Writing about the case of Karamjeet Kaur and 700 should-be Canadians was a very unpleasant experience. Worst of all, it seemed as though journalists, immigration lawyers, and academics with expertise in immigration all seemed to accept the narrative that this was a bogus admissions letter issue, and it seemed as though we would be poised to forget about Karamjeet and those other 700 as if their lives were meaningless and worthy of being an afterthought. None of that sat well with me, so I decided to reach out to the few journalists who wrote about Karamjeet’s situation, the lawyer who represented Karamjeet, the appropriate Federal Ministers, Canada’s Federal Court, and Immigration Canada.
This was not a “bogus admissions letter” scandal, it was a national security issue because of how our student visa program was successfully weaponized by a foreign actor (calling himself an “immigration consultant”) to defraud unknowing international students without ever being detected by anyone at Immigration Canada, and only getting discovered years later by our policing agencies. The narrative that was floating around needed to change, and I went after it.
Although I knew that I could have some success with putting forward questions on my own, the reach and power of news agencies is something that I could never replicate, so I decided to reach out to journalists and “Ask them if they might ask…”.
My questions revolved around the circumstances of Karamjeet’s hearing, things I thought were issues of significance and worthy of follow up questions, but that were not showing up in any articles. I made sure to explain my thinking behind these questions with hopes that they might give way to other questions of significance that might get investigated by the journalists.
There were five questions in total. The first question had to do with the importance of having the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship as a respondent since the student visa program was under his portfolio and given that Karamjeet Kaur’s fake letter, which came by the way of an “immigration consultant”, also happened to affect hundreds of other should-be Canadians who relied on that same consultant. The second question built upon the first, focusing on the importance of the judge being able to inquire about the flaws within the student visa program, and potentially making recommendations on improvements. The third question had to do with Immigration Canada’s immigration officer diagnosing Karamjeet’s disability (chronic fatigue syndrome) and how it seemed that the judge was also echoing similar verbiage, all without the testimony of a medical expert. The fourth question focused on pointing out another inappropriate connection made by the judge when stating, “Karamjeet portrayed herself as vulnerable and lacking resources, but that did not seem to be so.” The fifth question was related to the removal of the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship and how that decision by the judge was the reason that Karamjeet was unable to make a claim for an appeal under Immigration and Refuge Protection Act subsection 74 (d).
I did not hear back from any of the journalists.
The questions I put forward for Karamjeet’s lawyer in the trial were similar to the questions that I had put forward for the journalists, but they were more along the lines, “Why did you think these points were not issues worth bringing up?” The response from the lawyer, was only an automated message reading, “I’m way from the office.”
The Federal Ministers
Based on my experience with interacting with Federal Committees, as well as other branches of government, I knew that my message needed to be serious, rooted in facts, but it also had to sound right. The Ministers I decided to reach out to were the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Minister of Justice—who also happened to be the Attorney General of Canada. Their Ministerial roles are what interconnected them with fate of Karamjeet and those 700 other should-be Canadians.
It was important to change the framing around this situation from a “bogus admissions letter” scandal to a matter of national security because our student visa program was successfully weaponized by a foreign actor (“immigration consultant”) to defraud unknowing international students without ever being detected by anyone at Immigration Canada. Given the severity of this situation, lawyers should not have been omitting this class of information from a judge because it was unfavorable to their side, nor should it be permissible under the law, but it is and there was no mention of the prevalence of this issue or the interconnectedness of these should-be Canadians in the judge’s judgement and reasons.
I also segued towards another pressing issue that had to do with questioning the processes in place when our branches of government identify the exploitation of any of their programs, like the student visa program, by foreign actors who were leveraging the vulnerabilities of these programs to commit financial crimes, noting that this was a matter of national security.
I felt it worth mentioning that it was possible to suspend the deportation orders until a review of the student visa program was conducted, and for the deportation orders to be reviewed with consideration for the findings of that review. That outcome, however, would likely result in the should-be Canadians being allowed to stay, setting a legal precedent, and thus opening a can of worms that many individuals with decision-making powers would prefer to avoid, starting with the question, “What are we going to do about all the previous international students who were deported for the exact same reason?”.
I heard back from my MP’s office that it would be brought to his personal attention.
The Federal Court
When I reached out to the Federal Court, I made it clear that I was writing about jurisprudence related to immigration since Canada was aiming to double in size by way of immigration and that the driver behind the article was the case of Karamjeet Kaur.
Once again, there were five questions in total. The first question had to do with uncovering the way judges felt about making precedent-setting decisions because of the implication that precedent-setting decisions have. The second question had to do with uncovering the familiarity that judges had with the inner workings of immigration programs, like the student visa program, and whether Immigration Canada was required to make judges aware of any loopholes or flaws that might result in large-scale problems for the student visa program, prior to any hearings. The third question had to do with determining whether the approach to making rulings on a “case-by-case” basis would shift if the same loophole or flaw impacted upwards of a thousand international students by the way of the same consultant, and in the exact same manner. The fourth question had to do with the act of omitting information and determining how it had the potential to impact a judge’s ability to make an appropriate decision. If a judge was not made aware of instances when a loophole or flaw from a government program was successfully weaponized by a foreign actor to defraud unknowing international students and without it coming to the attention of our policing agencies, then that was an unethical approach to immigration law, and it threatened to undermine the integrity of our courts. My fifth question had two parts, the first was an indirect ask about whether what transpired with Karamjeet Kaur and 700 should-be Canadians was a matter of national security and whether omitting the details of that class of information was something that the Federal Courts would deem acceptable, and the second was whether it was within the Federal Court’s powers to rule for a government program to be reviewed and that the court be updated on the fixes, as might be the case in a national security matter, and whether Federal Courts had the power to create a commission to explore the ramifications of those loopholes and flaws and explore ways to reverse the damage done relating to past rulings against international students and should-be Canadians.
The Federal Court would not respond to the questions, and while I have no authority on the matter, I found the initial ruling by the judge on Karamjeet’s deportation to have some reviewable errors and conclusions, but with the judge’s final decision being something of a paradox. The judge was making the appropriate decision given the information that was made available to them, and that is where the issue lay.
When it came to Immigration Canada, I had questions about how everything that transpired was possible. I wanted to know what the procedures and policies looked like when new deceptive practices were uncovered, how fast was that information disseminated across the frontlines, how many lines of defence did we have against deception and what did they look like, whether there were proactive measures like a database of known consultants or agencies that were flagged for previous actions, and how often did the uncovering of a single incident give way to the uncovering of other incidents. Most importantly, I wanted to know how often were procedures and policies revisited for improvements.
In their response, Immigration Canada highlighted the Letter of Acceptance Verification Project (LoAVP), launched in 2018, as a centralized office in communicating with learning institutions to verify the authenticity and validity of letters of acceptance. What the LoAVP would look out for was fraudulent letters, altered genuine letters, or letters that were no longer valid, and these violations could result in an international student being found inadmissible to Canada and barred from applying for permanent residence for five years. Additionally, post-secondary institutions were expected to report the enrollment status of study permit holders, twice a year, and if an international student was found to be non-compliant, then that information would be added to the individual’s file and taken into consideration for any future immigration applications.
What I found most interesting was that in 2021, the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants was launched, something resembling a professional association for immigration and citizenship consultants who were federally regulated here in Canada. Although a novel idea, it seemed limited in its ability to stop immigration consultants that operated outside of our borders and who chose to earn their living by finding ways to stay involved with the student application process.
Oddly enough, what was transpiring with Karamjeet and 700 should-be Canadians reminded me of what was said at an event hosted by the Canadian Club of Ottawa that focused on the future of cybersecurity in Canada, and where the conclusion was that government always had to keep an eye on systems that were going the way of the dinosaurs. While Canada’s approach to cybersecurity was foreign to what was taking place at Immigration Canada and the vulnerabilities related to administrative loopholes, the approach to always having an eye on expiring ways of doing things was an approach that was transplantable.
Think beyond “Welcome to Canada”.
Throughout this process, the only thing that was confusing to me was the fact that nobody was considering what was transpiring with these should-be Canadians as a national security issue. Not journalists. Not lawyers. Not academics. Not Members of Parliament. Not judges. Nobody. Why not, and how come?
Perhaps my questions were loaded questions, but they were also serious, fact-based, and with a coherent position, whether these stakeholders agreed with them or not. They were direct and not disrespectful, but if any of these stakeholders were made to feel uncomfortable by them, just imagine how countless numbers of should-be Canadians have felt, who were as trusting as we are, to a fault, but whose dreams of becoming Canadian were shattered because of their misplaced trust.
Anybody can sum up a press release. But conducting a deeper analysis of a situation and identifying potential inconsistencies requires doing the hard intellectual work. The can of worms that I suggested my questions might lead toward are far better than the can of worms that would be opened if municipalities eventually end up embracing the idea of “sanctuary cities” at some point in the future and after our population has more than doubled; the effect that would have on federal immigration laws and their ability to maintain collective security would be massive. However, if it was understood and accepted that we had a fair and just immigration system, then that type of thinking would not give rise to the type of thinking that can lead people to believe that our immigration system is more capable of getting things wrong than right. All I was doing, I felt, was making an appeal to common sense.
Canada is the most people-loving nation in the world. It is a place that mirrors the highest ideals of an individual human being and collectively as a nation, with a heterogeneous population connected by a shared set of values. Our ambitious approach to population growth make us the fastest growing G-7 country and it presents us with a historic opportunity, and we need to keep that in mind, alongside another idea, represented by a quote by former US President Bill Clinton, “Create the world you would like to live in when you are no longer in control.”