Hussen defends new measures aimed at cracking down on immigration consultants

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press s

OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is defending new measures aimed at cracking down on unscrupulous immigration consultants, rejecting an all−party committee’s call that they be brought under government regulation.

He says he believes a new regulatory body that will oversee consultants should be self−regulated.

But Hussen is getting pointed questions from MPs on the House of Commons immigration committee on a proposal to create a new college of immigration and citizenship consultants — one of several changes to immigration law tucked into an omnibus budget bill last month.

The proposed college doesn’t follow the recommendation of the committee, which studied the issue in 2017 after a flood of concerns from newcomers about falling prey to unscrupulous immigration consultants who victimize vulnerable immigrants by charging exorbitant fees for fraudulent services.

The committee called on government to create a regulatory body to oversee and govern immigration consultants, but specified this body should be government−regulated.

Hussen says the government seriously considered the recommendation but ultimately rejected it.

“We looked at it very seriously, we considered it, we studied it. There were a number of issues with it,” Hussen told the committee Monday.

An official from his office later told the committee that bringing the college under government control would create enhanced liability risks for the government, which could be costly. It could also create possible conflicts−of−interest, with the department deciding immigration applications while also regulating the industry.

As part of its recommendation for a government−regulated college, the committee did suggest it should be overseen by a different minister to avoid any conflict−of−interest concerns.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan wasn’t buying the explanation for ignoring the committee’s recommendation.

“Every member of this committee expressed very clearly that they did not feel the industry could be trusted to be self−regulated any more. That’s why it was a unanimous recommendation for it to be government−regulated,” she said.

She noted the current regulatory council that oversees immigration consultants had received over 1,700 complaints lodged against its 3,600 members at the time the committee studied the issue in 2017. The number of consultants has since grown to over 4,200.

“I would just flag that in terms of the significance of the issues before us. And when you hear the stories of the people who have been cheated by these bad actors in the system and the lack of remedy for them, it’s breathtaking,” Kwan said.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the Liberals’ proposed self−governing body will do little to fix the systemic problems raised by many experts who provided feedback to the committee.

Hussen pointed to a number of fresh measures being brought in that will give more teeth to the new regulating college, including new powers to launch investigations, search offices, compel evidence and new powers of subpoena. Fines for those who break the law will be doubled and new administrative penalties will also be created for consultants who may not meet the high bar for criminal prosecution, but who still violate the spirit of the law.

The Liberals are pledging $52 million toward these efforts, including money for the Canada Border Services Agency to pursue more investigations and criminal penalties.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, May 6, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick