Procedural Fairness Where Credibility is an Issue

In any application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“), the burden is on the applicant to put forward a complete, convincing and unambiguous application which provides sufficient evidence to establish that the requirements of Canadian immigration legislation have been met.  Visa officers are under no obligation to ask for additional information where the submitted material is insufficient.   However, where there is a concern regarding the credibility or the genuineness of the evidence submitted, as opposed to the sufficiency of or weight to be given to that information, then the duty of fairness generally requires that the applicant be given the opportunity to address the concern.

In Farooq v. Canada, 2013 FC 164 (“Farooq“), for example, IRCC’s refusal letter stated:

He claims he worked from January 2005 to August 2006 as software developer and from 2006 to present as manager (software development) for Tricastmedia PVT Ltd in Lahore Pakistan. Such rapid promotion is not credible as computer and information systems managers normally require several years of experience in systems analysis, data administration software engineering, network design or computer programming, including supervisory experience. Some of the duties in his employment letter repeat verbatim the duties of NOC 0213 which raises the question of the credibility of that employment letter. The other duties are similar to those of information systems analysts and consultants (NOC Code 2171).

Although the NOC Code 0213 corresponds to an occupation specified in the instructions, the information submitted to support this application is insufficient to substantiate that applicant meets the occupational description and/or a substantial number of the main duties of NOC 0213.

Justice Roy’s reasons in determining that the failure of the visa officer to provide the applicant with an opportunity to respond to his concerns about credibility provide a comprehensive summary of the law on this issue, and I have reproduced them in full:

Justice O’Keefe was confronted to the same kind of situation in the case of Patelsupra. (“Patel“) Paragraphs 24 to 27 seem to me to apply squarely to the situation at hand. They read:

Regulation 75 clearly indicates that a foreign national is only a skilled worker if he can show one year of full time employment where he performed the actions in the lead statement of the NOC and a substantial number of the main duties.

As such, if the visa officer was concerned only that the employment letter was insufficient proof that the principal applicant met the requirements of Regulation 75, then she would not have been required to conduct an interview.

However, the officer states that her concern is that the duties in the employment letter have been copied directly from the NOC description and that the duties in the experience letter are identical to the letter of employment. I agree with the principal applicant that the officer’s reasons are inadequate to explain why this was problematic. I find that the implication from these concerns is that the officer considered the experience letter to be fraudulent.

Consequently, by viewing the letter as fraudulent, the officer ought to have convoked an interview of the principal applicant based on the jurisprudence above. As such, the officer denied the principal applicant procedural fairness and the judicial review must be allowed.

The narrow issue that needs to be decided here is whether or not this is a case regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, in the sense that, in the words of Justice Richard Mosley in Hassani v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2006 FC 1283, [2007] 3 FCR 501:

… there is no obligation on the part of the visa officer to apprise an applicant of her concerns that arise directly from the requirements of the former Act or Regulations …

It is also certainly true that a visa officer does not have an obligation to provide a “running score” of the weaknesses in an application. However, where the issue is credibility, “the duty of fairness may require immigration officials to inform applicants of their concerns with applications so that an applicant may have a chance to “disabuse” an officer of such concerns, even where such concerns arise from evidence tendered by the applicant” (Rukmangathan, above, at paragraph 22). Justice de Montigny, in Talpursupra, finding support inHassani, summarized clearly what I believe is the state of the law:

It is by now well established that the duty of fairness, even if it is at the low end of the spectrum in the context of visa applications … require visa officers to inform applicants of their concerns so that an applicant may have an opportunity to disabuse an officer of such concerns. This will be the case, in particular, where such concern arises not so much from the legal requirements but from the authenticity or credibility of the evidence provided by the applicant.

Here, the visa officer indicates clearly that the credibility of the applicant, or lack thereof, is the fundamental concern he has. Contrary to other cases where an opportunity is given to the applicant to address the concerns, there is nothing of the sort in this case. It would seem to me that both Patel and Rukmangathanare dispositive of the issue and that the matter should be remitted to a different visa officer for the purpose of a re-determination of the matter.

Another example of this principle can be found in Madadi v. Canada, 2013 FC 176.  There, in determining that an applicant did not perform a substantial number of the Main Duties in NOC 0711, IRCC did not consider any duties in the applicant’s confirmation of employment which either copied the NOC descriptions or closely paraphrased them.  After not considering those job duties, the officer found that the applicant did not perform a substantial number of the duties listed in NOC 0711.  The Court determined that procedural fairness was breached, because the visa officer’s concerns related to the genuineness of the confirmation of employment.

Examining Whether Credibility is an Issue

When reviewing refusal reasons it is important to examine whether credibility may have been an issue leading to refusal.

Sometimes it is obvious.  For example, in Azizian v. Canada, a visa officer wrote:

 Given the availability of the information [about the CBI], I found it difficult to believe that the applicant has never heard of these concerns during his employment at CBI and since retiring… I do not find credible that the applicant would have not been involved in policy decision making and decisions concerning allocation of funds, especially since the PA held the position of Secretary General of the bank and because he indicated in his affidavit that his duty in 2003-2009 was to develop and supervise the implementation of the by-laws and guidelines for the Iranian banking system.

This was found to clearly be a credibility concern.

Credibility assessments are often implicit, however, rather than explicit. In Khodchenko v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), IRCC’s refusal reasons in part stated that:

REVIEWED INFO SUBMITTED FOR THE FILE. PI’S EXPENCES WILL BE PAID BY MR. NAZAREVICH – FAMILY FRIEND. IT IS NOT CLEAR WHY HE WOULD PAY SUCH AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR PI. NOT SATISFIED PI IS FORTHCOMING ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF THE TRIP. TIES TO UKRAINE ARE WEAK. REFUSED. (sic) [emphasis added]

The Federal Court found that the officer made a veiled credibility assessment of the benefactor and the applicant in questioning that the employment arrangement was what the applicants said it was, and that the officer accordingly owed a duty of fairness to the applicant to put his concerns directly and explicitly and give her an opportunity to respond.

In Rani v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), meanwhile, Madam Justice Strickland found that a visa officer’s  statement that “evidence of [the applicant’s] involvement with spouse’s business comes only from her own statements and that of her supporting relative in Canada. It is therefore not clear to what extent the context of English language use…could be considered familiar” to also be an implicit credibility assessment, and ordered the matter re-decided.

Another Helpful Summary of this Principle

Bajwa v. Canada (Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship) contains another helpful summary of the distinction between credibility and insufficient evidence. There, Justice Russel wrote:

These words give rise to a familiar dispute in the jurisprudence as to whether the Visa Officer is questioning the credibility of the Applicants or simply deciding that the evidence is not sufficient to support the criteria that must be established in order to qualify for the status applied for. Justice Kane provided a summary of the Court’s approach to this issue in Ansari v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 849:

If the concern is truly about credibility, the case law has established that a duty of procedural fairness may arise [Hassani]. However, if the concern is about the sufficiency of evidence, given that the applicant is clearly directed to provide a complete application with supporting documents, no such duty arises. Distinguishing between concerns about sufficiency of evidence and credibility is not a simple task as both issues may be related.

The case law has established that each case must be assessed to determine if the concern does in fact relate to credibility. In several of the cases referred to, although the duties were copied or paraphrased from the NOC, there were additional factors confirming that the concern of the officer was about the authenticity or veracity of the document or the credibility of the author of the document. Simply using the term credibility is not determinative of whether the concern is about credibility, though the use of the term cannot be ignored.

Applicants often find it very difficult to understand this distinction. They reason that if their own representations are not accepted then they are not believed, so the officer concerned must be questioning their credibility and this requires an interview or an adequate opportunity to address credibility on grounds of procedural fairness.

I think the issue is best explained in lay terms by recognizing that applicants have a double obligation. First of all, they are under a duty of candor to tell the truth and not to conceal relevant facts. If an officer suspects that the duty of candour is not being met, then he or she must put the matter to the applicant and provide a reasonable opportunity – either in writing or in person – for the applicant to address the officer’s concerns. Where misrepresentation or breach of the duty of candor is the issue, then an application is usually refused on the basis of misrepresentation and s 40 of the Act.

But applicants also have an obligation – over and above the duty of candor – to support their applications with documentation that confirms their positions. Documentation is required by the legislation in all applications and a failure to provide adequate documentation can result in a refusal that is not based upon credibility. If this were not the case, then all applications would have to be accepted upon their own unsupported assertions. There will be situations where documentation is not available and the Act makes adequate allowances for this. Applicants are permitted to explain why they cannot provide documents that are required and/or expected in their particular situations.

In the present case, the treatment of the two letters from Mr. Singh has to be read in the context of the Decision as a whole in order to determine what the Visa Officer means by “satisfied.” Does she mean that the evidence is inadequate to support the application or does she mean that she questions the veracity of that evidence when she says that “I am not satisfied that the client is a bona fide worker under R 205 (D) or will leave after her authorized stay.”

In all work permit applications and extension applications, the officer has to decide on the evidence whether the applicant is likely to leave at the end of the period requested. And interviews and/or fairness letters are not required in most situations. As the Respondent points out, it is generally not a procedural fairness requirement that work permit applicants be granted an opportunity to respond to the concerns of officers. However, there have been situations in the context of work permit applications where officers have been required for reasons of procedural fairness to seek further clarification for credibility concerns in particular.

In Hamza v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 264, the application was rejected on the basis that the work experience letter mirrored the job duties of the NOC description, which the visa officer described as “self-serving.” Justice Bédard found that by stating the letter was self-serving, the officer was saying that he or she doubted the veracity of its content. It was thus distinguished from Kaur, above, because the applicant had provided sufficient evidence and a duty to provide the applicant an opportunity to respond was found. The decision quoted Justice Snider in Perez Enriquez v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FC 1091:

The first duty raised by the Applicant is the duty to seek clarification. When an Applicant puts his or her best foot forward by submitting complete evidence and a visa officer doubts that evidence, the officer has a duty to seek clarification (Sandhu, above at paras 32-33). Although this duty is not triggered in situations where an applicant simply presents insufficient evidence, it will arise if the officer entertains concerns regarding the veracity of evidence; for example, if the officer questions the credibility, accuracy or genuine nature of the information provided (Olorunshola, above at paras 32-35). On the facts of this case, a duty to clarify may have arisen but was discharged by the Officer’s questions to the Applicant during the interview. There was no breach of fairness.

The second duty raised by the Applicant is a duty to provide an opportunity to respond. When an applicant submits information that, if accepted, supports the application, he or she should be given an opportunity to respond to the officer’s concerns if the officer wishes to make a decision based on those concerns (Kumar, above at paras 30-31). Procedural fairness may require an interview; for example, if a visa officer believes an applicant’s documents may be fraudulent (Patel, above at paras 24-27). (…)

(some references omitted)

Justice Zinn’s decision in Madadi v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 716 at para 6 provides a succinct summary:

The jurisprudence of this Court on procedural fairness in this area is clear: Where an applicant provides evidence sufficient to establish that they meet the requirements of the Act or regulations, as the case may be, and the officer doubts the “credibility, accuracy or genuine nature of the information provided” and wishes to deny the application based on those concerns, the duty of fairness is invoked[.]

(references omitted)


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