NATIONAL

LOSING THE LOTTERY

A controversial site for immigrants changes its name, but not its tactics

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI December 11 2006
NATIONAL

LOSING THE LOTTERY

A controversial site for immigrants changes its name, but not its tactics

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI December 11 2006

LOSING THE LOTTERY

NATIONAL

A controversial site for immigrants changes its name, but not its tactics

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI

On Jan. 1, the Canadian Immigration Lottery will celebrate its second birthday. To mark the occasion, Ehab Lotfi, the man who launched the online sweepstakes, plans to draw 50 winners in a single day—49 more than usual. That’s not the only change. After nearly two years in business, Lotfi has also opted for a new name. “Welcome to the Canadian Immigration Financial Assistance website,” the home page now reads.

Not quite as catchy, but the modification might be just enough to appease industry regulators, who have spent the past few months investigating Lotfi’s so-called lottery. As first reported in Maclean’s, the controversial contest offers wannabe Canadians— for a US$100 fee—the chance to win an allexpenses-paid visa application. Thousands have entered, and every day, the photo of a new “winner” is posted on the site. “This is my lifetime dream getting fulfilled on a platter of gold,” wrote one lucky foreigner. Fellow immigration consultants are not as thrilled. Some consider the site a scam meant to trick naive applicants into believing they can actually win a life in Canada—which, of course, they can’t. The lottery offers free paperwork, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee the government will rubber-stamp it. The website also fails to mention another fact: the winners’ prizes, and the company’s cut, are bankrolled on the backs of the many, many losers.

“It’s legal 100 per cent,” Lotfi says from his Montreal office. “All my clients are happy and they defend me on the website.” So why change the name? “That is my business,” he answers. “I don’t need that name.” Lotfi now insists his lottery was never a lottery at all. It was a “marketing tool,” and anyone who reads the rules knows exactly what the grand prize is: paperwork, not paradise. “I’m not fooling anybody,” he says. “It is not a lottery.”

That’s right. It is called the Canadian Immigration Financial Assistance program—not the Canadian Immigration Lottery. And if you don’t believe him, check out the website for yourself. The address is www.canad.ian immigrationlottery.com. M