Until two months ago, James Ouimet, 41, was among the toughest obstacles standing in the path of many would-be refugees to Canada. As a senior immigration officer of the federal department of employment and immigration based in Toronto, Ouimet spent his days examining refugee claimants to establish whether their stories of persecution at home were true—and their claim to sanctuary in Canada valid. Those who failed to answer Ouimet satisfactorily could face deportation. Then, on May 12, Ouimet switched sides and became a specialized consultant. Abandoning a $36,454 base salary, Ouimet embraced shorter working hours, a considerably larger paycheque— he says that he may make $65,000 this year—and a clientele of would-be immigrants. “Our clients ask, ‘How can I stay?’ ” said Ouimet. “We show them all the loop-
holes. That’s the name of the game.”
The game has attracted a growing number of professionals. Ouimet estimates that two dozen colleagues have left the federal immigration service in the past three years to become private consultants in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. At the same time, the number of lawyers specializing in immigration in Ontario alone reached 330 this year, compared with 20 in 1981. The listings for immigrant consultants—who numbered about half a dozen at the beginning of the decade—now overflow two columns of the Toronto Yellow Pages. Observed immigration lawyer Richard Boraks of Toronto: “It’s big business.”
Certainly, it is lucrative business. Would-be Canadian residents regularly pay lawyers or consultants between $1,500 and $4,000 to shepherd their claim through the complexities of forms, examinations and hearings that lead to refugee or landed-immigrant status. The legal fee for handling a claim under the special immigration program for wealthy entrepreneurs can reach $30,000.
But the potentially high fees, together with
have led to abuses. In January, a Toronto district court fined José Rafael, 60, of Toronto, $50,000 for 10 breaches of the Immigration Act after evidence showed that he had counselled Portuguese citizens to pose as religious refugees. And next month, Toronto lawyer Martin Pilzmaker faces a disciplinary hearing before the Law Society of Upper Canada in connection with tactics he used to help wealthy Hong Kong businessmen acquire citizenship.
Last December, Gordon Fairweather, the newly named head of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, promised to regulate or license consultants who appeared before the new agency. But last week, Fairweather said that federal officials believe that the role of immigration consultants lies outside Ottawa’s jurisdiction. Still, he said: “Something has to be done. There are no standards now.”
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