Lies to clients put residency at risk: Edmonton immigration consultant has licence revoked

Regulatory council says it’s cracking down on unprofessional conduct

Agnes Kagabane and Martina Murray came from different parts of the world to start new lives in Edmonton.

Kagabane arrived from Uganda in 2014 and claimed refugee status. Murray arrived the same year from Ireland along with her husband, who has Canadian citizenship, and applied for permanent residency.

Both women sought help to navigate their new country’s immigration system from a consultant whose mishandling of their files cost them money and time, and left them worried their futures in Canada could be compromised.

“My fear was if something happened to one of my parents at home while I was out of status here, I could not go,” Murray said.

“If I flew out of the country, I couldn’t get back in. And then my permanent residence application would be void and I’d have to start from scratch again.”

Immigration consultant Tamara Judge has admitted to unethical behaviour in the cases of Kagabane, Murray and six others who paid for her services. Her transgressions ranged from waiting more than a year to file clients’ immigration applications to not filing them at all.

Judge has admitted to lying, telling one client that an MP was actively working on her file. She told another that a “specific person” in the office of the minister of immigration was aware of her case.

The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council has revoked Judge’s membership — the most severe sanction available through the organization. Judge is one of seven immigration consultants who have been sanctioned that way in the past nine months.

There are 5,500 registered immigration consultants in the country.

The regulatory council says it’s a sign of a crackdown on unprofessional conduct. Between 2011 and mid-2018, the council revoked one membership for a disciplinary matter.

But critics say the seven recent cases showcase years of poorly enforced professional standards that warrant an outright overhaul of the system.

Fees paid, papers never filed

Kagabane arrived in Canada in 2014 from Uganda and immediately filed a refugee claim.

When the claim was rejected, she went to Judge, who was hired to help her file for permanent residency based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It was 2015.

Over the course of almost two years, Kagabane paid Judge more than $3,000 for services never rendered. At one point, Immigration Canada told Kagabane nothing had been filed under her name. Months later, Kagabane called again, this time with a file number provided to her by Judge.

A government official told her the file number didn’t belong to her.

“Whenever I would call [Judge], she’d say, ‘no you’re calling the wrong number’,” Kagabane said. “[Then] she said I’ve called the minister of immigration and they’ve assigned your file to someone who is going to look at it as soon as possible.

“But that was wrong, too.”

Judge admitted to Kagabane’s description of events in an agreed statement of facts submitted as part of her disciplinary hearing with the council.

After speaking to an MP, Kagabane was told to re-apply for permanent residency immediately or she could face a removal order.

Kagabane, a single mother who works as a caregiver and companion to an elderly woman in Edmonton, spent hours pouring through immigration websites and forms to figure out how to apply for permanent residency and a work permit.

“Within three months, you get your work permit,” she said. “For her, it took her two years and no work permit. Until now, no PR decision, no open work permit, no money. For me to work, I had to renew my work permit myself.”

Calls for stronger enforcement

Immigration consultants aren’t lawyers, but can help newcomers wade through the country’s complicated bureaucracy of paperwork and applications. The number of consultants in Canada has boomed over the past decade to more than 5,000.

But even industry advocates admit stronger regulations are needed, after years of poorly enforced professional standards, “ghost consultants” who operate with no credentials, and unregulated fees.

“Immigration consulting has operated under its own norms for decades and it’s still operating internationally with very little ethical and legal oversight,” says Michael Huynh, director of professional conduct for the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC).

Immigration consulting has operated under its own norms for decades and it’s still operating internationally with very little ethical and legal oversight.– Michael Huynh, Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council

In 2017, a tide of complaints prompted a parliamentary committee to scrutinize the entire industry. The committee recommended consultants be put under the direct watch of government. The Trudeau government has declined to end self-regulation but recently passed legislation meant to beef up enforcement against unethical practitioners.

The seven recent membership revocations, including that of Judge, are a sign the council is taking a new tact at enforcement, says Huynh. His team has been tripled to 15 members, and has been reaching out to MPs and settlements agencies, where newcomers are most likely to raise complaints or concerns.