OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is tabling new legislation to crack down on unscrupulous consultants who exploit Canada's immigration system.
The bill targets consultants who charge a fee for immigration advice, but also encourage applicants to lie or make up stories about persecution in their home countries.
"While most immigration consultants working in Canada are legitimate and ethical, it is clear that immigration fraud remains a widespread threat to the integrity of Canada's immigration system," Kenney told reporters.
Kenney says the bill would make it a crime for unauthorized people to charge such fees. It would also amend existing immigration and refugee law so that only authorized consultants, lawyers and notaries in good standing could charge immigrant fees.
The minister said he also wants to set up a new body to regulate immigration consultants and possibly replace the existing Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
The bill would also close a loophole that for now prevents authorities from sharing information about immigration consultants.
"Crooked immigration consultants victimize people who dream of immigrating to Canada," Kenney said.
"Worse still, there is evidence that these individuals encourage prospective immigrants to lie on their immigration applications, to concoct bogus stories about persecution when making refugee claims, or to enter into sham marriages with Canadian citizens and permanent residents."
Such abuse undermines the integrity of Canada's immigration system, Kenney said.
The government is particularly concerned about so-called "ghost" consultants who charge huge fees and deceitfully promise immigrants high-paying jobs or fast-tracked visas.
New Democrat MP Olivia Chow called the legislation a step in the right direction, but only if there are resources to enforce the law.
"For too long the Conservatives have been soft on crimes committed by fake consultants who take advantage of innocent people wanting to make Canada their new home," said Chow.
"We need a regulatory body that has integrity and commands the public trust. We need to have the muscle to enforce the regulations and protect new immigrants from being ripped off."