CANADA

A ticking time bomb

New revelations rock the immigration department

PAUL KAIHLA November 21 1994
CANADA

A ticking time bomb

New revelations rock the immigration department

PAUL KAIHLA November 21 1994

A ticking time bomb

New revelations rock the immigration department

Copies of the tape had been making the rounds in Toronto’s Sikh community and Liberal back rooms for months. For Inderjit Singh Bal, the recording was a ticking time bomb. Bal is a high-profile Toronto Liberal and recent appointee to the Immigration and Refugee Board, whose members act as judges in the thousands of refugee claims filed in Canada each year. The tape is of a 1992 interview on a Toronto radio station conducted in Pun-

jabi, Bal’s first language, and it contains a stunning admission. In it, Bal acknowledged that he entered the country illegally in 1976 and later obtained his landed immigrant status by marrying a Canadian. The admission reached a much wider audience on Nov. 4, when Reform party MP Art Hanger questioned Bal about the interview during a hearing of the House of Commons immigration committee. Bal told Hanger that although he initially entered the country il legally, he did not think that oth ers should do so. Two days later, Bal quit his post, which carries a salary of between $73,000 and $84,000, stating in a letter of resignation that if he remained on the refugee board “its credibility may be damaged further.”

It could hardly help. In fact, Bal’s resignation is only the latest broadside against Canada’s beleaguered immigration system. Days before Bal’s sudden departure, the immigration board’s deputy chairman,

Michael Schelew, was suspended for allegedly pressuring officials to approve a higher number of refugee applicants. In a 50-page re-

port last week to Immigration Minister Sergio Marchi, who appointed Schelew to his post late last year, the besieged bureaucrat vigorously denied interfering in cases and said he was the victim of complaints by a few disgruntled board members. But perhaps the most explosive development of all in the immigration community stems from the case of Emmanuel Feuerwerker. A former House of Commons official and federal Liberal candidate in Toronto, Feuerwerker was charged last month with 17 counts of fraud and four counts of pretending to have influence with government officials in an alleged immigration scam. Now, the Feuerwerker case has taken on a new dimension—one that may threaten the credibility of the Liberal government. Maclean’s has learned that police have

expanded their initial investigation in that matter to explore possible corruption by politicians, including Liberal MPs and other public officials. Police refused to discuss the case last week.

For the moment, though, it is the Bal incident that is creating the biggest problems for the government—and for Marchi himself. The 38-year-old minister has enjoyed a close political association with Bal, a Toronto-area restaurant owner. During the 1990 Liberal

Police have expanded their investigation into alleged immigration fraud to explore possible corruption by politicians and officials

leadership campaign, Marchi served as cochairman of Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s Ontario organization while Bal worked as a recruiter for Marchi in the Sikh community. Bal was instrumental in helping Marchi elect a pro-Chrétien slate in the MP’s riding of York West in Toronto. Bal signed up about 300 new party members for the delegate selection meeting and he himself went to the Calgary leadership convention as a Chrétien delegate on the slate that Marchi approved. Two years later, Bal sought the federal Liberal nomination in the Toronto-area riding of Bramalea/Gore/Malton with help from Marchi, but ended up losing to rival candidate Gurbax Malhi, now an MP.

According to two Liberal MPs and a prominent Sikh organizer for the party, all of whom

requested anonymity, Marchi also helped Bal to obtain high-profile party appointments, such as membership on the Liberals’ national campaign committee for the 1993 election. “Sergio was always trying to promote Inderjit as a leader of the Sikh community,” said the Sikh organizer, a Bal rival. Seven months after becoming minister last November, Marchi appointed Bal to the Immigration and Refugee Board. “He was certainly considered qualified during the vetting process and was appointed because of his qualifications,” said Judy Morrison, Marchi’s press secretary. Morrison added that the minister had no knowledge of how Bal had initially entered the country, but felt that he had done “the right thing by resigning.”

Bal first came to Canada as a sailor on a Greek freighter. After jumping ship and living as an illegal immigrant in the country for

eight months, he fell in love with a Canadian woman. The two married in 1977, and Bal immediately reported to Canadian immigration authorities. He was told to return to India, and there, Canadian visa officers interviewed him to assess the validity of his marriage. In a news release last week, Bal said that he did not hide the fact of his illegal entry, and the officials granted him landed immigrant status. “When I came to Canada in 1978 as a landed immigrant, I be lieved that the slate had been wiped clean," Bal wrote in the release. He divorced his first wife in 1982, but has since remarried. Bal declined to comment further on his resignation when contacted by Maclean’s.

By coincidence, the Sikh community also figures in the Feuerwerker affair. A former director of research for the standing committee on labor, employment and immigration who enjoyed a high-level security clearance, Feuerwerker left the civil service in 1988 to mount a successful bid for the Liberal nomination in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke/Lakeshore. But in the middle of the 1988 general election, Feuerwerker dropped out of the race, saying that he had suffered a

heart attack. Opponents charged that the real reason was that he had made false claims in his campaign literature. The fraud counts against Feuerwerker arose after several Sikhs complained to police last year that he had charged them between $6,000 and $130,000 to help them with immigration matters, but that he had done nothing. They allege that the politically well-connected consultant bilked them of a total of $323,000. Feuerwerker himself did not return calls placed by Maclean’s last week. But investigators and liberal sources alike say that, whether guilty or innocent, Feuerwerker knows much more than he is telling about the private business affairs of many politicians.

PAUL KAIHLA