The RCMP has laid charges against 39 people in an alleged marriage immigration scam dubbed Project Conjugal.
A total of 78 new counts of indictment, including misrepresentation and procuring feigned marriage, have been laid against individuals in an investigation conducted by the RCMP’s immigration and passport section.
It is alleged that Canadian women married in exchange for money so that their North African “husbands” could stay in the country.
The initial part of the investigation led last February to the dismantling of an alleged criminal organization involved in illegal immigration. The purpose of the current part of the probe was to lay charges against the individuals who allegedly took part in marriages of convenience. They are scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 16.
Immigrations lawyers say such fake marriages are a problem in Canada and often the women here in Canada are willing participants complicit in their involvement.
“I think the overwhelming percentage of marriage cases we see are genuine, however there is a problem and I think it’s good it’s being addressed,” says Mario Bellissimo of Bellissimo Law Group in Toronto.
“I’ve seen both side of the divide. I’ve seen females that are complicit and individuals who were exploited and not aware of what is happening. Sometimes in arranged marriages it can become even more blurred because often there isn’t the progression of a relationship we would see by Western standards.”
The RCMP initiated the investigation with the purpose of addressing the legitimacy of hundreds of suspicious marriages.
The investigation was of a bogus immigration consultant who is believed to be the mastermind behind this scheme, who gave advice on how to submit misrepresented facts to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to individuals whose visas were due to expire. Specifically, he organized fake marriages with the assistance of accomplices to allow these individuals originating from North Africa to remain in Canada.
The network recruited young Canadian women in the Montréal area and arranged for them to participate in marriages of convenience in exchange for money.
Amadou Niang, 56, appeared in Court this past March to face 42 counts of indictment, including for offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. He appeared again yesterday at the Montréal Court House.
As part of Project Conjugal, an investigation took place into the legitimacy of about 315 suspicious weddings that took place between 2007 and 2009. These 39 people are the first of 630 the RCMP plans to charge as a result of Project Conjugal.
CIC is trying to address such fake marriages with new laws, says Lloyd Ament with Basmen Smith LLP.
“There is a new regulation introduced in March whereby someone who has been sponsored can’t sponsor another spouse for five years. I think that’s a pretty good way of stopping this stuff depending on what was the motive. If it was to bring in another spouse that would cover it,” says Ament.
Also, the CIC is considering making the sponsorship visa conditional for two years.
“That could have more teeth because if you tried to get divorced within that period you lose your status,” says Ament.