Marriage Fraud Targeted
Lawsuit Filed; Group seeks immigration changes
John Ivison, National Post
Reena Bhandari, a psychiatric nurse from Ottawa, feels she's been let down by Canada's immigration system.
She married an Indian widower called Manjeet Singh Bagga in August, 2001, after meeting him through a Sikh match-making Web site. Mr. Bagga and his daughter from his previous marriage arrived in Canada the following July, having been sponsored by Ms. Bhandari. But Ms. Bhandari said it was a marriage of convenience for Mr. Bagga, who was only interested in her money and the opportunity to gain Canadian citizenship.
She is part of a 100-member class-action lawsuit filed by an organization called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud that has been lodged against the federal government for failing to deport foreigners who misrepresent themselves and lure Canadians into marriage.
A lawyer for the case that has commenced at Federal Court, Julie Taub, wants the government to tighten up the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act so that it more closely mirrors laws in countries such as Australia and the United States. In Canada, there are no conditions that state the spouses even have to live together, while in other countries the authorities follow up to see if the marriage is genuine.
In Australia, permanent visas are not issued until a waiting period of two years and the spouses have to have been in a relationship for a year before lodging an application. The United States issues conditional permanent residence status, which requires spouses to prove that they did not get married to evade immigration laws after a two-year period. "It highlights a problem in the legislation that would be so easy to remedy to prevent a non-stop infusion of fraudsters," said Ms. Taub.
The government claims in its defence that it has 600 files involving immigration fraud and only a limited number of officers to process them.
In Ms. Bhandari's case, the marriage quickly descended into acrimony -- "I felt like I was being used as a bank machine. He was not interested in me -- money was his only priority," she said. The relationship eventually ended in April 2004, when Mr. Bagga said he had to return to India to deal with a court case. He had told Ms. Bhandari that his first wife had died in a car accident but she said she subsequently found Indian court papers that showed Mr. Bagga and three members of his family were charged, and later acquitted, of attacking his wife with acid, causing injuries from which she died.
Mr. Bagga said that he and his family were all cleared after a thorough investigation. "There was no conviction," he said late last week from Ottawa. However, Ms. Bhandari said that Mr. Bagga did not disclose that there were charges pending against him when he applied for permanent resident status, answering "no" to the question that asked him if he'd been charged with any crime in any country.
Ms. Bhandari said she tried to bring this to the attention of the Immigration department before Mr. Bagga was able to get full Canadian citizenship but that her efforts were ignored.
Mr. Bagga said Ms. Bhandari filled in the form for him. "I wasn't used to filling in these forms and so signed whatever she put in," he said. He denied that he had entered into the marriage in bad faith just to get into Canada. "My marriage was never a fraud. I never wanted to come here--it was her idea. I had a good life and good job in India," he said.
The two have divorced. Mr. Bagga has since been granted Canadian citizenship.