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Is there a better way to reunite families? Thousands left in lurch by chaotic immigration application process

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The chaos around a new application process to bring parents and grandparents to Canada has left advocates and would-be applicants wondering if there is a better — and more fair — way to reunite families.

The immigration department’s new first-come-first-serve online application process launched Monday saw 27,000 “expression of interest” spots snapped up in mere minutes, leaving tens of thousands of other potential sponsors frustrated and angry at being shut out.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office said more than 100,000 people tried to access the digital form to express interest in sponsoring their parents or grandparents when it went live online at noon on Monday.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office said more than 100,000 people tried to access the digital form to express interest in sponsoring their parents or grandparents when it went live online at noon on Monday.  (PATRICK DOYLE / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

“Whatever system we have, there’s always the question of fairness,” said Surrey, B.C., lawyer Marina Sedai, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division. “No one can come up with a perfect solution that satisfies the needs of all Canadians.”

For decades, any Canadian citizen or permanent resident interested in sponsoring parents and grandparents could apply in an “all-in” system where they simply waited for their turn, based on the order applications were received. However, due to overwhelming interest and limited resources, the backlog had grown to 165,000 people and applicants had to wait for up to eight years for their relatives to arrive.

In 2011, the then-Conservative government suspended new applications for two years before reopening the process and, in 2014, imposing a cap of 5,000, to be accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis. Paper-based applications had to be sent by mail or registered courier to a single government processing centre in Mississauga and were assessed in order of their time stamp. Applicants complained that this forced them to spend large amounts of money on couriers each year in an attempt to make it into the top 5,000 spots.

In 2016, the Liberals raised the annual quota to 10,000. And in January 2017, Ottawa introduced the lottery process. Sponsors were asked to submit an expression of interest form, and from that pool, people were randomly selected to continue with the application process. That year, some 95,000 would-be sponsors vied for the 10,000 spots; only 6,020 applications were completed because some were deemed ineligible, others never completed the process, and multiple entries by the same applicants were discarded.

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Marina Sedai, chair of the Canadian Bar Association's immigration division, said the debate over fairness is bound to continue unless Ottawa is ready to raise the annual admission quota for parents and grandparents.
Marina Sedai, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division, said the debate over fairness is bound to continue unless Ottawa is ready to raise the annual admission quota for parents and grandparents.  (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

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This year, applicants had to compete to fill out a 10-page interest-to-sponsor digital form and only the first 27,000 submissions were accepted. Based on the time of receipt, the first 20,000 eligible ones will be invited to submit a formal application for sponsorship.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said more than 100,000 people attempted to access the digital form when it went live online at noon on Monday but “no technical issues” were reported. In less than seven minutes, the quota of 27,000 was reached. Failed applicants took their frustration and anger to social media, blasting the government’s efforts.

Toronto immigration lawyer Clifford McCarten said people were unhappy with the old lottery system because they didn’t want to be subjected to a random process where they could miss out repeatedly and be separated from their family perpetually. “People want predictability,” he said.

McCarten offered three alternatives as possible solutions:

  • Taking in everybody and pre-screening them for eligibility before sponsors could bid for a place in the lottery;
  • A hybrid system where equal spots would be allotted for a lottery, for first-come-first-serve, and for humanitarian screening based on personal circumstances and factors such as the number of previous failed attempts;
Behnam Esfahanizadeh says he has made three unsuccessful attempts to bring his wife's parents here from Slovakia.
Behnam Esfahanizadeh says he has made three unsuccessful attempts to bring his wife’s parents here from Slovakia.  (SUPPLIED PHOTO)
  • A point system similar to one used to rank skilled immigrant applicants on personal attributes to decide which parents and grandparents were more deserving to come here.

Heather Otto, one of the would-be sponsors left in the lurch on Monday, said the good thing about the lottery was that everyone had an equal chance.

“They said it’s first-come-first-serve, but I was excluded right off the bat on Monday,” said the Toronto computer programmer, who would like to sponsor her parents here from South Africa. “I had everything ready by noon and started refreshing my computer every few seconds. By the time I saw the (apply) button at 12:08 p.m., it said the program had already closed.”

Otto said she wasn’t sure how a point system could work for parents and grandparents, but everyone interested in getting in the pool should be asked to pay the $1,040 fee ($75 for sponsorship, $475 for processing and $490 for the right of permanent residence) upfront so only serious applicants would get a chance.

Natalya Sakhno, another disappointed sponsor, said she preferred the lottery system to the mad-rush chaos on Monday, which ended up being a race of who had the fastest keystrokes and internet speed.

“Every system has its positives and negatives,” said the Toronto human resources professional, who wants to bring her father here from Ukraine. “It’s a gamble.”

Another failed applicant, Behnam Esfahanizadeh, said a real first-come-first-serve system is when the process is open to all and everyone waits in order.

“They just have to get the applications in line and let everyone wait for their turn,” said the Toronto IT consultant, who has made three unsuccessful attempts to bring his wife’s parents here from Slovakia.

Sedai said the debate over the “fairness” issue is bound to continue unless Ottawa is ready to raise the annual admission quota for parents and grandparents and deploy more resources to process applications.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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