamiliar with the details of Canadian laws and concerned about jeopardizing their applications, are a group whose interests require protecting. The problems highlighted by the Toronto Star investigation show that CSIC is not doing its job.

Even as an organization with voluntary membership, CSIC has within its authority a wide range of options to discipline its members. These tools have not been put to use, and the result is that the industry remains fraught with individuals willing to mislead their consumers and the government, and these individuals are tarnishing the work of others in the field. A concerted effort by CSIC to enforce their mandate will recapture the confidence of honest professionals and of consumers. Until then for those in the process of immigrating to Canada, it remains caveat emptor, or buyer beware, when seeking immigration advice under the CSIC banner.

The Right to Sponsor

June 19th, 2007

Equality is a fundamental Canadian value. Whether you are a fifth-generation Canadian or you have just received your Canadian citizenship this morning, you are entitled to exactly the same set of rights and responsibilities. Or at least that’s the way it’s meant to be.

Family reunification is a stated goal of Canadian immigration policy. Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents may sponsor their parents, grandparents, spouses or children to come to Canada as Canadian Permanent Residents. According to Canadian law this right to bring your family to Canada cannot be denied to any Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident as long as they are residing in Canada and meet sponsorship requirements.

In practice however we can see that this right is not being provided equally to all Canadians. Once an application to sponsor parents or grandparents is approved by the central processing office in Mississauga, Ontario, there is a reasonable expectation that the process will be finalized within a similar time frame no matter where the family member is coming from. A quick look at processing times for parent/grandparent sponsorship applications shows that this expectation is not being satisfied. For the more fortunate applicants, the average application processing time through the Canadian immigration visa office in London is about 7 months; through Cairo it would be 11 months; through the Ankara office in 12 months. At the other end of this spectrum it takes 31 months, on average, to process cases through the Paris or Manila visa offices, 34 months through the New Delhi or Singapore visa offices.

There are a number of reasons why certain Canadian visa offices take longer than others to process applications. Higher volume of applications, not enough staff available, other administrative challenges all can contribute to slowing down processing times. The fact of the matter is, however, that no matter what the explanation is, these drastic differences are unacceptable. For other categories of immigration, Canada’s government may place its resources where it deems appropriate; since the applicants are not yet Canadians, they do not have a right to immigrate. For sponsorship of family members however, it is existing Canadians and Permanent Residents whose equality rights are being violated.

When you have differences of two full years in processing times between different visa offices, what it amounts to is discrimination based on the location of a Canadian’s parents. Even worse, when parents or grandparents are elderly, long delays can mean that they will no longer pass required medical exams, meaning that in such cases, the right to sponsor is being denied altogether.

One reason that immigrants choose to come to Canada is because they can count on having their rights respected and being treated equally no matter who they are or where they come from. In many ways Canada leads the world in this regard. The Canadian government needs to allocate the necessary resources to make sure that the right to sponsor is respected equally for all Canadians, no matter where their family is.

The Game is Rigged

May 22nd, 2007

Canada needs more doctors. This message has been trumpeted for years by politicians, hospitals, and by many ordinary Canadians, who are unable to find a family doctor and are frustrated by the long delays to see a medical specialist. For a country that prides itself on having a first-class public health care system, things could be a lot better.

A number of doctors from around the world have answered the call to come work in Canada. They gave up careers in their home countries. They accepted the fact that despite being well-educated and experienced, they would not be able to work in Canada until going through the Canadian licensing process.

Today, there is news of a group of 250 of these foreign-trained doctors who chose to settle in the province of Quebec, where thousands of inhabitants are in need of a family doctor. These doctors have passed national licensing examinations. They have passed provincial licensing examinations. They have passed language proficiency tests. But they aren’t practicing today. We should be asking why.

Before medical doctors can practice in any Canadian province, they must complete a residency program, which is a paid hospital position considered the last step in medical training. This applies to doctors trained in Canada and doctors educated abroad. But there is an important difference between these two groups: nearly all Canadian medical school graduates are accepted into residency positions, but only just over a quarter of foreign-trained doctors were able to find a residency position last year. This isn’t a matter of too-few residency spaces being reserved for Canadian medical students. Several dozen residency positions in Quebec are going unfilled this year. How could this be?

Foreign-trained doctors are caught in a Catch-22. In order to be accepted into residency programs, which are administered by universities and hospitals together, they must have at least one year of continuous medical practice within the previous four years. This is nearly impossible to accomplish. Upon immigrating to Canada, doctors often must take Canadian university courses and are required to sit for provincial and federal exams before they are allowed to practice medicine. This education and examination process can be lengthy. Therein lies the problem: they cannot get the residency without the experience and cannot practice in Canada without the residency. They deserve better.

Of course it is important to maintain high standards for our healthcare system. And yes, Canadian medical schools are of high quality. But there is a line between maintaining Canadian standards and creating unnecessary obstacles. In Quebec at least, that line was crossed long ago. A few weeks back, Quebec’s Minister of Health, Philippe Couillard, publicly reprimanded the universities for not accommodating foreign-trained doctors in residency programs. More recently however, Couillard has back-pedalled, saying that he will not intervene on the doctors’ behalf.

In contrast, the province of Ontario seems to be doing a better job on this issue. The provincial government is currently providing millions of dollars to train their foreign doctors. Last year, more medical licenses were awarded to international medical graduates than Ontario graduates. An example is being set for the rest of Canada.

The status quo in many of the Canadian provinces cannot continue in the name of “standards”. To suggest that foreign doctors are not sufficiently qualified to practice even after passing provincial and national licensing is unreasonable as well as insulting to a group of professionals who left their careers behind to come to Canada. Most of all, it is unfair. It is unfair to the doctors and it is unfair to ordinary Canadians who are being robbed of this expertise in their healthcare system. We can do better.

What Not to Wear

April 30th, 2007

Should people in Canada have to ask politely to wear what they want? Canadians define our nation with pride as a cultural mosaic, a vibrant and colourful collection made up of people who immigrated to Canada from every corner of the world. Multiculturalism is the rule in Canada, and it carries the force of the constitution.

This month we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among other things, the Charter guarantees freedoms of belief, religion, and expression.

One would think that in this cultural climate in which Canadians take such pride, we wouldn’t be concerning ourselves with how people dress. Yet there have been all too many instances where individuals have had to fight hard to have their religious wardrobe accommodated.

- In 1985, when Baltej Singh Dhillon, a devout Sikh, wanted to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, he was able to meet all the requirements except for the dress code. He could not wear the trademark “Mountie” hat because of his religious duty to wear a turban. It took a long and concerted effort all the way to the national parliament by Dhillon to have this policy officially changed.

- In a Montreal school in 2001, a 12 year old boy was sent home because he was told he could not wear his kirpan, a ceremonial dagger worn under the clothing. Of course the school had a policy against any weapons, but when the issue of safety was looked at closely, with the dagger in a wooden sheath and sewn under cloth, it is not accessible. In 2006 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the boy’s favour.

- Earlier this year at a soccer tournament in Quebec, a young Muslim girl was ejected because she was wearing a headscarf on the pitch. The referee was another young Muslim-Canadian, but was following rules set out by the sport’s international governing body FIFA, which says that nothing may be worn on the head for reasons of safety. At a recent meeting FIFA upheld this rule, saying essentially that “rules are rules”.

Rules can work both ways when it comes to protecting rights in a multicultural society. On the one hand, the courts have continued to rule in favour of allowing people to wear what they wish. If the young soccer player chooses to appeal this rule in the Canadian courts, it is likely she would succeed.

But she should not have to go that far. In these cases rules were being followed without a real thought to why they were made in the first place. The soccer rules are meant to protect players, so that children can play the sport safely. Was the headscarf really a danger to her or other players on the field? Is the risk anything close to the possibility of injury from suiting up for a game of hockey, Canada’s national sport? Telling this young girl that she can’t wear her headscarf misses the point.

We have important rules in place that protect rights. We have other rules that may infringe on rights. As the philosopher Thomas Reid said “the rules of architecture never built a house”. How you dress in Canada should not be a matter of rules. No one should have to ask nicely to wear clothing that is important to their religion. This is not only Canadian law but a Canadian value. Restricting that would make for a pretty dull mosaic.

On Recognizing Foreign Credentials

March 21st, 2007

News out today that the Conservative led minority government in Ottawa won’t be establishing a federal agency to review and recognize the work and educational credentials of newly-arriving immigrants, after all. Notwithstanding their pre-election promise to help newcomers become accredited in Canada, the party now in power has instead decided to refer immigrants to provincial bodies for the assessment of their credentials. Talk about passing the buck.

To be fair, the Conservative party has done no worse on this particular issue than any other political party that has formed a government, going back as far as I can remember. Come election time, politicians trip over themselves in their haste to make promises… but you’ve heard all this before.

In truth, the problem all along here has been the provinces and the professional orders that regulate many skilled occupations. With regard to the latter, it would be naïve to think that professional bodies care about anything other than the well-being of their existing members. As for the provinces, they are much better at erecting barriers than at removing them. Take, for example, the case of Ms. Tia Quance, a registered nurse in Ontario, who wanted to transfer her qualifications to Quebec. According to her letter to the editor in today’s Montreal Gazette, she faced nothing but “bureaucratic traps and obstacles” in her attempt to register with the Quebec Order of Nurses. She faces a two-year application process – and she is Canadian.

The average Canadian probably doesn’t give much thought to the difficulty faced by foreign-trained professionals in their efforts to have their credentials recognized in Canada. But we should. As Canadians, we all pay more for skilled and professional services and we all wait longer for medical and social services than we ought to. Once we’re fed up enough, we’ll insist that politicians deliver on their promises.