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Marriage fraud:
public perception and government reaction


Marriage fraud is something that has caught the attention of the Canadian public. The issue of marriage fraud is not new and crosses the mind of many Canadian sponsors who submit sponsorship applications for spouses abroad or inside Canada. Many wonder aloud if their partners are really in love with them or just using them to obtain Canadian permanent resident status. Currently, new spouses are awarded unconditional permanent resident status as soon as they enter the country. Canadian sponsors on the other hand become financially responsible for three years following the landing date (spouse alone) and would have to pay back welfare for any financial support their sponsored spouse might receive.

In November 2010 the CBC introduced the wider Canadian public to the subject as part of their Passionate Eye series in a documentary entitled “True Love or Marriage Fraud.” It is difficult enough to experience feelings of being used and betrayal of affection without the added pain of knowing that immigration is limited in terms of their ability to police such sponsorships or to take action against those who abuse the system and victimize Canadians.

The CBC story focused on the plight of Ottawa native Lainie Towell who thought she had found the love of her life and sponsored him to Canada. She was devastated to learn that within three weeks of landing her love had left her in Canada and even threatened her against going to the authorities by saying that he would go on welfare and she would have to pick up the tab.

The case of Lainie Towell became a cause célèbre for victims of immigration fraud. Ms Towell relented in her long fight for justice after the frustration she experienced with immigration officials and the Immigration Act itself. She even dressed herself in a white wedding gown, strapped a red door on her back, and paraded on Parliament Hill in an effort to draw public attention to the plight of Canadian victims of marriage fraud.

“I think it’s fair to say,” Ms Towell said, “that I’ve become the poster girl for the issue of marriage fraud in Canada.” Her efforts did not go unnoticed nor unrewarded when her sponsored partner was deported out of Canada. How could this very public crime be committed and why have victims been so powerless in obtaining redress for the wrongs done to them?

First, it is important to note that neither the department of Citizenship and Immigration nor the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act condone or support applicants who lie in order to obtain permanent residence in Canada. Under Family Relationships, IRPA describes fraud marriages as relationships of “bad faith”: “For purposes of these Regulations, a foreign national shall not be considered a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner or an adopted child of a person if the marriage, common-law partnership, conjugal partnership or adoption is not genuine and was entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege under the Act.”

Or Section 40 under “misrepresentation”: “A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible for misrepresentation … 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 the Act.”

It is one thing to say it and another thing to enforce it. I know of cases where the spouse was sponsored from China, stayed with the Canadian sponsor a few weeks and then left him for another city and a different life. There is no question that the Canadian sponsor is a victim but it is another matter to prove that the wife used the spousal sponsorship or concealed important facts to get through immigration.

The federal immigration Minister Jason Kenny has been aware of the situation for several years because of the highly publicized case of Lainie Towell and also because of pressure put on the government by victim’s rights groups such as “Canadians Against Immigration Fraud.”

In a news release of March 2, 2012 Minister Kenny announced that, effective immediately, sponsored spouses or partners will have to wait five years from the date they received their permanent resident status to sponsor a new spouse or partner. He said, “I held town hall meetings across the country to hear from victims of marriage fraud. In addition to the heartbreak and pain that came from being lied to and deceived, these people were angry. They felt they had been used as a way to get to Canada. We’re taking action because immigration to Canada should not be built on deceit.”

This change is important because up to this date a sponsored spouse could arrive in Canada, leave their sponsor and sponsor another spouse or partner while the first Canadian sponsor was still financially responsible for them for three years. The Minister also stated that he is considering adopting the practice common in Australia, New Zealand and United States of granting a graduated permanent resident status on sponsored spouses by delaying landing for several years during which time they would be expected to live with their sponsors.

Some, like the NDP immigration critic Don Davies, question whether the actions of the government are sufficient to stop the problem of marriage fraud for immigration. He correctly points out that there are also situations where Canadians themselves are complicit as in case of so-called “marriages of convenience.” The NDP solution is to strengthen the screening mechanism or focus on prevention. There is no question that increased training, staffing abroad and vigilance are all important aspects of a departmental policy against fraud and misrepresentation, but even critics should concede that the actions Minister Kenny took on March 2, 2012 are positive in terms of correcting the balance of justice in the system. The sponsorship of spouses under immigration is open to abuse and there are always persons who prey on victims. Yes, the government’s actions appear reactive not proactive, but they do help, even in a small way, to put limits on “bad faith” by those who would lie and cheat their way into Canada.

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail:

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