What’s Love Got to Do with It?
The newspaper headline read “Ottawa Moves to Curb Marriages of Convenience” and I thought to myself “that is going to be one tall order.” But as I continued the article it became clear that our government does not intend to control all marriage arrangements. Wealthy geezers and their trophy wives can breathe a sigh of relief for it is only phony love-matches involving Canadian immigration that our lawmakers aim to stamp out. To this end, the Minister of Immigration will soon announce a new “conditional” immigration status for sponsored spouses and common law partners in an effort to curtail marriage fraud. As it stands now, they arrive in Canada as permanent residents and the Minister feels their status makes it more difficult to deport them if it is later found that they lied in their bid to come to Canada.
Under the proposed regulations couples will have to prove that they have lived together for a defined period (two years or more according to the Minister) after arrival in Canada before the sponsored spouse gains permanent resident status. In my opinion, this new American-styled conditional visa will cause more harm than good.
The first thing to realize is that no fraud prevention system is infallible. Any process that has legal Canadian residency as its outcome is going to be the target of abuse, at least to some extent. At the present time we rely upon visa officers and intelligence officials at Canadian missions abroad to weed out fraudulent applicants and to uncover sophisticated schemes. From the accounts I’ve read they do an excellent job and if more of them are needed to control the fraud then that is where our limited resources should go. It will prove more cost effective to wage this fight before these con artists reach our shores. The government will tell us that they now plan to fight schemers both inside and outside of Canada, but human nature being what it is, more applicants about whom visa officers have doubts will be granted entry to Canada given that another line of defence supposedly exists. Remember that it costs a lot more to try and remove someone from Canada than to refuse them entry in the first place. Consider that the new regulations will supposedly contain an escape clause from the cohabitation requirement in the case of abuse. This will inevitably lead to a “he said, she said” fiasco that in the end will benefit mostly the lawyers. And what about the young bride who feels she has to tolerate an abusive relationship for a number of years because her spouse threatens to have her deported if she gets out of line? You want more complications? Canadian children might become part of the picture. Needless to say, enforcement officers and the courts will have their hands full.
There are two kinds of fraudulent schemes that occur. The first type usually involves cash and must have a willing Canadian co-conspirator as the sponsor in order to succeed. The government does not need to change the existing regulations in order to stop this illegal activity. Simply, increase the penalty on conviction to something closer to the U.S. model of a $250,000 fine and five year imprisonment. Publicize this well and watch the would-be Canadian participants vanish.
The second type of fraud involves unwitting Canadian sponsors and will likely prove more difficult to eradicate under the current law. In this scenario the unsuspecting Canadian gets taken advantage of by the sponsored spouse, who bolts the relationship soon after the coveted permanent resident card is obtained. These situations run the gamut; from culturally accepted arranged marriages to the lovestruck paunchy middle aged guy who believes that the young beautiful Eastern European babe whom he connected with online really wants to settle down with him in Sudbury. No doubt these relationships come with sadness for the Canadian sponsor. This is especially the case because sponsors sign an undertaking, valid for 3 years, in which they agree to reimburse the government in the event that their sponsored spouse ends up on welfare.
Still it makes more sense to beef up the existing safeguards than to embark on a new program that will surely cost significantly more to administer. Bringing the heavy lifting to Canada will only exacerbate tensions that already exists between Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency. I say punish corrupt Canadians meaningfully and educate naive Canadians about the potential pitfalls of spousal sponsorship. After that … buyer beware. Those who choose to engage in risky behaviour can’t expect the government to spend more taxpayers’ money than is necessary in order to extricate them from their precarious circumstances
In the end, I’ll be surprised if the new regulations don’t come into force. For the government the optics are too good to pass up. The regulations appear to fit with the Conservatives’ tough on crime agenda. Their core supporters will applaud any effort to straighten out the crookedness they perceive everywhere in the immigration system. And finally, the government gets to curry favour with some of the cultural communities, whose votes they very much desire.
Just don’t say I didn’t tell you so.