Fraudsters are exploiting gaps in Canada's immigration system — to the benefit of criminals, who are winding up with Canadian passports.
A new report released Tuesday by the Office of the Auditor General points to widespread deficiencies that could be letting hundreds gain citizenship illegally. It comes as Canada takes in more immigrants than ever. In 2014, Canada gave citizenship to more than 260,000 people, more than any year before and beyond double the 2013 number.
The report focuses on the mailing addresses used by fraudsters on their citizenship application, noting that thanks to typos and a lack of capitalization, bureaucrats aren't picking up on the scam when they run those addresses through the system.
"People were granted citizenship based on incomplete information, or without all of the necessary checks being done," Auditor General Michael Ferguson told reporters. "We're not talking about indications of necessarily very sophisticated fraud."
For example, 50 applicants used the same address between 2008 and 2015, and seven became Canadian citizens before border police noticed.
And in a review of 49 cases with addresses the database deemed suspect, 18 were not probed by citizenship officers over the course of three years to see whether the applicant met residency requirements.
'We're not talking about indications of necessarily very sophisticated fraud.'
After one investigation, the RCMP flagged eight addresses for the department, which only added one to the database. Three people have since gained citizenship using one of those addresses.
Auditors have also found that "misspelling or not capitalizing the street name" can lead to multiple variations of the same address, which has led to department officials missing the red flags.
Meanwhile, Canada's border cops sometimes take up to two years to notify citizenship officers when they come across suspect addresses, according to the auditors. Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officials told the auditors it sometimes holds off on notifying the department, in order not to thwart ongoing investigations.
In a recent example, CBSA linked 16 different people to two addresses, but never put this into the immigration department's database. As a result, half received citizenship while the CBSA investigated.
Immigration minister John McCallum says his department is looking into the cases.
"We have thoroughly reviewed all cases flagged by the Office of the Auditor General to determine if citizenship fraud may have occurred," he said. "As a result, we've opened investigations toward possible citizenship revocation from about a dozen individuals."
Auditors also say immigration agents aren't being informed about criminal convictions. The department starts applications with a Canada-wide criminal-clearance check, which the Harper government made valid for 18 months instead of just a year. The auditors say this has made it harder to track convictions that arise after an application has started.
While officials do follow-up checks with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they don't often hear from urban police forces. In addition, the Mounties do not systematically track people's citizenship status, and rarely notify immigration officials when a potential new citizen has committed a serious crime.
In a random sample of 38 cases where the RCMP charged people with serious offences and had noted they were seeking citizenship, the force only shared two with citizenship officers. The CBSA spotted 19 cases on their own and 16 never made it into the department's database.
Two of those people were granted citizenship despite convictions that should have made them ineligible.
The department says it's now training officers to fix flaws in how the database is updated and used.
As of January, the department had about 700 revocation cases pending. Officials told VICE News that Canada has revoked citizenship from 312 people since 1977 until the end of March 2016, with 166 of those cases completed since May 2015. All were on grounds of fraud and misrepresentation, except for the Amara terror case.
"This finding matters because ineligible individuals may obtain Canadian citizenship and receive benefits to which they are not entitled," the report reads.
The audit took place between July 2014 and October 2015, and did not examine the process for permanent-resident status, nor citizenship eligibility requirements like language or knowledge tests.
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