The Return of Incomplete Applications [Last Edited December 24, 2015]

One of the most frustrating experiences for people applying for visas is to have an application returned due to incompleteness.  Because of processing delays, it often takes Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) months to return an incomplete application, and applicants have to then start over.  While the practice of returning incomplete applications was originally limited to IRCC, on June 20, 2014, the Ministry of Economic and Skills Development Canada (“ESDC“) released a Temporary Foreign Worker Program Bulletin titled “How to Handle Incomplete Applications.”

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Deferring Removal

People who either face removal or who have received a removal order should contact a lawyer immediately to determine what their options are. The purpose of this post is to provide an overview of the legislative scheme for deferring removal orders. It provides a general framework, and cannot substitute the advice that a lawyer can give when he applies these facts to your situation.
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Family Class Undertakings

On June 10, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Mavi.  The case involved an appeal from numerous Ontario residents regarding relief from the sponsorship undertakings that they had signed to sponsor a family class member.

Potential immigrants under the family class are only eligible to apply for permanent residency once a Canadian citizen’s or permanent resident’s application to sponsor them has been approved.  Family class immigrants are not assessed independently on their ability to support themselves, as is the case with other immigrants.  The burden of showing sufficiently financial wherewithal lies with the sponsor.

I have yet to witness a case where a client showed concern about the sponsorship undertaking.  Usually the undertaking is treated as a joke, and sponsors normally tease their spouses / family members about not becoming “welfare bums”.  However, as the cases of the individuals in Mavi show, breaches of the sponsorship undertaking can often lead to huge debts.  Mavi involved individuals in the following circumstances:

  • Mr. D sponsored his fiancee in 2002.  When she arrived in Canada she refused to live with him or marry him.  Mr. D tried to have his former fiance deported, however, her appeal was successful.  Unbeknown to him, she later went on social assistance.  In 2007, the Ontario government informed him that he owed $10,510.65 for breach of the undertaking.
  • Ms. E sponsored her father, mothers, and two brothers in 1995.  Her husband was a co-signatory.  She later left him because of abuse.  She went on social assistance afterward, as did her father, and one brother.  In 2006 she was informed that she owed the Ontario government $94,242.16 for breach of the undertaking.
  • Mr. G sponsored his mother in 1999.  He subsequently lost his job.  His mother applied for social assistance.  In June 2007 he was informed that he owed $54,426.39.
  • Mr. H’s wife arrived in Canada in 2006.  She briefly lived with him, then cut off contact.  Unbeknown to him, she later remarried, and then went on welfare.  In 2007, he was informed that he owed the Ontario government $10,547.65 for breach of the undertaking.
  • Ms. H sponsored her mother, who shortly after had a stroke.  She applied for benefits for her mother’s institutional care.  She later learned that she owed the government $54,559.99.
  • Mr. M sponsored his father in 1996.  After his father arrived, they had a falling out.  In 2005 he learned that his dad had gone on social assistance.  He owed the Ontario government $17,818.08.
  • Mr. Z’s spouse arrived in Canada in 2000, only to leave a few weeks later and remarry.  In 2007, Mr. Z found out that she had gone on welfare, and that he owed the Ontario government $22,158.02.

The provincial governments are generally very strict about enforcing these obligations, and the courts too have not been very forgiving.  In paragraph 41 of the Mavi decision, Justice Binnie noted that:

Family reunification is based on the essential condition that in exchange for admission to this country the needs of the immigrant will be looked after by the sponsor, not by the public purse.  Sponsors undertake these obligations in writing.  They understand or ought to understand from the outset that default may have serious financial consequences for them.

The court then went on to articulate some principles that underlie sponsorship undertaking debt collections.  Before signing the sponsorship undertaking, sponsors should therefore be aware of the following principles which I have pulled out from the judgement:

  • The government has the ability to delay enforcement action having regrading to the sponsor’s circumstances and to enter into agreements respecting terms of payment.  As the court noted in paragraph 59, “the amount and terms of repayment are within the discretion of the government decision maker. An agreement requiring a sponsor to pay $20 a month on a $20,000 debt may never result in the full amount being paid, but it would nonetheless be an agreement which the government is authorized to make”.
  • The government does not, however, have the ability to simply forgive the debt.  Section 135 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations simply does not allow for write-offs, but only “deferred enforcement” along the lines of the above point.
  • The deferral of enforcement can be ended if the sponsor’s financial circumstances change.  The decision notes the example of a sponsor winning the lottery.
  • Prior to filing a certificate of debt with the Federal Court, the government must notify the sponsor of its claim, provide the sponsor with an opportunity to explain in writing his or her relevant personal and financial circumstances that are said to mitigate against immediate collection, to consider any relevant circumstances brought to its attention (while keeping in mind that the undertaking was the essential condition precedent to allowing the sponsored immigrant to become a permanent resident), and to notify the sponsor of the government’s decision regarding how it is going to collect the debt.
  • In carrying out the obligations above, the government does not have an obligation to provide written reasons.
  • There is no hearing, and no appeal procedure.
  • In the case of “rogue family members”, or family-class immigrants that have cut off contact with their sponsors, the government does not have a duty to advise sponsors that the rogue family member has started to receive social assistance.  Pursuant to paragraph 76, “the risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer”.

British Columbia and Sponsorship Default Debts

In British Columbia, the Ministry of Finance, Non-Tax Collections collects unpaid sponsorship default debts on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development. I have had experience contacting them on behalf of individuals before, and my experience has been that they already follow the principles articulated in Mavi.  They are quite flexible when it comes to scheduling payments over a period of time, however, they are unwilling / unable to simply forgive amounts owed.  When I advised one representative that my client simply could not pay, the respond was not surprising: “declare bankruptcy”.

Individuals that are contacted by the Ministry of Finance are provided with the opportunity to explain their financial circumstances, and to arrange a payment schedule.

If payments are not made, then the Ministry may take the following actions:

  • place a notice of Crown Debt on your property;
  • issue a demand on your wages, bank account or other accounts;
  • set off funds owed to you by the provincial or federal government;
  • issue a Small Claims Action (less than $25,000) or a Supreme Court Action (over $25,000);
  • file a Payment Order or Default Order in Small Claims Court or Supreme Court; and/or
  • seize and sell your assets.

Illegally Obtained Welfare

Finally, as the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found in Wright v. Wright, it is important to note that a sponsor will need to repay a provincial government even if the permanent resident obtained the welfare payment through fraud.

 


Complicity in Article 1FA Cases

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada in Ezokola v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) created a new test for determining Article 1F(a) exclusions.

Article 1F(a) of the 1951 Refugee Convention provides that:

The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there  are serious reasons for considering that:

(a)  He has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;

The issue that Ezokola addressed is how broad Article 1F(a) is.  It if it interpreted too narrowly, then Canada risks creating safe havens for perpetrators of international crimes.  If it is read too broadly, then the humanitarian aims of the 1951 Refugee Convention would be imperilled.

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Humanitarian & Compassionate Applications – The Establishment Factor

Subsection 25(1) of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides immigration officers with the flexibility to grant on humanitarian and compassionate (“H&C“) exemptions to overcome the requirement of obtaining a permanent residence visa from abroad and/or to overcome class eligibility requirements and/or inadmissibilities.

H&C applications may be based on a number factors, including:

  • establishment in Canada;
  • ties to Canada;
  • the best interests of any children affected by their application;
  • factors in their country of origin (this includes but is not limited to: Medical  inadequacies, discrimination that does not amount to persecution, harassment or  other hardships that are not related to a fear of return based on refugee determination factors;
  • health considerations;
  • family violence considerations;
  • consequences of the separation of relatives;
  • inability to leave Canada has led to establishment; and/or
  • any other relevant factor they wish to have considered not related to a fear of return based on refugee determination factors.

Establishment in Canada

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Inland Processing Manual (the “Manual“) provides that the degree of an applicant’s establishment may be assessed by analyzing the following questions:

  • Does the applicant have a history of stable employment?
  • Is there a pattern of sound financial management?
  • Has the applicant remained in one community or moved around?
  • Has the applicant integrated into the community through involvement in community organizations, voluntary services or other activities?
  • Has the applicant undertaken any professional, linguistic or other studies that show integration into Canadian society?
  • Do the applicant and their family members have a good civil record in Canada? (e.g. no criminal charges or interventions by law enforcement officers or other authorities for domestic violence or child abuse).

It is important to note that neither the legislation nor the courts have established what the threshold for sufficient establishment is.  As the Federal Court noted in Kachi v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), it us unreasonable for visa officers to rule that there is insufficient establishment without first establishing what the benchmark is, especially considering that permanent residents and Canadian citizens are under no obligation to “to attend religious services, to partake in community activities, to volunteer, or to make friendships.”

Establishment and Legal Status in Canada

The jurisprudence is mixed on what the consequences of someone being without status, or precarious status, should be on the establishment factor. Being in Canada without status does not automatically lead to the non-application of H&C factors.  In some decisions, remaining in Canada pending the outcome of legal procedures, including after a failed refugee claim, has been found to not necessarily be a negative factor.  In Sebbe v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), the Federal Court stated the following  about whether a temporary resident purchasing a house could be a positive establishment factor.  Justice Zinn stated:

The Officer has taken a perverse view of the evidence of establishment forwarded by the applicants. Is every investment, purchase, business established, residence purchased, etc. to be discounted on the basis that it was done knowing that it might have to be given up or left behind? Is the Officer suggesting that it is the preference of Canadians that failed claimants do nothing to succeed and support themselves while in Canada? Is he suggesting that any steps taken to succeed will be worthless, because they knew that they were subject to removal? In my view, the answers to these questions show that it is entirely irrelevant whether the persons knew he or she was subject to removal when they took steps to establish themselves and their families in Canada. While some may suggest that in establishing themselves applicants are using a back-door to gain entry into Canada, that view can only be valid if the applicants have no real hope to remain in the country. In virtually all these cases applicants retain hope that they will ultimately be successful in remaining here. Given the time frame most of these applicants spend in Canada, it is unrealistic to presume that they would put their lives on hold awaiting the final decision.

The proper question is not what knowledge they had when they took these steps, but what were the steps they took, were they done legally, and what will the impact be if they must leave them behind.

As Madam Justice Kane noted in Deheza v. Canada (Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship), such an approach would discourage temporary residents, and people who are without status but have valid reasons to stay in Canada, from establishing themselves in Canada.

However, in other decisions “flouting the law and ignoring lawful orders to leave the country” has resulted in the establishment factor being neutral or negative.  In Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Legault, for example, the Federal Court of Appeal stated:

In short, the Immigration Act and the Canadian immigration policy are founded on the idea that whoever comes to Canada with the intention of settling must be of good faith and comply to the letter with the requirements both in form and substance of the Act. Whoever enters Canada illegally contributes to falsifying the immigration plan and policy and gives himself priority over those who do respect the requirements of the Act. The Minister, who is responsible for the application of the policy and the Act, is definitely authorised to refuse the exception requested by a person who has established the existence of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, if he believes, for example, that the circumstances surrounding his entry and stay in Canada discredit him or create a precedent susceptible of encouraging illegal entry in Canada. In this sense, the Minister is at liberty to take into consideration the fact that the humanitarian and compassionate grounds that a person claims are the result of his own actions. (emphasis added)

In Molina v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2014 FC 530, the Federal Court added that:

When establishment is a function of having deliberately chosen to evade removal, it should not provide an applicant with an advantage over those who have complied with the law.

Circumstances Beyond the Applicant’s Control

The IRCC Manual provides guidance to officers in determining whether positive consideration may be warranted where the period of inability to leave Canada were beyond the applicant’s control, and where there is evidence of a significant degree of establishment in Canada such that it would cause the applicant unusual or disproportionate hardship to apply from outside Canada.  It states:

Circumstances beyond the applicant’s control 

If general country conditions are considered unsafe due to war, civil unrest, environmental disaster, etc., the Minister of Public Safety may impose a temporary suspension of removals (TSR) on that country.

If general country conditions are considered unsafe due to war, civil unrest, environmental disaster, etc., the Minister of Public Safety may impose a temporary suspension of removals (TSR) on that country.

Circumstances Not Beyond the Applicant’s Control

An applicant, in Canada for a number of years, is unwilling to sign a passport application or provide particulars for a passport application.

An applicant wilfully loses or destroys their travel document(s).

Applicant goes “underground” and remains in Canada illegally.


No Credible Basis in Refugee Claims

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides:

No credible basis

107(2) If the Refugee Protection Division is of the opinion, in rejecting a claim, that there was no credible or trustworthy evidence on which it could have made a favourable decision, it shall state in its reasons for the decision that there is no credible basis for the claim.

Manifestly unfounded

107.1 If the Refugee Protection Division rejects a claim for refugee protection, it must state in its reasons for the decision that the claim is manifestly unfounded if it is of the opinion that the claim is clearly fraudulent.

A finding of “no credible basis” may only be made where there is no credible or trustworthy evidence on which the Refugee Protection Division (the “RPD“) could make a positive finding. It is a high threshold that limits an applicant’s subsequent procedural rights.  Before determining that an applicant’s refugee claim has no credible basis, the RPD must look to the objective documentary evidence for any trustworthy or credible support for an Applicant’s claim.

A lack of credibility is not the same as saying that a claim has no credible basis.

Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Singh, 2016 FCA 300

In Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Singh, the Federal Court of Appeal answered the question of whether the RPD could still determine that a claim was manifestly uncredible after it had determined that an individual was excluded from refugee protection under Article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention because because of serious criminality or human rights abuses. Specifically, the Federal Court of Appeal asked:

Considering the authority of the Refugee Protection Division under subsection 107(2) and section 107.1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to determine that a claim has no credible basis or is manifestly unfounded, is the Refugee Protection Division precluded from making such a determination after it has found that the claimant is excluded under section F of Article 1 of the Refugee Convention?

The Federal Court of Appeal answered the question in the affirmative.



Substituted Evaluations for Federal Skilled Worker Applicants [Updated]

There is a myth amongst potential Federal Skilled Worker Program applicants that their application is guaranteed if they can get 67 points. This is not true for several reasons, including the possible use of substituted evaluations.
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