Last Updated on August 3, 2012 by Steven Meurrens

Tom Godfrey of the Toronto Sun recently published an articled titled “Married by video chat? Come to Canada!”  The article has generated alot of attention.  However, people who are criticizing Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizing telephone (and video) marriage are missing the crucial point that it is not how someone gets married that matters, but rather the marriage is genuine.

The first half of the article states (the entire article can be read here):

Marriages conducted by telephone or webcam that unite Muslim women in Canada with husbands abroad make up a significant number of the immigration sponsorship cases in Pakistan, says a top official.

“Approximately 40% of the caseload involves proxy marriages, some of which were conducted over the phone via internet or webcam,” said Pat O’Brien, an immigration program manager at the High Commission of Canada in Islamabad.

The embassy’s territory includes Pakistan and Afghanistan, two of the most dangerous countries in the world, according to an Environmental Overview Template Islamabad report compiled by O’Brien for Ottawa. It was obtained under an Access of Information request by lawyer Richard Kurland.

The template said many applicants seeking visas for Canada take part in arranged marriages. In many cases, the brides are in Canada while their husbands reside in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The men are sponsored to Canada by their wives. The cases “involve arranged marriages amongst Muslims, the vast majority of which take place between first cousins,” O’Brien told Ottawa in March 2012.

She said most of the couples getting hitched have never met. They are married by an imam on the phone or webcam with the couples being in different countries.

Although the article does not say how many “video chat marriages” Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Islamabad mission approved, Citizenship and Immigration Canada data reveals that 87% of spousal-sponsorship applications processed in Islamabad in 2011 were approved.  This suggests that the situation is not as bad as the information contained in the Access to Information request suggests and in the Toronto Sun article imply.

(Alternatively, it suggests that Pat O’Brien’s mission is approving many spousal-sponsorship applications that they know are sham, which I can’t fathom as being the case.)

Many commentators on social media seem stunned that Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes proxy marriages.  Before commenting on this policy, it is important to note that “yes,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes proxy and telephone marriages.

The Citizenship and Immigration Canada manual states:

Type of Marriage Information
Arranged marriage Family members or a marriage broker usually arrange such marriages. The participants may not have met before the marriage, but will be familiar with each other’s background. Such marriages are recognised for immigration purposes because they are legally recognized where they occur but must also be legal under federal Canadian law.
Proxy marriage At a proxy marriage one of the participants is not present and has named a proxy to represent him or her. If the law of the country in which the marriage ceremony was performed permits proxy marriages, they are legal marriages for immigration purposes, provided they are legal under Canadian federal law.
Telephone marriage A marriage in which one of the participants is not physically present and is not represented by a proxy but participates directly by telephone is a legal marriage if it is legally recognized according to the law of the place where it occurred. This is a legal marriage for immigration purposes provided it meets the Canadian federal requirements, with respect to consanguinity and
Tribal marriage Tribal marriages, or customary marriages carried out according to tribal custom, are valid for immigration purposes if they are legally recognized where they occur. Tribal marriages are normally unrecorded.

That Citizenship and Immigration Canada would recognize such marriages should not be surprising.  It does not matter how someone was married, but rather whether the married couple have demonstrated that their conjugal relationship is genuine, and that it was not entered into for immigration purposes.  I once represented an individual who participated in an unrecorded customary marriage in Zimbabwe. The lack of documentary wedding evidence was a huge hurdle in meeting our obligation to show that there was a genuine marriage and that immigration was not the primary motivator.  We had to include pages upon pages of reference letters, photographs, and other supporting documents to show that this was indeed a legitimate marriage.

I imagine that most of the Pakistani applicants above did the same.