Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver

The Liberal Government finally delivered on their long-standing campaign promise to end conditional permanent residency for spouses on April 28.

Previously introduced in October 2012 by the Conservative government, the conditional permanent residence regulation required those who were in a relationship for two years or less and had no children to live with their sponsors for two years after they became permanent residents. Some exceptions were carved out for individuals who were victims of abuse or neglect. The Toronto Star (Nicholas Keung) reported that only 57 individuals sought an exemption and were successful in 75 per cent of their exemption requests.

The negative consequences of conditional permanent residency were often borne by vulnerable women and their young newly-born children. New to Canada and without a support network, they were victimized by their abusive spouses, but often too scared to seek help.

While the exception provisions allowed for a streamlined process to contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in these circumstances, I had several women subject to conditional permanent residence tell me first-hand stories of being prevented access to computers, phones, even the internet. In one case, I had a woman tell me that she locked herself in a bathroom just to communicate with me as we prepared her case.

Another woman told me about feigning sleep in order to avoid the verbal and psychological abuse of a partner coming home violent and intoxicated. All of this because they were afraid to leave their spouses and put their status in Canada at risk.

I am glad these individuals can now sleep better at night and enjoy the security that all Canadians rightfully enjoy.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good.[/quote]

It is important to note that that these stories did not only come from vulnerable women. They also came from male conditional permanent residents who were abandoned by their spouses, as well as the LGBTQ2+. Many of these relationships broke down foremost as a result of infidelity, leading later to abuse and neglect – a sequence of events that the earlier exceptions policy appears to have overlooked. 

Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good, more uncertainty. For this, I am glad it is a thing of the past and we can move forward.

Immigrant Marriage Breakdowns ≠Marriages of Convenience

Moving forward, in my view, begins by re-framing the two issues of marriage fraud and marriage breakdown. We should not use the end of the conditional permanent residence requirement as a pretext to now second guess or re-scrutinize the genuineness and immigration intent of a majority (85%+) of bona-fide immigrant marriages. The end of conditional permanent residence, I hope, will not lend cover to sponsors trying to remove their sponsored spouses from Canada.

The reality with sponsorship of immigrant spouses is that a significant portion of genuine marriages will end up breaking down. While academic research is limited in this area, my hypothesis is based on the following:

First, I believe economic challenges have a greater negative effective on immigrant marriages and common-law partnership. Piecing together what we do know, recent Canada statistics show that 48% of all marriages are now ending in divorce, with financial issues and adultery among the leading causes. Poverty affects racialized individuals at a rate four times greater than non-racialized families and past studies have found immigrants who have been in Canada less than five years are 11 percentage points more likely to be in poverty than other Canadians. Furthermore, immigrant families, receive less in household income and are less likely to own homes than non-immigrant families. New Canadian immigrants, especially women, are often more likely to face labour market challenges and experiences with precarious work conditions.

Second, I suggest that cultural shock also contributes to marriage breakdown by creating consequences such as the return of the sponsored spouse to their home country, abandonment, and adultery. Carmen Munoz, Program Manager for the Cross-Cultural Peer Support Group Program for Immigrant and Refugee Women (CCPSGP) highlights in a piece she writes the challenges new immigrant women face which include experiencing “intense culture shock, isolation, depression, frustration and an overwhelming sense of confusion, which in turn, not only manifests itself mentally, but through physical reactions as well.”

The cultural pressures, the economic pressures, and often extended family pressures (from both the Sponsor and the Applicant) can coalesce and intersect into major challenges for immigrant marriages and common-law partnerships.

Unfortunately, conditional permanent residence lumped the issue of marriage breakdown unnecessarily into the marriage fraud debate, inputting bad intentions where more often than not none existed. Not only did it punish genuine couples often at their most vulnerable moments, but it also led to not enough focus being placed to eliminating the actual root causes of marriage fraud – unauthorized legal practitioners both in Canada and internationally who set up marriages of convenience for their own financial gain.

Ultimately, I suggest that Parliament should focus on creating conditions that strengthen immigrant marriages and prevent systemic abuse of our sponsorship system, rather than enforcing back-end restrictions that may aggravate the challenges faced by new Canadian families. 

Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former member of New Canadian Media's board of directors and a current member of the Not-for-profit corporation. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.

Published in Policy
Sunday, 12 March 2017 18:59

Turning the BIG Day Into A Getaway

by Tanya Mok

Autumn is arguably the most beautiful season in Toronto, but even clear skies and above-average temperatures weren’t enough to keep Samantha Beniprashad-Maharaj and her husband Ryan Maharaj from leaving the country to get married this past October.

Before he had even proposed in June 2015, Ryan, 33, and Samantha, 30, had decided they wanted to have a destination wedding. Samantha says they wanted to cut on costs and, more importantly, “eliminate stress and chaos.” A year-and-a-half of planning later, they flew to Jamaica and were married at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay.

As a Guyanese-Canadian couple, Samantha, a human resources representative, and Ryan, a loss prevention investigator, are just one of many young couples from Canada’s ethnic communities opting for a destination wedding instead of a local one.

Getting married abroad has become an attractive option for those who’d rather turn their special day into a vacation while getting more for their money. Unlike their parents’ generation, these couples care less about guest count and more about turning their special day into a big getaway. Vacation resorts now make it easier and more cost-effective than ever for couples to have a destination wedding, pleasing young and old alike by accommodating cultural wedding traditions abroad. Tara Soloway, co-founder of Toronto-based agency Luxe Destination Weddings, says the number of requests for cultural marriage ceremonies abroad have increased over the past two years.

Of all the weddings her agency now manages, Soloway says, 25 to 30 per cent require traditional cultural elements and she predicts that number will keep growing. “[Couples are] looking to have fun rather than a stressful traditional-type wedding.”

Samantha and Ryan were both aware of how demanding a traditional Guyanese wedding could be. Five years ago, Samantha’s older sister had both her Hindu and Christian ceremonies in Toronto with 300 and 500 guests at each, respectively. The total cost of her wedding was around $80,000.

In comparison, Samantha and Ryan’s wedding in mid-October cost $25,000, nearly $6,000 less than the national average, according to this bridal industry survey. That number includes the couple’s travel expenses, their seven-day stay in Jamaica, off-site excursions, both Hindu and Christian ceremonies, wedding regalia, decorations and pre-marriage festivities held in Toronto.

While most brides demand they be able to inspect their wedding venues firsthand before the big day, Samantha didn’t mind waiting until landing in Jamaica to see her resort in person. She had already scoped out all the details of her wedding online from the comfort of her home: pictures and videos of the cocktail party and wedding cake, for example, were just a click away.

It was the flight that Samantha felt the most apprehensive about. She worried that some of the suitcases might go missing — the one with the decorations, maybe, or the dresses. With 65 of her guests and their baggage on board, the plane was bound to get hectic.

“That was the highest point of anxiety for me but once we got there and we got settled everything was very, very smooth,” she says.

The flight ended up being hitch-free and cost-free as well: Samantha and Ryan had scored a deal where every seventh guest’s stay at the resort was on the house, so the couple’s flight and stay were free.

Amanda Punit, who is Guyanese-Canadian, was symbolically wed to her husband of Trinidadian descent, Thabo Kathirgamanathan, on a weeklong trip to Punta Cana in August 2015. The couple held their traditional Guyanese and Sri Lankan ceremonies at home in Toronto prior to the vacation but Amanda, 29, says she also wanted to plan something “smaller and more intimate.”

The couple’s Punta Cana wedding cost around $27,000 and was held at a venue off their all-inclusive resort. Unlike Samantha, Amanda was nervous about not seeing the locale before the reception. “You don’t know what to expect, you haven’t met anyone in person, you just see pictures and you hope that it all turns out the way it looks,” she says. But thanks to a group booking discount Amanda also scored significant savings: nearly all of her 95 guests booked through the same travel agency, Red Tag, and she was able to bring the cost of each all-inclusive stay down to $1360 from around $1700. 

Resorts and airlines often offer discounts like this to lure in couples and the high volume of guests they bring. Vacation countries are also seeing a boost in their economy: local vendors that cater to the wedding industry are benefiting from this increase in travel weddings. Destinations like Jamaica do well because of relaxed residency requirements, even having a page on their consulate website promoting the ease of hotel marriages.

“A lot of these countries want people to come down and get married because it’s great for tourism,” says Soloway.

Kara Mahbubani and her husband Arun opened their restaurant Mystic India six years ago in Ironshore, a suburb along the coast just east of Montego Bay. The couple caters authentic Indian cuisine to weddings on and off nearby resorts, also providing Hindu weddings with traditional props like Dandia sticks, used for Gujarati dances, and the Havan Kund, a fire pit.

According to Kara, Mystic India has seen a “significant increase in sales.”

“Destination weddings have become such a trend since the past three or four years,” she says. Her restaurant now caters two to four weddings a month, up from one wedding every three to four months in 2012.

Food and garments aside, there was one aspect of Samantha and Ryan’s wedding that didn’t stick to conventional Hindu wedding guidelines: the guest count. Of the 250 people that were invited, 72 adults and eight children celebrated with them in Montego Bay, a tiny number compared to most Hindu weddings where guest counts can surge into the hundreds.

The reason: guests must pay sizeably larger bills for destination weddings than they would a local one.

While there are no Canadian estimates, this 2015 American Express report says that guests in the U.S. spent an average of U.S. $673 (or Cdn $821 in 2015) per wedding; Samantha and Ryan’s attendees paid $1,534 (Cdn) per person for the seven-day trip.

That price can put a heavy cap on the number of guests able to afford a destination wedding, which can be problematic since some ethnic communities prefer more guests than less. On top of long travel times and big bills for guests, it's just another reason for families to advise against destination weddings.

Soloway says she’s witnessed pushback from parents who had envisioned a more traditional marriage for their kids. “We see it all the time…sometimes it’s more of a personal struggle that a mother or father can face,” she says. Samantha’s mother Rawattie Beniprashad had some reservations. “In Guyana destination weddings are very uncommon and would be considered a luxurious and different way to get married,” she says. However, the fact that Samantha’s out-of-town wedding actually cut on costs was a big plus, and Beniprashad says that for many guests it was more than a wedding, it was a family holiday.

Since marriages in Guyana are usually home affairs, Samantha honoured the Hindu maticore and mehendi traditions at her parent’s place in Toronto before flying to Jamaica. During these ceremonies, the bride is dyed and purified at home and the women dance outside to the lively beat of traditional tassa drums, an essential component of Guyanese weddings. But Samantha didn’t get to have the tassa drums, having opted for a simplified version because Toronto’s weather was “on and off”.

Beniprashad was worried that the rest of her daughter’s wedding in Montego Bay would mean more cuts to those wedding traditions. “One of the major concerns I had was that if the resort would be able to deliver on all of the Hindu customs that we wanted to include in her ceremony.”

It's a common worry, and many wedding agencies catering to ethnic communities use parents’ peace-of-mind as a selling point for their businesses. Blue Petal Destination Weddings is a Vancouver-based agency that specializes in Hindi, Sikh and Muslim destination weddings in Mexico, and their website lists 'keeping your family happy' as the first major feature of their service.

Pam Gosal, president of Blue Petal Destination Weddings, says that parents should express explicitly to planners what they expect, especially in a country where English isn’t the first language. “Communication is a very important aspect of this,” she says. “You don’t want your wires crossed.”

Soloway says that many large destination resorts have had to evolve over the last two years to become more accessible to couples of different ethnic backgrounds and their families. Some resorts keep a roster of cultural wedding-friendly vendors while others offer to help couples find local officiants like rabbis or pandits for their ceremonies, Many now have chefs onsite that can accommodate more traditional and demanding feasts. Kosher meals, for example, are now available at select resorts that previously didn’t offer them before due to the tremendous effort it takes to transform a Caribbean kitchen into a kosher one.

“It’s great because that allows for more people to attend the wedding, especially the older family members who are a bit more skeptical,” says Soloway. “It’s been happening slowly over time but now everybody’s kind of catching up … and even moving into the future we’re going to be seeing more and more of it.”

According to Samantha, their Hindu ceremony in Jamaica had all the accoutrements of an authentic Guyanese wedding. The ceremony included a pandit that the couple flew out from Toronto, fresh-water coconuts for guests and a buffet of South Asian fare, all-included. “The resort did an amazing job at helping us keep with the traditions,” she says.

As for Samantha’s mother, her worries were appeased, saying that her daughter’s wedding was “everything we imagined it to be.” Destination weddings can be a meeting of cultures —  that of the newlyweds’ and of the country they’re visiting. While the destination may seem unfamiliar, the fusion of customs is something members of ethnic communities are familiar with living in a country as diverse as Canada.

“The location and simplicity of my daughter’s wedding was definitely different ... [but] the core traditions and rituals have not changed,” says Beniprashad. “To us Canadians, it’s a lot of fun.”

Tanya is a content creator and journalist reporting on diasporic culture and communities in Toronto.

Published in Arts & Culture

by Maria Assaf in Oxford, England

Imagine being a child bride in pre-revolutionary Iran – suffering abuse on a daily basis, being forced into a joyless marriage and having children at the age of 13. There is no law or organization that can protect you, as the entire affair is perfectly legal.

Now, imagine having a beautiful husband and children, a mother and father, and then losing them all in a genocide.

What hope could remain in a human heart after enduring such calamities?

Could an intense desire to right the wrongs or change the world bring back life to a suffering soul?

In Amity, author Nasreen Pejvack makes her reader wrestle with such questions, page after page, as she recounts both the painful and happy memories that form the lives of her two main characters: Ragusa, a survivor of the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, who is on the verge of taking her own life, and her unknowing rescuer, Payvand, who is an Iranian activist with a tragic life story of her own.

Paradox of the West

Amity shows that there are moments in some peoples’ lives in which hope does not materialize from suffering. There are times when the soul has been so utterly shattered, that the mere suggestion of finding meaning within its pain is insulting.

Pejvack presents a panorama of a Western world – with its affluence and the seeming peace of its clean streets – which hides many truths and stories of refugees or others who have fled conflict and reached what seems like a safe haven.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport.[/quote]

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport or British citizenship. The marks that their pasts have left on their souls will accompany them forever, like a shadow surrounding the most trivial moments of their lives.

Yes, many of them have been saved; the lucky few have even re-married in their new countries and found jobs and successful careers. But who can take away the pain of the memories, the tears, and the nightmares that keep survivors trapped in their minds as if in a prison of their pasts?

Pejvack’s book is heartfelt throughout. It is honest and direct and her phrases are simple, clear, and concise.

For those readers who are fortunate not to have suffered the misfortunes of war, oppression and tragedy, this book will provide insight into the lives of the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing similar fates as Ragusa and Payvand.

Understanding each other, and the world

Amity is a testament of sympathy with victims and the experience of sharing an understanding of tragedy and pain; of expressing empathy towards those who feel that no one could possibly understand the depths of their suffering. 

This book grabs the audience’s attention rapidly, with its strong life stories and its vibrant political, economic and historical debates, made intentionally easy to read.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.[/quote]

The writer’s political debates illustrate the evils that have plagued Iran and the nations that formed the former Yugoslavia, creating strong sentiments between two women who shared impassionate days and brought joy to each other in their pain.

The book succeeds at making the audience care about global politics and the way it creates wars that lead to the kinds of crises that have made these two protagonists suffer so much in their lives.

As Payvand tries to pull Ragusa back to life by telling her stories, this book also grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity from the beginning by making us want to learn more about the fascinating characters Pejvack describes in each chapter.

For those interested in the histories of the places where conflict has struck recently, this book embarks on detailed accounts of Iran’s recent past, explaining how the country came to be what it is now.

Pejvack’s explanations are nuanced and politically knowledgeable. Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]… Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.[/quote]

Call to action                        

Each of Pejvack’s characters is an activist in her own right.

Ragusa, a Croat, married a Serb – something inconceivable during tense times in which Croatian and Serbian populations were at war.

Payvand, an Iranian revolutionary, had to see her comrades die and experience the disappointment of witnessing the onset of what she calls an ignorant revolution.

From the portrait of violence Pejvack presents comes a call for revolution. Formerly a writer and poet for an underground activist publication in Iran, Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

The call for unity regardless of nationality and other differences is one of the most beautiful premises this book proposes. This work is a must-read for inspired young citizens of the world, as Pejvack appeals to those who are trying to make a difference and are in need of some accessible guidance on how to contribute positively to the world.

Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian freelance reporter who writes for Latin American, Filipino and other immigrant publications in Canada, including New Canadian Media. She completed her bachelor's degree in journalism at Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching refugee freedom of expression.

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Published in Books

by Diba Hareer in Ottawa 

Lack of language skills, community support and cultural constraints prevent many immigrant and ethnic women from fleeing abusive relationships and seeking help.  

The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show that one quarter of all violent crimes are domestic in nature and in nearly seven out of 10 cases women and girls are the victims. 

Although there are no specific numbers for the demographic, shelters in urban centres say they are seeing a growing number of immigrant/ethnic women using their services and fear many others aren’t seeking help because of cultural barriers. 

Seeking refuge 

Elmas, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is an 18-year-old, born and raised in Canada by immigrant parents. She was abused by her parents who, she says, sought to control every aspect of her life, imposing what she calls the lifestyle of a ‘traditional Middle Eastern woman’ on her. 

She currently lives in a women’s shelter and is concerned her parents might find her.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Elmas] fled her parents’ home after they tried to force her into an arranged marriage.[/quote]

Elmas says that she fled her parents’ home after they tried to force her into an arranged marriage, which she refused. 

Even though she was raised in a Middle Eastern culture at home, she valued her Canadian identity and wanted to be in charge of her own life. She says that’s what led to her parents abusing her.  

“My parents act as [if] they’re dictators in the house, whatever they say must happen ... They have anger issues,” she explains. 

Elmas says her parents worried they would become the “laughing stock” of their social circle and that they valued their image in the community above her welfare and happiness. 

Although they did not like being married to each other, Elmas says they chose to continue the relationship because divorce was considered taboo. Elmas desired to choose her partner herself, rather than be pushed by a culture she could not understand.  

Elmas explains her parents constantly yelled at her and subjected her to harsh criticism. They began controlling her contact with her friends and restricted her social get-togethers.  

“It was getting to an extent where I wasn’t having a choice in anything.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he women who most often don’t seek help are the ones who don’t speak English or French.[/quote]

A common story  

Elmas’ story is one that staff at women’s shelters often hear from immigrant and ethnic women. 

Keri Lewis, the executive director of Nelson House in Ottawa, says more than half of the women staying at the shelter are immigrants and/or ethnic women. Lewis says the immigrant women specifically that she sees are often quite isolated due to language barriers.  

The trend is similar in Toronto. About 55 per cent of the women staying at Sandgate Women’s Shelter in York region are immigrants and/or ethnic women, according to Jehan Chaudhry, Sandgate’s executive director. Of that number, 35 per cent are of Middle Eastern descent. 

The types of cases both shelters handle are similar and include women fleeing physical and emotional abuse, forced or arranged marriages, and honour-based crimes.  

According to Chaudhry, the women who most often don’t seek help are the ones who don’t speak English or French and aren’t aware of the services offered by shelters.

Another factor barring women from running to safety is their concern about the impact of being separated from their children. Sometimes a woman who tries to leave her husband gets pressured by her community to stay.  

Economic dependency and fear of further victimization are other factors that force immigrant women to stay in abusive relationships. 

Priya Kharat, a counsellor at the Students’ Union Wellness Centre at the University of Calgary, found in her research that new immigrant women compare Canadian law enforcement with law enforcement in their native countries, which are often corrupt and unfair, so they fear seeking help.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“What they were doing was wrong, no matter what they said, I knew it was wrong.”[/quote]

Difficult to leave  

Elmas had many second thoughts about running away.  

“I felt that it wasn’t right for me to leave if I didn’t give them a full chance,” she says. But her parents didn’t change their approach. They continued to emotionally and physically abuse her, and often would inflict the same pain on her younger siblings.  

“It was against my religion,” says Elmas, who is Muslim. “What they were doing was wrong, no matter what they said, I knew it was wrong.”  

The day she left is seared into her memory. She remembers feeling nervous and nauseous. “But I knew it was the direction that I had to go on,” she explains. 

Elmas had a friend who helped her leave home and find a shelter and a lawyer – support many women do not have. According to Chaudhry, one of the main challenges abused immigrant women face is not knowing how to navigate the Canadian system. 

Chaudhry says that’s why it’s important for shelter staff to provide facilities for women based on their specific cultural and language needs.  

Sandgate has Arabic and Farsi interpreters, a room designated for prayers and halal food options, for example.  

Now that she is at a shelter, Elmas says she feels safe. Her goal is to enrol in university once more and pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.  

Her advice for women and girls going through a similar experience is not to run unless they are committed to following through. 

“You’ll end up wanting to go back and if you go back, it’ll be even worse than before.”

Journalist Judy Trinh mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program 

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Published in Health

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver, British Columbia

In her August 27, 2015 Toronto Sun article titled “Immigration marriage scammers rightfully thrown out of Canada” columnist Michele Mandel expresses her overarching view that foreign spouses involved in marriage fraud are criminals and should be immediately deported.

Using the recent Federal Court’s decision in Li v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2015 FC 998 as her smoking gun, Mandel wades through select sections of the Federal Court decision attempting to show the court’s (and by extension, Canada’s) disgust towards immigrants like Li.

Generally speaking, I too, share Mandel, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) concern about marriage fraud.

For individuals who legitimately fall in love with foreign nationals and wish to start a family in Canada, rampant cases of fraud truly serve to ‘ruin it for the rest of us.’

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]f Canadians truly want to cut down on fraudulent marriages – there are several ways to do it that do not involve publicly ostracizing all foreign national spouses.[/quote]

At the same time, however, I have some serious concerns over the public reporting and research that is done with respect to marriage fraud cases.

I believe that if Canadians truly want to cut down on fraudulent marriages – there are several ways to do it that do not involve publicly ostracizing all foreign national spouses, that instead get to the systemic roots of the problem.

Going overboard on foreign nationals

It is clear that Mandel is a very persuasive writer and, by virtue of the Sun’s previous reporting on this subject, presumably has a strong understanding of the events that led to the Federal Court decision.

On that note, I would argue that Mandel should have explained that the Federal Court did not rehear the case and only reviewed whether the decision of the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) was reasonable and procedurally fair.

The Federal Court did not say “zaijian” or “refuse to block the deportation,” as stated in the article. The Federal Court does not have that authority.

In fact, Justice Gleeson’s decision, in line with her own judicial philosophy, focused on reviewing the IAD’s process of decision-making. In no way did the Federal Court lay any additional criticism at Li for her role in the fraud.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Mandel’s statements do not serve any argumentative purpose other than to speculate and rile up public distrust of immigrant spouses.[/quote]

Second, I would argue that the most troubling part of Mandel’s article is her closing remarks, where she writes, “She’s headed home, but how many more are still out there?” She follows that up with an example of a “bogus groom” deported last year who told the IAD that “marriages like this” are so common in the Chinese community “no one is even surprised” by those who participate in them.

Mandel’s statements do not serve any argumentative purpose other than to speculate and rile up public distrust of immigrant spouses; however, they are not surprising.

In an internal CBSA report on marriage fraud, it was reported that the problem was “most prevalent in India” and it was estimated, without any evidence, that as much as 36 per cent of the spousal caseloads involving that country were potentially fraudulent.

Similar statistics have been used in other internal government reports that have attempted to paint birth tourism and live-in caregiver fraud as epidemic crises without adequate evidence backing up these allegations.

Finally, with all due respect, the supposed IAD quote about marriage fraud, which does not show up reported in any written IAD decision, is not useful given neither the case, nor context of its use was provided.

I would argue against the value of using select oral testimony from IAD hearings to purportedly represent the overall views of an entire Chinese Canadian community.

Canadians just as responsible

What Mandel fails to mention is the fate of those who put together the marriage fraud scheme – the Canadians involved. We know for a fact that a Canadian citizen who ultimately gained the financial benefit from the arranged marriage was Li’s bogus sponsor.

Furthermore, we know from the Toronto Sun's past articles that there were several individuals involved in “Project Honeymoon”. If my reading of the situation is correct, most, if not all, of them were Canadian citizens and as such avoided loss of status or deportation and served only short sentences.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Foreign national victims of immigration fraud currently have few safe, independent venues to report their situations anonymously and seek appropriate advice.[/quote]

In my opinion, the immigration system itself is currently too light on marriage fraud arranged by Canadians. The light penalties under immigration legislation pale in comparison to the seriousness of fraud charges under the Criminal Code of Canada.

At the same time, many of the scheme’s masterminds are able to hide themselves behind the foreign national’s own signature endorsing the information contained in the application. Foreign national victims of immigration fraud currently have few safe, independent venues to report their situations anonymously and seek appropriate advice.

I have also heard from several individuals who truly did not know what was in their own immigration application due to language and communication barriers. Many sought counsel in the first place only because CIC’s own resources were unclear or unavailable.

They often contact ghost consultants or agents that are either posted abroad or operate in Canada with little to no regulation by Canadian immigration authorities or professional regulatory bodies.

Many of the resources they provide to clients are only in third languages. CIC and the regulators are ill equipped to monitor the quality or competency of these service providers.

Finally, to make matters worse, in countries like China it is illegal for Canadian consultants and lawyers to provide Canadian immigration advice without a Chinese immigration licence.

From what I have heard and seen, utilizing domestic Chinese agents is the only way of doing business in China, creating the kickbacks and referral fees that lend themselves to the birth of marriage fraud schemes. These schemes are often so sophisticated that they can be unbeknownst to the Canadian consultant or lawyer signing the application.

Before we ask ourselves ‘how many more fraudulent spouses we need to deport,’ let us first ask ‘how many fraudulent companies we need to report’ here at home and abroad.

We should also ask our foreign partners, especially foreign governments, how much more rapport we should be building abroad to develop new cooperative ways to regulate the illegal practice of immigration.

It is only in this way, not through aggressive media stories lambasting immigrants, that we can tackle the issue of marriage fraud.

Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer and freelance journalist based out of Vancouver, B.C. He is the co-founder and lead-author of the Canadian immigration blog,

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 03:41

This "Sham Marriage" Sounds Like Mine

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver

In my work assisting senior lawyers at my firm with their immigration appeal division and federal court cases, I have found myself increasingly handling cases where Chinese-Canadian and Indo-Canadian sponsors have had their sponsorship applications for spouses living overseas rejected due to the inability to prove the ‘genuineness’ of their marriage. (See Storify here)

‘Genuineness’ is a term used by the Canadian government to measure the validity of a marriage – in other words is it real, or is it a sham?

Last year, my colleague, Steven Meurrens, actually filed an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He wanted access to the training manuals immigration officers used to assess the ‘genuineness’ of marriages, in which a request to sponsor a spouse to Canada was being made.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]hen CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.” [/quote]

As a result of Meurrens request, a document surfaced that was used at CIC-Vegreville, the CIC office that was responsible for assessing spouse-in-Canada sponsorships up until February 2014. This is the same category currently stuck in a much-maligned 26-month backlog that has devastated several Canadian families.

I find the document he received, titled APR Training Module 9 - Spouse-Common-Law Partner in Canada Handout #5, to be troubling in many ways.

Among the indicators of a ‘non-genuine’ marital relationship listed:

  • Chinese nationals, often university students, marrying non-Chinese.
  • Photos do not include parents or any family members. Usually small groups of friends, 10 people in the photos.
  • The reception is informal and in a restaurant, reception will end after dinner.
  • Sponsor is often uneducated, with a low-paying job or on welfare.
  • In the photos, the couple does not kiss on the lips.
  • Couples usually do not have a honeymoon, not even a couple days away usually because of university and/or no money.
  • There are usually no “diamond” rings.
  • Some submit photos of them dressed in pajamas or cooking, to show they are living together.

An additional concern listed later in the document states:

  • Ethnic background – are they from similar cultures or do their cultures vary greatly?

To provide context, when CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.”

The marriage is analyzed for 'genuineness' and then also to determine whether the primary purpose of the marriage was to obtain a privilege or benefit under immigration legislation. The finding of a marriage to be fake is grounds to deny the application.

Cultural (In)sensitivity?

Without divulging too much personal detail, I am in the process of proposing to my own foreign national girlfriend. We met on academic exchange and were just one of several relationships formed between non-Chinese international students and Chinese foreign national students.

Our favourite date night activity, because neither of us is wealthy, happens to be buying vegetables and cooking creative dinners together.

Also, if my future wife and I are unable to host a traditional marriage in China, and we choose to marry in Canada, it will be small affair with a few of my closest friends and colleagues, likely in a Chinese restaurant.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.[/quote]

As my own parents reminded me not too long ago, their marriage took place in a Chinese restaurant in Shanghai, where there were no rings, no photographer, and I can imagine, no lip kisses. My two sets of grandparents met, shared a nice dinner, and took respective bus rides back home.

For my many friends who, in the beautiful cultural mosaic that is Canada, are in mixed-race, interfaith, common-law or LGBTQ2+ relationships, the CIC list simply does not reflect their cultural ideals of marriage and ‘genuineness’.

Are Indicators Attainable for Most Canadians?

Many Canadians, and particularly new immigrants, have to make economic sacrifices that prevent them from having fancy marriages and long honeymoons.

Many immigrants with unrecognized degrees must start in low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet.

Having large weddings is further complicated by the fact many Canadians are unable to have their extended family and friends living abroad attend their weddings due to obstacles in obtaining Canadian visas. Many of these weddings are understandably small with few guests in attendance.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.[/quote]

When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples (mostly older, non-immigrant, Caucasian ones) that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.

I also found several younger individuals, who say they are considering skipping the white dress, diamond ring approach for something simpler or more creative. One of my high school friends even reached out and told me that the ring for her immigrant marriage would be blue sapphire.

Too Far in Scrutinizing Immigrant Marriages?

While marriage fraud is indeed a concern, I believe there are more than enough punitive measures in our immigration legislation to punish those who engage in sham marriages.

For example, there is currently a five-year bar in place for misrepresentation on immigration applications. There are also severe criminal sanctions against those who set up for-profit fake marriages.

This CIC list, on the other hand, punishes all Canadians who wish to sponsor their significant other to come here, placing on them culturally and economically insensitive standards for proving the ‘realness’ of their marriage.

Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.

It is my hope that CIC will ultimately come out to say that this list is not being used, and further to publicly state, on record, the full list of indicators that will be considered and the rationale behind them.

A graduate of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Will Tao is an Articling Student at a leading boutique Canadian immigration law firm in Vancouver where he will begin as an Associate in June 2015. He is the product of Chinese immigrant parents and has a significant other overseas whom he hopes to sponsor to Canada in the near future.

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 12:38

Enhancing our Multicultural Heritage

by Richard M. Landau (@Richard54) in Toronto

Legal prostitution. Assisted suicide. Decriminalized pot. Gay marriage.

Our society is undergoing a breathtaking transformation, hurried along by the influence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court that interprets it, and the massive new town square called “social media.” A lot of Canadians – among them many new Canadians – are ill at ease with these pending and legislated foundational changes. 

Some complain of a coarsening of the culture. Others call it a long overdue breath of fresh air. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Canada that many of us chose to live in – the nation that those of us over 50 knew and understood – is undergoing a rapid transformation of its character.[/quote]

Enacted just 33 years ago, the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms have prompted our courts and legislatures to contemplate and modify areas thought to be taboo, and fatal to a political career, not that long ago. Their emphasis has tended to transform our society, bringing practices and behaviours once deemed immoral, or even criminal, into the open.

Unintended Consequences

Not everyone is entirely comfortable with the type of nation that is emerging. We tend to think of a charter or constitution as a document that cements in place the type of society that we are. However, the opposite seems to be the case. The Canada that many of us chose to live in – the nation that those of us over 50 knew and understood – is undergoing a rapid transformation of its character. 

Some of it seems nonsensical and makes the head spin. One well-known Toronto lawyer said he was going to mount a Charter challenge for a dog owner’s right to keep a vicious pit-bull. A Charter right to own a dog? Seriously? Or we witness a dominatrix Madame being presented by her lawyer as a champion of all our liberties. No one said constitutional law was without humour, or was dignified even.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If the act of selling sexual services is deemed worthy of Charter protections, what limitations can we place on it? Can we legally prevent solicitation from becoming common and ubiquitous?[/quote]

Then, there are the unintended consequences. If the act of selling sexual services is deemed worthy of Charter protections, what limitations can we place on it? Can we legally prevent solicitation from becoming common and ubiquitous? Can houses of sexual services be domiciled near houses of worship and schools? Will we somehow legislate such practices into red-light districts? If not, why? But let’s not kid ourselves, legal or not, prostitution will continue. It always has. 

And what about marriage? It wasn’t so long ago that anyone dared to consider marriage as anything other than one man and one woman. Now that we have broken that barrier, will a Charter challenge eventually make bigamy and polygamy legal? Will there be an ongoing review of the institution of marriage leading to the inclusion of a number of variant social relations under the term marriage? And, if so, what impact will that have, if any? 

Recently, I was a guest on a TV program to discuss assisted suicide, the legalization of which is now being contemplated by the Government of Quebec. My bottom-line take was that no one wants to witness a loved one suffering without end, but… Modern medicine may be able to prolong a fading life – but without a cure and without healing. That is a fate almost worse than death. But in a “post- religious” (I use that term reluctantly) world, suffering has no meaning. The prophet Job means nothing. The passion of the Christ is without import. Buddhism’s dukkha is pointless. Where suffering at the end of life has no meaning, people say: end the suffering, immediately. My concern is that once the door is open, how do we prevent someone suffering a lengthy period of emotional depression from seeking and obtaining an assisted suicide? Do we want that person to have access to an assisted suicide? Should we have any say at all? You see, Pandora, this is a Charter into uncharted territory. 

A Multicultural Tool?

Section 2 of the Charter governs freedoms of conscience and religion; thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; peaceful assembly; and association. This is all well and fine.

Then the Charter moves on to defining our rights. Section 7 promises us life, liberty and security of the person. I have long wondered whether this can be interpreted to include rights so basic as: a right to not go hungry; a right to shelter; a right to education; a right to medical attention; a right to be clothed. You know… the basic necessities of life. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Former B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh] told me that when new Canadians woke up to it, they might realize that section 27 of the Charter opened a lot of possibilities for them and others.[/quote]

But then there’s section 27, which may be the sleeping giant in our Charter. Back in 1994, I had a meeting with accomplished lawyer and former B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, then a NDP backbencher, in his Victoria legislature office. He told me that when new Canadians woke up to it, they might realize that section 27 of the Charter opened a lot of possibilities for them and others.

27. This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

He told me that he believed section 27 was all about making a place in Canada for new Canadians. Possibly it does. That section owes something to our occidental heritage. In Western democracies it has fallen to the judicial branch of government to champion and defend the minority against the majority. That’s not new. It’s a principle first enunciated in Plato’s The Republic (Book VI, in case you are keeping score). It is indeed the job of the democratic society to protect its minorities. In section 27, that becomes not just simple preservation, but enhancement. What does that mean?

So while the pace of change brought on by the decriminalization of once-forbidden activities may be breathtaking and alien to some, it may turn out that it is section 27 that has the potential to re-shape the nation in which we live.

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992. He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. A leader in interfaith dialogue, Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions. He is author of What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.

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Published in Commentary

by Vicky Tobianah (@vicktob) in Toronto

Israel’s highly contentious elections saw incumbent Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu return for his fourth term as the country experienced its highest voter turnout in almost two decades. While this has been widely covered in the mainstream media, Israeli outlets here in Canada have some other top stories they've been reporting, including their own take on the elections.

Netanyahu Lacks Leadership, Claims Vancouver-based Newspaper

An editorial piece published by the Jewish Independent says Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu lacks leadership. The newspaper criticizes statements released by Netanyahu’s Likud Party just days before the election, that many read as proof he did not support a two-state solution even though Netanyahu had previously said he did.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran. Therefore, there will be no concessions and no withdrawals. It is simply irrelevant,” read the Likud Party statement. The editorial board also commented on Netanyahu's failure to participate in debates during the campaign and his insistence on speaking to the U.S. Congress without U.S. President Barack Obama’s support.

“It remains to be seen whether he is just grasping at political straws, trying to convince those on the right to vote for him, or he feels so confident that he can finally say what he truly believes,” the newspaper reported.

Anti-Jewish Slurs Used in Real Estate Listings

According to The Canadian Jewish News, the Jewish community was outraged after seeing online advertisements for houses in Brampton, Ontario, that read “You don’t have to be Jewish to buy this house.”

Real estate agent Jazz Samra of Homexperts Real Estate Inc. said he used a third-party for his advertisements and doesn’t review every ad that gets posted. The ads were posted on online sites such as kijiji and craigslist but were taken down after the matter was brought to their attention. They still appeared on Trovit and Mitula, and the craigslist ad was changed to “You don’t have to be rich to buy this house.”

Homexpert’s president and CEO apologized for any offense the ad caused and said he was looking into the matter.

Jews Urged to Immigrate to Israel

Following last month's attacks on Jewish communities in France and Copenhagen, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has urged European Jews to immigrate to Israel – much to the dismay of European Jewish leaders   reported the Jewish Independent.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Once Israel was established as a Jewish state in 1948, some argued Zionism’s goals had been achieved and thus there was no more need for it.[/quote]

The article questioned the purpose of Zionism (the nationalist movement for the return of the Jewish people to Israel), citing Copenhagen’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, who said that increased terrorism should not be the reason European Jews immigrate to Israel. “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. Not because of terrorism. If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island,” he is quoted as saying.

The term Zionism was coined in 1896. Ever since then, the movement has been a divisive issue within the Jewish diaspora (outside Israel). Once Israel was established as a Jewish state in 1948, some argued Zionism’s goals had been achieved and thus there was no more need for it, noted the Jewish Independent’s editorial board.

But Zionism soon took on a different meaning; as Jewish groups outside Israel began allocating their fundraising efforts to support the Jewish state, especially during times of war. This, they noted, is another reason why Netanyahu’s comments were uncalled for – the country itself is not immune to terrorism, so why promote the idea of leaving Europe after terrorist incidents?

Although Zionism is contested, especially amongst Jews, the newspaper argued that, “it is not quite time for Zionism to wind up its affairs.” 

Did Denmark Live Up to Its Reputation? Photo credit: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen

Over 30,000 Danes gathered for a vigil to commemorate the victims of a shooting at a Denmark synagogue in early February – a show of support that fits the country’s history, reported the Jewish Independent.

In 1943, the country helped successfully evacuate the country’s Jews to Sweden, saving almost the entire Jewish community at a time when Jews were being annihilated across Europe. The Danish resistance, as it came to be known, was organized by ordinary citizens and was one of most successful resistance efforts during the Nazi era.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The motive, argued the reporters, was clear; terrorists went to a Jewish place of worship to murder its inhabitants, specifically targeting a certain group of people.[/quote]

But the newspaper claims the support ended there. Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called the murders a “cynical act of terror” while discussing the motive. But then added, “we don’t know the motive for the attacks but we know that there are forces that want to harm Denmark, that want to crush our freedom of expression, our belief in liberty. We are not facing a fight between Islam and the West, it is not a fight between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

The motive, argued the reporters, was clear; terrorists went to a Jewish place of worship to murder its inhabitants, specifically targeting a certain group of people. The article went on to question, why then did the Prime Minister refuse to call out these clear motives? The fact that over 500 Danes attended the attacker’s funeral gave the reporters more reason to question Danish support towards its Jewish population.

Rabbi David Stav and his wife, Aviva, sign a prenuptial agreement after decades of marriage. Canadian Jewish News.

Israeli Prenups Won’t Help “Chained Women” in Canada

Under Jewish law, a woman can only get a divorce (called a get) if her husband grants her one. When a husband refuses, his wife is considered an agunah – a chained woman who cannot remarry until granted a divorce.

To combat this phenomenon, Israeli rabbinical and legal experts unveiled a legal prenuptial agreement that would prevent husbands from withholding divorces. But these agreements will likely not hold up in Canada, reported Paul Lungen from The Canadian Jewish News.

According to the Israeli agreement, introduced by Tzohar (an Orthodox Zionist group whose goal is to enforce “moderate, rabbinic leadership and sharing public policy”), if a husband refused to grant a divorce, he would be required to make maintenance payments until a religious divorce is issued.

That agreement won’t help “chained women” in Ontario, though, since Ontario courts don’t enforce the decision of religious courts when it comes to matters of family law, rendering the prenups legally ineffective.

“It appears the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) document will not be upheld by a Canadian court, because the courts in Canada will only allow monetary penalties imposed by courts, not by rabbis [or] panels,” said Rabbi Michael Whitman of Adath Israel Poale Zedek synagogue in Montreal.

For many Orthodox Jewish women, being unable to get a divorce from their husband can have lifelong implications, preventing them from remarrying and leaving them “chained” to their husbands.

Vicky Tobianah is an experienced writer, editor, and content strategist. She has a Bachelor of Arts, Honours from McGill University in Political Science and English Literature. She is passionate about the future of digital media. Find her work at: 

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Published in Israel

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