New Canadian Media

This "Sham Marriage" Sounds Like Mine

Written by  New Canadian Media Tuesday, 19 May 2015 23:41
Many young couples are opting out of the traditional wedding with white dress and diamond ring, for simpler, more creative alternatives. These choices may mean their marriage is subject to more scrutiny from immigration officials though.
Many young couples are opting out of the traditional wedding with white dress and diamond ring, for simpler, more creative alternatives. These choices may mean their marriage is subject to more scrutiny from immigration officials though. Photo Credit: Pixabay

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.

[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.” 

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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