Toronto firm charges $170k in fees

Another investigation has uncovered unfair and abusive fees charged by a Canadian immigration firm. The Toronto firm WonHonTa Consulting offered immigration solutions for their clients without disclosing any fees. CBC News uncovered a scheme where clients were charged $170,000 CAD for Permanent Resident status.

At this point, we cannot comment on whether WonHonTa Consulting is criminal; however, it is clearly in violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and these clients are potentially subject to misrepresentation per section 40 of IRPA. These clients may be banned from Canada for 5 years.

Misrepresentation

  • 40(1) A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible for misrepresentation
    • (a)for directly or indirectly misrepresenting or withholding material facts relating to a relevant matter that induces or could induce an error in the administration of this Act;

The keyword above is “indirectly”. This means that clients and/or applicants are caught by any mistakes made by their representatives, even in cases where they may not be aware of the information submitted on their behalf.

Buyer Beware

So the first mistake these clients of this Toronto firm made was to hire this shady firm. The CBC investigations revealed many red flags:

A Toronto immigration company offered a job to an undercover CBC journalist posing as a Chinese national seeking permanent residence in Canada for $170,000.

For that fee, WonHonTa Consulting Inc. said, the would-be immigrant would be buying the job and paying their own wage. Toronto firm

And the company said the applicant was to pay the fee to the personal bank account of WonHonTa’s sole director in order to avoid taxes.

Jiacheng Song, a manager with a China-based affiliate of WonHonTa, Nanjing Youtai Investment Consulting Co. Ltd., explained how the business works to the undercover journalist using WeChat, a Chinese social media app.

During the month-long investigation conducted through a translator, the journalist posed as a Chinese citizen wanting to become a permanent resident of Canada by obtaining skilled employment.

“To be frank, we have employers who work with us,” Song wrote. “We pay them money, they are willing to sponsor our clients for immigration.”

Clearly, this job is fake. The scheme is fake. The applicants who hire the Toronto firm are the victims.

Clear and Transparent Fees

When we started Clarke Immigration Law, we sought to run our firm differently from other law firms. Unlike other firms, we publish our legal fees online. We provide excellent services and we work to get the best results. We do not charge excessive fees. These are the values of our firm.

I have spoken with many other lawyers about publishing fees. I have heard these excuses:

  • A lawyer who serves Chinese clients quotes them much more than other clients. If he charges too little, they do not believe that he provides quality services.
  • For example, he will charge $8,000.00 for a Spousal Sponsorship (he is in Vancouver and his fees are higher than Winnipeg) for a non-Chinese couple. He will charge $12,000.00 for the same application for Chinese clients.
  • His justification is that high fees equal good service. This is simply not true.

I strongly advise clients to retain legal firms who publish their fees online. Lawyers are taught in law school the importance of transparency and predictability of the law. Canada is a common law country (save Quebec) with a history of upholding precedence; however, these principles do not seem to apply to the relationship between clients and their representatives. Lawyers do not practice what they preach. They want courts and decision-makers to provide clear reasons; however, legal fees are often completely arbitrary.

I have seen arbitrary fees charged at other law firms. The lawyer will demand a certain retainer, for example $2,000, and open a file. Then, as the file progresses, the “new” issues will arise in the same legal matter and the lawyer will charge additional fees.

Expensive Consultants

The CBC report clearly shows that immigration consultants may not be cheaper than lawyers. This Toronto firm was clearly over-charging their clients:

Song recommended the undercover journalist consider either Saskatchewan or Atlantic Canada because the qualification requirements are low and the wait times are short. He said it’s $180,000 for a job in Saskatchewan or $170,000 for the Atlantic provinces.

Song told the undercover reporter that over the past year his company had placed more than a dozen Chinese nationals in Atlantic Canada and just under ten in Saskatchewan.

I am not aware of any of these cases in Manitoba.

 

Nigerian Professionals in Manitoba Presentation

It was my pleasure to present to the Nigerian Professionals in Manitoba (NPIM) group. This is a group of ~600 Nigerians in the province who support each other and share ideas. I will say that the group was extremely engaged and attentive. Thank you so much for the invitation and I hope to see everyone again.

NPIM

Over the course of my presentation, here are some of the points covered:

  • Tips and tricks with MPNP applications
  • Supporting relatives and family members abroad through provincial programs
  • Inviting relatives and friends through federal programs, including visas
  • Pathways to Permanent Resident status
  • Compare US immigration law with Canadian immigration law
  • Residency requirements for PRs in Canada
  • PRs who work abroad for Canadian companies
  • Sponsoring spouses when the sponsor is currently married
  • Tips for bringing parents to Canada
  • Navigating the world of Designated Learning Institutions – private versus public
  • Working in Nigeria after PR status
  • Processing times for MPNP applicants – how to speed up the process
  • “Illegal aliens” in the US – what does that mean in Canada?
  • Bringing family members from the USA to Canada

The audience was very engaged and we had a great time. I would estimate that there were ~40 to 50 people in attendance and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know these professionals who clearly seek to better themselves, their families and their community.

For more information about the Nigerian Professionals in Manitoba, please visit their website here. A description of the group:

Nigerians who call Manitoba home are excellent contributors to the growth of the region with their expertise. They are actors, accountants, analysts, artists, authors, dentists, educators, engineers, entertainers, entrepreneurs, designers, teachers, medical doctors, musicians, pastors, publishers, nurses. They are engaged in many other areas as skilled workers, in science and technology, and the transportation industry. They are also financial consultants, bankers, special-needs experts, trainers and care-givers. Nigerians in Manitoba are working a variety of professions, keeping Manitoba moving.

I look forward to presenting to the Nigerian Professionals in Manitoba in the future. We ran out of time! Too many questions!

CBA Immigration Conference

For the hundreds of CBA immigration lawyers, welcome to Winnipeg! This year, we are hosting the national CBA conference from 30 MAY 2019 to 1 JUNE 2019. I have received many emails and messages from lawyers across Canada who have arrived early to explore Winnipeg. Enjoy!

Winnipeg boasts many amazing culinary spots in some very cool neighbourhoods. Here is a selection of some of our favourite restaurants:

The above is a short selection of some of the amazing destinations in Winnipeg. Apologies to all the places that we have not included. Personally, I also love VJ’s and a bunch of smaller places. Hopefully, the +500 attendees for this CBA national conference will get out and explore!

On the immigration side, welcome to Minister Hussen! I look forward to hearing your opening remarks on 31 MAY 2019. There are many significant issues and proposed changes to IRPA/ IRPR. As a CBA Member, we look forward to working with your office and the department for the best interests of applicants and our amazing country!

Here is a description of the conference from the CBA:

The CBA Immigration Law Conference is Canada’s premiere conference on immigration, refugee and citizenship law – where lawyers, judges and public employees at the front-line of immigration practice and policy-making share their knowledge and experience.

The 2019 conference will examine the role of immigration lawyers in achieving Canada’s ongoing objectives to promote justice and security, reunite families, and maximize social, cultural, and economic benefits of immigration.

WELCOME TO WINNIPEG!

Bill C-97 – Changes to IRPA

CONCERNS REGARDING PROPOSED CHANGES IN BILL C-97

Dear Sir or Madam:

On behalf of residents and organizations in Manitoba who deal directly with immigrants and refugees, we have serious concerns regarding the amendments proposed in Bill C-97. The focus of the comments below relate to the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (hereinafter IRPA) specifically. On a procedural note, however, we have serious concerns with the way that the Liberal Government is pushing for significant changes to Canadian laws without proper parliamentary debate.

Genuine Refugees in Manitoba

The vast majority of refugee claimants in Manitoba enter our jurisdiction after they have started an asylum claim in the United States. These claimants are from many countries, including Somalia, Djibouti, Nigeria, Venezuela, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Based on our collective experience, most of these claimants are, in fact, successful with their claims at the Immigration and Refugee Board (hereinafter “IRB”) and they are found to be genuine refugees. The highly skilled adjudicators at the IRB consider the claims based on sections 96 and 97 of IRPA. In addition, they assess the credibility of the claimants and they consider evidence from the United States and any other country where they have sought protection.

The proposed changes to Section 101.1 of IRPA will significant affect many claimants in Manitoba. Claimants who have made a claim for refugee protection in the United States and any of the Five Eyes countries will not be eligible to have their refugee claims heard at the IRB. Instead, Bill C-97 proposes that these individuals will have a risk assessment done as part of a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA).

We have concerns that the proposed changes will affect genuine refugees who are seeking the protection of Canada, in accordance with Canadian laws and our international obligations.

The Proposed Changes May be Unconstitutional

We have concerns that banning refugee claimants from the tribunal and, instead, having their risk assessment done by a PRRA Officer is unconstitutional and a breach of Charter Rights. As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Singh decision, the previous system that involved public servants making refugee decisions was unconstitutional; hence, the creation of the IRB.

We have concerns that many claimants in Manitoba will be in long-term limbo. Foreign nationals who are coming from so-called “moratorium countries” may be banned from filing a PRRA application. If they are banned from both the tribunal as well as the PRRA application, they will be living in Manitoba in limbo. They cannot be removed to their home countries and they cannot easily regularize their status. These individuals may be forced to make applications based on humanitarian and compassionate circumstances per Section 25 of IRPA. Currently, the processing time for that application is 30 months and these people will be long-term limbo during this time.

Potential Impact on Mental Health

We have concerns that the mental health of refugee claimants is not being sufficiently considered. All of us seek to provide the necessary support for individuals in Manitoba who are coming from countries where they may have experienced trauma, torture or persecution. The IRB has robust measures, including Chairperson’s Guidelines and the Adjudicators receive significant training on dealing with vulnerable persons and individuals who have faced trauma.

We have concerns that the proposed changes to not adequately consider the potential negative impact on the mental health who are coming to Canada seeking protection.

Positive Change

We live in a parliamentary democracy, based on debate and discussion. We have concerns that Bill C-97 has been tabled without due process. We would support changes to IRPA that adequately consider the circumstances of the individuals and the families that we assist on a daily basis.

As Manitobans, we are proud of Canada’s humanitarian tradition and we work hard to build our communities based on diversity and multiculturalism. The refugee determination system in Canada must also reflect our values to properly consider each claim and assess the merits of refugee claimants according to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Alastair Clarke – Clarke Immigration Law

Abdikheir Ahmed – Immigration Partnership Winnipeg

Lisa Forbes – Amnesty International Canada

Louise Simbadumwe – Amnesty International Canada

Dorota Blumczynska – Immigrant and Refugee Community of Manitoba (IRCOM)

Dr. Shauna Labman – Assistant Professor of Law, University of Manitoba

Ghezae Hagos – Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council

Bequie Lake – Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations

Carol Reimer (IRCOM)

Yahya Samatar – Former Refugee

Razak Iyal – Former Refugee

 

2019 Legal Fees

Here at Clarke Immigration Law, we want to ensure that we provide the best quality of service for reasonable fees. This is extremely important to us, as we are service providers. It is also extremely important that our clients understand exactly what they are paying for. You work hard for your money and you should expect legal fees in line with those expectations. Based on our research, we are the ONLY immigration law firm in Manitoba that publishes most of our legal fees on our website. These fees are calculated based on knowledge of our knowledge of immigration firms’ fees from Manitoba and Ontario, minus 20%. We want to pass along the savings to our clients. At the same time, we also provide the best possible quality of service because we know how important your applications are. We treat our clients like family and, just as family, we do not want you to suffer under huge legal bills.

Canadian Lawyer Magazine released its 2019 results for legal fees across Canada. These results are based on national averages. Some firms charge more, while others charge less. Clarke Immigration Law is pleased to report that our fees are in line with national averages. Across the board, you can see that we have met and/or exceeded expectations. Thank you to CLM for confirming that our legal fees put our clients first!

Legal Fees

To be clear, CLM has only published the average amounts for four (4) different types of applications: 1. Work Permits; 2. Family Class sponsorship (includes Spousal Sponsorship, both regular stream and SCLPC Class, Dependent Children and sponsorship applications for Parents and Grandparents); 3. Express Entry application, which would include the initial application; 3. Refugee Protection claim, which would include representation at the RPD.

Here is the above information in a clear chart:

SERVICES – CLM FEES – NATIONAL AVERAGE
Work Permit $2,501 – $3,000
Family Class sponsorship $5,601 – $6,000
Express Entry less than $3,700
Refugee Protection Claim $4,901 – $5,500

For comparison, our fees are published below:

SERVICES – CLARKE IMMIGRATION LAW BLOCK FEES
Work Permit $1,800
Family Class sponsorship $5,500
Express Entry $1,800
Refugee Protection Claim starting at $3,500

Please note that the fees quoted above are current as of 8 APRIL 2019 and may change at any time. In addition, the fees quoted above are based on cases where there are no previous refusals. Contact us directly if you have any questions and/or you would like to retain our services.

The last point that I would like to mention is the fact that only 28% of immigration law firms accept Legal Aid Certificates. On a personal note, this is a sore point. I strongly believe that immigration services should be provided by the government. Lawyers in BC planned to take job action starting 1 APR 2019 as the tariffs for legal aid are not sufficient. Tariffs in Manitoba are even worse than in BC and when I started this firm in 2015, many lawyers advised that I should not take Legal Aid Certificates. I decided, however, that is not the right thing to do.

Approximately 30% of the files at Clarke Immigration Law are on Legal Aid Certificates. You should be aware, however, that when you retain Clarke Immigration Law on a private retainer with the fees above, you are also helping to support our clients who are on Legal Aid Certificates. The only way we can accept Legal Aid Certificates and pay our bills is through our work on private retainers. For any lawyers reading this, I would strongly urge you to adopt this model. We need to put our clients first. Keep up the good fight!

Canadian Citizenship

At Clarke Immigration Law, we are thrilled to report that Tetyana Vavriychuk became a Canadian Citizen today! The entire office took time off to attend the ceremony and share this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The ceremony was done by Franco-Manitoban with roots in the Metis community. She gave an emotional presentation that focuses on the diversity of the Canadian population.Citizenship

Along with all the other eighty-one (81) individuals who became Canadian citizens, Tetyana was presented with a pass from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). Full disclosure, Alastair used to be a volunteer with the ICC and he passed our Cultural Passes to new Canadians when he practiced in Toronto.

NOTE: The photo above includes staff of Clarke Immigration Law, family & friends of Tetyana as well as officials from the Citizenship Ceremony. Thank you!

Warning Chinese Nationals

Over the past 6 months, we have seen an increase in the numbers of Chinese citizens who have been victims of fraud and abuse. These are individuals who have submitted applications to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and/or Hong Kong. In particular, there are a number of immigration consultants and shady firms that are taking advantage of Chinese citizens. We have seen many individuals and families pay fees +$10,000.00 and their applications have been mishandled.

NOTE: If you are aware of any individuals or families that are using Chinese consultants and/or firms and they are not receiving sounds legal advice, please contact our office immediately.

Currently, there are numerous ongoing investigations into large Chinese immigration firms, including criminal convictions. These unscrupulous individuals are taking advantage of the ignorance of their clients. They make false promises and, ultimately, we believe that many people are suffering.

As reported by CBC News, more than 1,200 clients have been negatively affected by NEW CAN CONSULTANTS and WELLONG INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT CO. This has led to an RCMP investigation in what has become the biggest immigration fraud in Canadian history.

According to CBC NEWS:

Wang pleaded guilty to offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in July 2015 after the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) raided his offices in Richmond and Vancouver and found fraudulent Chinese entry and exit passport stamps and dozens of passports.

He was caught holding a client’s passport with cut-and-paste alterations when he was arrested in October 2014, according to the civil action.

Wang was sentenced to almost seven years in prison but was released on parole after serving less than two years of his sentence.

In addition, the report includes details on how others may be affected:

Wang had 14 employees but some of them were part of a complex scheme that pretended clients were employees to meet immigration residency requirements in Canada while they lived in China.

“Mr. Wang did not report any of the income he earned from his fraudulent immigration consulting services to the Canada Revenue Agency.”

Based on our review of the situation and our meetings with Chinese clients in Winnipeg, we strongly urge all individuals to carefully choose their representatives.

Apologies and Action

Today the Prime Minister of Canada is scheduled to apologize on behalf of Canada for turning away the MS St. Louis and its 907 Jewish passengers in 1939. At the time, these Jews were fleeing persecution and the imminent threat of the Nazis and the anti-Semitic violence. At the time, our then Prime Minister MacKenzie King did not allow the 907 Jews to dock in Halifax and they were turned away.

As reported by Global News:

In the years leading up to and including the Second World War, the Canadian government heeded anti-Semitic sentiment by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted due to what Trudeau called “our discriminatory ‘none is too many’ immigration policy” in place at the time.

The Jewish refugees on the ship were forced to return to Europe, where 254 of those aboard eventually died in the slaughter that became the Holocaust.

Now, about 79 years later, Trudeau will stand in the House of Commons and apologize to those refugees.

On behalf of all Canadians, PM Trudeau is apologizing to try to make things right. In an analysis by Prof Howard-Hassmann, she acknowledged that some apologies include compensation while others may be done for political reasons. For this apology, it does not appear that the Government of Canada will be offering any compensation.

Timing is Everything

On its face, Trudeau’s apology and acknowledging that what happened was wrong and it should never have happened is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, Trudeau is not making any policy changes, legal changes or any other concrete action.

In this case, however, timing is key. This apology is in the context of the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. It seems that Trudeau’s apology was scheduled before the attack but the recent circumstances highlight the importance of recognizing current anti-Semitic sentiment.

As noted by Global:

The latest figures on hate crimes from Statistics Canada show the Jewish population was the most frequent target of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016.

Anti-Semitic incidents increased 24 per cent that year. B’nai Brith Canada said 2017 saw another increase.

The timing of this apology confirms that hate crimes against Jews was an issue in 1939 and it remains an issue in 2018.

 

TEDxWinnipeg – Borders and Immigration

As previously noted on this website, Alastair gave a presentation on immigration issues at TEDxWinnipeg this year. The topic of the presentation is Imagine No Countries. The video is currently in the TED feed on YouTube.com along with other videos from TEDxWinnipeg:


TEDxWinnipeg
Summary:

Borders are arbitrary lines drawn on paper that affect each and every one of us. What happens when lines are made more important than lives? What happens when we look beyond those lines? Alastair Clarke manages Clarke Immigration Law, a boutique law firm. He and his staff assist with all types of immigration and refugee cases; they currently have more than 250 open files. Based on over 30 years of combined experience, the staff guide each and every client, including individuals, families and businesses, through the complex immigration system, including complex humanitarian and compassionate applications. The firm is based on experience, value and results. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx

If you had the opportunity to attend the TEDxWinnipeg event, be sure to check out the photo stream.

From TEDxWinnipeg:

All the speakers are listed here. It was an amazing group, covering topics from spoons to bitcoins to identity. Here is Alastair’s bio on the TEDxWinnipeg site:

Alastair Clarke manages Clarke Immigration Law, a boutique law firm. He and his staff assist with all types of immigration and refugee cases; they currently have more than 250 open files. Based on over 30 years of combined experience, the staff guide each and every client, including individuals, families and businesses, through the complex immigration system, including complex humanitarian and compassionate applications. The firm is based on experience, value and results.

Alastair provides expert advice to the media on a regular basis in both English and French. He has been interviewed by Ian Hanomansing for CBC News as well as by journalists at Global News. He also contributes to radio and print media on justice issues. Alastair’s firm has represented many refugee claimants who have walked across the border from the United States since 2016, and he delivered a presentation on the Safe Third Country Agreement at the 2017 CBA conference for immigration lawyers.

In 1970, Alastair’s father sponsored his mother to stay in Canada, where Alistair was raised in Edmonton, Alberta. His mother focused on hosting exchange students and professionals from around the world to live and stay in their home. In school, he pursued an International Baccalaureate stream with classmates from Mauritius, Israel, Japan, Taiwan and many other countries. From a young age, he developed an international perspective and since then, has lived in many places around the world, including France, Ecuador, Japan, different parts of the USA, and many different cities in Canada. In many ways, Alastair is a nomad at heart who is constantly learning about the world and fighting injustice.

Fundamentally, Alastair is a perpetual student who takes every opportunity to learn from the clients who walk through the door. They share their culture and their experiences while he, in turn, teaches them how to navigate the Canadian immigration system. He is driven to ensure that each case is handled fairly and that every person has the chance to live in peace and security.

Federal Court Success re MPNP and Misrepresentation

Congratulations to our client Ievgen Agapi, a truck driver from Ukraine, and all the supporting people who assisted with this case. Justice Ahmed of the Federal Court of Canada agreed with our arguments that the Visa Officer in Kiev failed to consider whether the alleged misrepresentation was honestly and reasonably made. Click here to read the full decision.

This is a significant decision in the jurisprudence of misrepresentation, as well as the processing of MPNP applications.

In the words of Justice Ahmed:

14]  The Applicant points out that section 40 of the IRPA does not apply to misrepresentations made honestly by an applicant who reasonably believes they did not withhold material information (Medel v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration)[1990] 2 FC 345Baro v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)2007 FC 1299 (CanLII) at para 15, and Goudarzi v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)2012 FC 425 (CanLII) at para 33). The Applicant submits that his response to the procedural fairness letter provided evidence that this exception applies to his alleged misrepresentation; he explained that the knowledge of the potential fraud was beyond his control and in his view he reasonably and honestly believed that he was not misrepresenting any material facts. Despite his response to the procedural fairness letter, the Applicant submits the Manager failed to consider whether any alleged misrepresentation was honestly and reasonably made.

[15]  The Respondent submits that the Applicant is merely “blaming” a third party for his misrepresentation and argues that efforts to get the original results were not before the decision-maker. The Respondent acknowledges that there is a “narrow exception” for innocent misrepresentation, but reiterates that it only applies in exceptional and narrow circumstance. The Respondent cites a line of jurisprudence for the proposition that misrepresentation made by a non-party to an application, without the applicant’s knowledge, does not save an application from an inadmissibility finding under section 40 of the IRPA. The Respondent also takes the position that the Applicant’s response to the procedural fairness letter did not meet the high standard to warrant such an exception.

[16]  I agree with the Applicant that the Manager failed to consider whether the Applicant honestly and reasonably believed he was not withholding material information.

CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYONE WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THIS POSITIVE DECISION!