Saturday, November 26, 2005

Environment: Professional

In my business, right now things are good in terms of prospects and promises, but disturbing in terms of some particulars.

Generally speaking, immigration issues are certainly much higher on the agenda than they have been for a very long time, and generally positively so, in statements from politicians and government, in the media, and in the attitude we see in the business movers and shakers. Mind you, the business guys really haven’t go a clue, so they tend to push for things they may well regret later; the media remains credulous and inclined to sensationalism (as they are about almost everything); governments are pursuing their own agendas, which only partially converge with ours; and politicians, well, they sure do like blowing smoke up our collective ass. I am profoundly skeptical as to how all the recent announcements and promises are actually going to play out on the ground over the next few years.

Certainly the government cancellation of the Refugee Appeal Division is a blow, and whether you give a damn about human rights or refugees, if you are concerned about democracy, politicians keeping commitments, and the Will of Parliament, the way it was done is profoundly disturbing. And the abominable policy on keeping parents and grandparents out of Canada has only been improved marginally (and nothing has happened yet on the ground). Basically, your chances of sponsoring a parent these days are effectively zero. The sad fact is that a lot of the grandparents in the queue really don’t want to live in Canada, but are unable to obtain a visa to visit, because CIC fears that they might make a refugee claim.

I have an employee from Nigeria, who is experiencing a very high-risk pregnancy. She cannot travel more than half an hour from a hospital; certainly she cannot fly home. Her mother will not be allowed to visit her in Canada, help and support her, and then hold her first grandchild. She and her mom are heartbroken; I am sure it is not helping her pregnancy at all, and it is risking the wellbeing of her soon to be born very new Canadian. The heartless bastards don’t give a shit. They aren't quite baby-killers, but sometimes it's hard not to feel that way. They are simply protecting us from waves of scary Nigerian refugee claimants. Thankyou, I feel so much safer.

It is unconscionable.


But within my sector, immigrant settlement specifically, there are some troubling developments as well. For years and years we have been talking and talking about forming some kind of national body. Sure, there is the CCR, which tries to talk about settlement and general immigration issues, but is mostly interested in refugees, which is right and proper. And in any case, many of our settlement issues are quite technical, and of little interest to many in the CCR, who really do not understand them in any case. And frankly, settlement agency attendance at CCR is pathetic—it really isn’t serving our needs, and has no legitimacy at all to speak for us.

But it has taken years and years, for a variety of reasons, basically there are a lot of internal politics I suppose. Well, over the last few months, we have been on the brink of the birth of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Alliance, CISA. It isn’t quite born yet; it isn’t quite stillborn yet either; as of Wednesday it’s on life-support and hanging in the balance until February. The questions are what it will look like, how independent it should be (or rather, how best to ensure its independence), and (this is just my take) how can it attract truly national support from the sector?

[A large amount of-interest-to-participants-only commentary redacted here.]

It's a pretty typical West vs Central vs East with Quebec effectively sovereign Canadian muddle really.

Another troubling thing

And now this, CSIC is in self-inflicted trouble. At the time they set it up, I was quite vocal and upfront about my opposition to it. I felt quite lonely too. And gamed and manipulated by the system. I lost quite badly, and the thing was set up. Nice to see I was right at least in part, but it is always bad to see something well-intentioned take such major damage.

(Continued with a rant about CSIC)

Backgrounder: for years and years, everybody has been disgusted with the situation around immigration consultants. CIC has stoutly maintained that no one needs one, the forms & processes are useable by pretty much anyone (many background guffaws). Lawyers have maintained that if you do need advice, you should get it from proper counsel (cynical smirks). We in the voluntary non-government charitable sector have been concerned and appalled by the unscrupulous, unethical, and sometimes downright criminal activities we have seen (helpless hand-waving, really). For years & years, people have been saying that something really ought to be done about it. The problem was, do what exactly?

The nastier cases are essentially conmen living abroad beyond the reach of Canadian criminal law, and in any case shoddy insanely over-priced work is not illegal, even in Canada. Regulate it? The problem with that, is that it is to legitimize a pretty dubious profession. And many in my sector have experienced unethical, shoddy, and exploitative work by already regulated lawyers, so saw little advantage in extending it to consultants.

However, the situation got so bad that CIC eventually funded the creation of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, otherwise known as CSIC (pronounced “seasick” which sums up my attitude pretty well) to do just that. Its one of those self-regulating professional associations things Canada is so fond of. The only problem, of course, is that constitutionally, the regulation of professions is a provincial matter, so the feds can’t really enforce regulation.

What they can do, however, is “refuse to do business” with a consultant that is not a member in good standing (and thus subject to discipline), a lawyer (and thus subject to discipline), or someone employed by a charity/non-profit agency (like me). Naturally, one of the first thing that happened is that a lot of highly questionable non-profits have started up recently.

My arguments against all of this are long and technical in parts, but can be summed up, in increasing order of importance:

  1. Just for starters, for almost two decades now I have been outraged, appalled, and saddened by the near-universal tendency of Canadian self-regulating professional associations to function as mediaeval guilds. They primarily exist to keep competitors out, not protect the public, and so I am naturally inherently prejudiced against them, and think that they are pretty much a Bad Idea (if an occupation needs regulating, let the government, which serves the public, not professional interest, do it). I can already see signs of CSIC going down that road, actually.

  2. (This one I did not voice at the time, but it is one that has been proven right): an association of rapacious, ethically challenged individuals will tend to behave unethically and rapaciously. Duh.

  3. Such a body will have no power to do anything about the conmen and grifters, especially those who work abroad (“For $10,000 I can guarantee you acceptance by Canada, I have a cousin….”). You can try and sell the need for the body with all the horror stories, but that is duplicitous because you admit that it will have no effect on these guys.

  4. Given the record of Canadian Bar Association success in dealing with ethics, competence, diligence, and malpractice violations, what assurances can be made that an association of much-less trained and scrutinized people will perform better?

  5. Membership fees are not cheap, to say nothing of required coursework and testing costs. All these fees will, of course, be passed on to the customer, putting yet another financial burden on new immigrants. People seem to see prospective immigrants as milch-cows—the consultant rates are sickening frankly, thousands of dollars for filling out a routine two-page form. (And CIC itself takes in more in Application and Landing fees than it spends on settlement—immigration is actually a money making proposition for government.)

  6. How on earth is some victim of incompetence or negligence going to file a complaint from some slum in Nairobi? How are they going to attend hearings? Is CIC going to reconsider negative family or refugee decisions if CSIC rules that there was in fact incompetence, negligence, or abuse? (The answer I got after much wormwood prevarication was: no, of course not.)

  7. Refusing to do business with non-registered consultants will theoretically have the effect of causing them to lose business, as they will lose customers. Right, CIC does such a great job of getting accurate information out to prospective immigrants right now. Sounds great in theory, but in practice, well the immigration business in a market such as Seoul or Minsk produces about as much accurate information as you find at your basic Amway session.

  8. The sole sanction is in effect against the victim. The consultant is in fact just the agent of the applicant, and it is the applicant that will be punished by a refusal to consider a particular representation. CIC assures us that deadlines affected by applications returned because of this will take the delay into account—a critical factor if you are considering pending deportations to refugee producing (ie torturing & killing) countries. Given CIC’s record of compassion and keeping promises made, I for one am not comfortable.

  9. It gets worse than that. One of the worst things that can happen to an immigrant is when CIC decides that s/he has been guilty of “misrepresentation” in any of the communications they have had with them (ie they lied), and CIC will try and deport them. This can be for trivial and technical errors; they use the sanction with a pretty broad brush. Of course, one way they can tell if you used a non-registered consultant is by asking you, ie on the forms is the question “Did anyone help you fill this out for a fee, and if so, who?” If an unscrupulous consultant fills it out for you, but has you sign off that he or she didn’t, and CIC catches it, well, not only is the form returned, you have now made a misrepresentation to them, and henceforward are Inadmissible to Canada, quite likely for life, no matter the threat to your life and liberty. The consultant goes his merry way of course.
But here I am refighting old lost battles.

Anyway, I had to admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude with the news. With a certain wistfulness too: I do work in a fractious sector that pretends to a great deal more solidarity than we actually practice, and I am probably one of the guilty.


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At 1:34 PM, November 12, 2007, Blogger Diana said...

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) is an independent administrative tribunal. The IRB is responsible for applying the Canadian federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and for making decisions on immigration and refugee matters. The IRB decides, among other responsibilities, who needs refugee protection among the thousands of claimants who come to Canada annually. The IRB reports to the sportsbook Canadian government through the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
The operations are overseen by the chairperson, currently Jean-Guy Fleury (appointed November 29, 2002 and Marilyn Stuart-Major as Executive Director.

The IRB consists of four divisions or tribunals.

Refugee Protection Division
Immigration Division
Immigration Appeal Division
Refugee Appeal Division (not yet in force)

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