The onus is always on a visa applicant to establish that they meet the requirements of Canadian immigration requirements. An application must be complete, relevant, convincing and unambiguous. IRCC accordingly does not need to give applicants a “running score” of the weaknesses of their application.
There are, however, two procedural fairness obligations that visa officers are always required to follow.
First, an officer generally needs to apprise an applicant of concerns regarding his or her credibility or the authenticity of documents.
Second, where an immigration officer has extrinsic evidence particular to an applicant, and that applicant is unaware that the immigration officer has that evidence, then procedural fairness requires that the officer disclose this evidence to the applicant.
Several Federal Court decisions affirm this principle.
In Zaib v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 769, for example, a visa officer was concerned with the legitimacy of an applicant’s educational credentials. The immigration officer asked the applicant to provide documentary confirmation of his degree. The officer then received a letter purportedly from the applicant’s university, the University of Punjab. When the officer contacted the university to ask questions about the letter, the officer was told that the letter was a fake.
The officer then sent a letter to the applicant stating that he had “reasonable grounds to believe that the degree you have submitted is fraudulent. Please provide evidence to the contrary within 30 days…” The officer did not mention the conversation with the university.
The Court found that this breached procedural fairness. It stated that an applicant must be made aware of the “case to be met”, i.e., the information known by the officer must be made available to the applicant prior to the decision being made.
If an officer relies on extrinsic evidence (i.e., evidence received from sources other than the applicant), they must give the applicant an opportunity to respond to such evidence.
The Court noted that the officer never asked the University of Punjab to verify whether or not the applicant’s degree was real. He only expressed concerns over whether the letter was real. His refusal letter, however, was based on questions about the degree, not the letter.
In Akinmayowa v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2011 FC171, the applicant applied under humanitarian & compassionate grounds. As noted by the Court, the officer deciding the application had received a letter which stated:
This letter to the Immigration Case Processing Centers in Mississauga and Vegreville from an anonymous source calling itself “CONCERNED NIGERIAN/CANADIANS, TORONTO”, states, and I paraphrase:
1) the marriage between the applicant and her husband “should not be given a favourable consideration due to its illegal nature;
2) the applicant is married to a prominent business man in Nigeria and “there was no problem whatsoever within the family”. The story before the IRB is “fiction”;
3) The applicant arranged this marriage and paid $8,000; and
4) This is a “bogus marriage” for immigration purposes.
Like in Zaib, the Court found that the failure to disclose this extrinsic letter to the Applicant was a breach of procedural fairness.
In Kahin v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2011 FC 1064, IRCC argued that a visa officer did not have a duty to disclose the results of his investigation because the applicant should have anticipated that the officer might seek to verify the information that he submitted. However, Justice Barnes found that the information nonetheless had to be disclosed because “the information relied upon here might well be wrong, incomplete, or open to explanation.”
As Justice Barnes noted in citing the Federal Court’s decision in D.K. v. Canada:
The Officer may have been right in concluding that the post-hearing material was of no value and may have been fraudulent but that is not the point. The point is that the applicant and her counsel had no opportunity to comment on the evidence which the officer herself obtained and relied on to render the decision she reached.
The jurisprudence is mixed regarding whether internet sites constitute extrinsic evidence. In Zamora v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2004 FC 1414, the Federal Court found that found that the unilateral use by a visa officer of the internet was a breach of procedural fairness. As Justice Harrington noted:
I cannot believe an applicant can anticipate what documents the officer may retrieve from the internet, some of which may be of doubtful validity, when there are over a million to choose from!
The documents in question were not standard documents such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or country reports issued under governmental authority, but rather the result of specific research on the internet carried out by the [Pre-Removal Risk Assessment] officer.
In Ilori v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 627, Justice Fuhrer stated that if an officer relies on LinkedIn to cast doubt on whether someone’s citizenship application is accurate this must be disclosed to the individual.
However, it is important to note that just because an officer consults material that is not part of an application does not mean that it constitutes extrinsic evidence. For example, in Mehfooz v. Canada, 2016 FC 165, the Federal Court found that an officer did not need to provide notice to a Canadian Experience Class applicant that the employer did not have a website and that there was minimal information on the internet to even corroborate the existence of the employer.
General Country Conditions
As the Federal Court noted in Mohammed v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2017 FC 992, affirmed in Khaleel v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2022 FC 1385:
It is settled law that visa officers are entitled to rely on their personal knowledge of the local conditions in assessing evidence and documents provided in support of visa applications. In Bahr Justice James Russell stated:
So it seems to me that what applicants should expect is that the onus is upon them to make a convincing case and that, in assessing their applications, visa officers will use their general experience and knowledge of local conditions to draw inferences and reach conclusions on the basis of the information and documents provided by the applicant without necessarily putting any concerns that may arise to the applicant. The onus is upon the applicant to ensure that the application is comprehensive and contains all that is needed to make a convincing case.
There is no evidence that the Officer relied on extrinsic evidence other than generally available information about the situation in Iraq at the time of the application, a matter which falls within the core of the expertise of a visa officer. In this case, in light of the recent situation in Iraq, it was entirely reasonable to expect an applicant for a TRV to anticipate this sort of concern. The Applicant here cannot claim to have been taken by surprise that the Officer would take into consideration the economic and security situation in Iraq.
In Khaleel, Madam Justice Elliot stated that Saudization policies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a general country condition which does not require a procedural fairness letter.
However, as the Federal Court noted in Tabasi v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2022 FC 1637:
I agree with the Applicant that both of those decisions are distinguishable. In both Sinnasamy and Pizarro Gutierrez, the documents at issue were general country condition documents. This Court in Begum v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 824 at paras 37-38 held that there is a material difference between relying on country condition documents that have not been disclosed and other internet research:
… I do not agree with the Respondent that such materials are not extrinsic evidence merely because they are publicly available on the internet. Extrinsic evidence, in the context of an H&C decision, is evidence that does not form a part of the submissions of the Applicant nor of the immigration record of the Respondent concerning the Applicant and the disclosed tribunal record which includes online national documentation packages (NDP), addressed further below.
The internet provides instant access to a vast amount of information on any given subject, some of this information is accurate, and some of it is not. In my view, even if the information were not to be considered as extrinsic because it can be found on the internet, then there would also have to be some obvious connection to the information, and the use intended to be made of it by an officer, such that an applicant could reasonably expect that such information would be accessed and utilized in the context of the particular decision being made by the officer. That is not the situation in this case.
Here, there is information used by the officer that this Applicant could not reasonably expect would be accessed and utilized in the context of the permanent resident decision being made by the Officer. This includes the search of the travel agency disclosing a link to yasinbookings.com and the CBSA report and the CBSA allegations of a drug smuggling charge against the Applicant’s partner.
As the Federal Court noted in Sopeyin v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2023 FC 1435, a visa officer relying on information submitted in a family member’s application may count as extrinsic evidence.