Person of ‘national security concern’ was accidentally granted permanent residency

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A person of « national security concern » was granted permanent residency « due to a series of failures » by the Canadian border agency and immigration department.

In light of the incident both departments have had to introduce changes in what the public safety minister’s office is calling a « completely unacceptable » mistake.

The changes were outlined in a briefing note sent by Canada Border Services Agency president John Ossowski to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in early 2018 regarding the 2017 error.

A heavily redacted copy of the document was recently obtained by CBC News through access to information laws.

The briefing note, titled « Subject of national security concern granted permanent residency » says the subject —  their name, age and gender are redacted for privacy reasons — was granted permanent resident status « due to a series of failures on the part of both Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada and the CBSA. »

That means the person is entitled to most social benefits — including health care —  can live, work and study anywhere in Canada, and is protected by Canadian law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but isn’t considered a Canadian citizen.

Most of the details about why this person is considered a security concern and how they were granted permanent residency were redacted because, among other reasons, officials believe releasing information could hurt « the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada. »

Disconnect between agencies

However, the document does mention that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had « degrogatory information, » meaning information that could be relevant to a finding that the person was inadmissible to Canada. CSIS and the RCMP were also tapped to monitor a national security investigation linked to this case.

Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said it appears there was a disconnect in communication between Canada’s intelligence agencies.

Those mistakes were completely unacceptable.— Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for the public safety minister

« To me it’s unacceptable. As a Canadian I expect more, and I think other Canadians expect that our federal law enforcement, intelligence and border security agencies can work seamlessly, share information seamlessly. And if there are administrative or legal hurdles, then that’s something  Parliament needs to look at, » he said.

A spokesperson for Goodale would only say a combination of « several unique errors » led to the « oversight for a single permanent residency application. »

« Those mistakes were completely unacceptable. Changes have been made to prevent them from happening again, » said Scott Bardsley in an email to CBC News.

« While we do not comment on operational matters related to security, we can say that the government of Canada monitors all potential threats and has robust measures in place to address them. »

Most new permanent residency cards are valid for five years, but Goodale’s office pointed out that permanent residents can become inadmissible on security grounds or for a misrepresentation, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

« The government of Canada is unwavering in its commitment to protect the safety and security of Canadians, » said Bardsley.

« We continue to take appropriate action to counter threats to Canada, its citizens and its interests around the world. »

Changes raise red flags

Ossowski told Goodale that the border agency identified a number of « vulnerabilities » and is taking steps to « respond to this incident and to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. »

Those steps include introducing new fail-safes to the global case management system, updating the national targeting program, which helps the CBSA identify suspected high-risk people and goods, and changing the passenger information system.

In a statement to CBC News the border agency said its internal review policies and procedures have been « refined » in light of the incident.

But Sundberg, who spent 15 years working for the CBSA’s predecessor, said the changes involve updating significant computer systems and working with international partners, raising some red flags.

« I don’t think one case, one mistake would trigger all of these major changes, » he said.

« I don’t believe this is the only case. I think that this is probably more common than we believe, and it comes down to process, it comes down to organizational structure and it comes down to investment in officers. So, it’s concerning. »

Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says it’s time for the government to introduce independent oversight of the CBSA. (Kelly W. Sundberg)

Asked about the incident, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it’s offering its officers more training.

Call for oversight 

« The department is delivering ongoing training to IRCC officers to identify potential security concerns in order to mitigate human error, » said spokesperson Nancy Caron.

Sundberg said cases like this highlight the need for independent oversight of the CBSA.

« I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that this is a one-off, that this is the ‘something went wrong.’ I think that this is yet another case that went public, that the government is like ‘Uh oh, we better do something,' » he said.

« This is why we need to have arm’s-length oversight of the CBSA so that when things go aside, when things go wrong that there is an independent civilian body that’s overseeing this for the interests of Canadians and to ensure best practices. »

Last month the Opposition Conservatives called for a review and audit of the immigration screening system after a CBC News investigation revealed a Somali gang member with an extensive criminal record was twice released in Canada.

The case of Abdullahi Hashi Farah also highlighted a lack of communication, this time between the CBSA and the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Officers gained access to his phone, which had evidence of illegal activity, but didn’t immediately pass that information on to the IRB.

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Le danger permanent des molosses

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Vous est-il déjà arrivé, en vous promenant dans un sentier pédestre, d’entendre aboyer derrière vous et, vous retournant, d’apercevoir un molosse de plus de 40 kilos en train de vous foncer dessus ? C’est apeurant.

Cette mésaventure m’est arrivée deux fois en deux semaines en me promenant le long du parc linéaire de la rivière Saint-Charles à Québec le soir après souper, histoire de prendre l’air. C’est généralement à la tombée du jour que certains propriétaires de ces animaux profitent de la pénombre et se promènent avec ceux-ci sans les tenir en laisse sachant fort bien qu’aucun policier ne les verra. Ils ne semblent pas comprendre, tout comme certains édiles, que les molosses sont des armes qui peuvent blesser ou tuer.

Afin de permettre aux citoyens de circuler de façon sécuritaire dans les parcs et autres lieux publics, je suggère que des policiers parcourent sporadiquement, le soir, ces endroits et puissent imposer de sévères amendes aux propriétaires de ces chiens. De plus, tout comme les propriétaires d’armes à feu (obligés de suivre une formation pour en posséder), les obliger à suivre un cours d’acquisition pouvant les sensibiliser au danger que les chiens peuvent représenter pour les autres.

Malheureusement, pour la très grande majorité des propriétaires qui se déplacent avec leur toutou favori de manière sécuritaire, certaines restrictions légales sont nécessaires pour une minorité d’irresponsables.

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New TTC chair Jaye Robinson says Toronto needs a permanent ‘seat at the table’ if province takes over the subway

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The new chair of the TTC says she’s “gravely concerned” with the province’s plans to take ownership of the subway network, arguing it’s critical the city retain control over its transit destiny.

In an interview Friday, Jaye Robinson, who was appointed by council on Dec. 13 to lead the transit agency’s board, spoke about the course she plans to chart for the TTC over the coming four-year term, including her desire to increase service and seek out another potential manufacturer for new streetcars.

The biggest looming challenge, she said, is the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s push to upload the subway system to the province.

Robinson said that while there remains a lot of uncertainty about the proposal, what she’s heard so far is troubling.

She noted the TTC’s subway, bus and streetcar lines are heavily integrated. “So to pluck one piece of the system out, I don’t think is going to serve anyone well,” she said.

Earlier this month, council voted to enter into talks with the province about the upload proposal, after receiving legal advice that the city has no legislative power to block the province’s plan.

Robinson said should an upload take place, the city needs to continue to have a say in subway planning in order to ensure the Relief Line is built before any other new projects. Critics of the upload plan worry that Queen’s Park would prioritize projects like a Line 1 extension to Richmond Hill instead.

“We need a seat at the table, not just now but forever,” Robinson said.

“The number one concern for me is influencing the future of transit in Toronto.”

Robinson’s Ward 15, Don Valley West is bounded on the west by the Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) subway, and she said she’s heard clearly from constituents it’s already overcrowded.

Taking pressure off Line 1 by building the Relief Line, which would cost at least $6.8 billion, “has to be prioritized, or it’s going to cripple the city,” Robinson said.

A three-term councillor, Robinson said she rides the subway to work every day and is proud she doesn’t know the location of her allotted parking space at city hall.

Robinson’s political views lean centre-right, and she was a steady ally of Mayor John Tory last term, serving as a member of his hand-picked executive committee.

Tory recommended Robinson for the TTC role, which is something of a promotion for the councillor. She also had a high-profile job last term when she served as chair of the public works committee.

The councillor sided with the mayor on significant transit-related decisions at council meetings over the past four years, including voting to support the King St. pilot project, as well as to advance Tory’s SmartTrack plan and the contentious Scarborough subway extension.

In February, she voted with the majority of councillors to increase the TTC budget by $2 million to alleviate subway overcrowding.

The year before she sided with the mayor to help vote down a motion to spend $1.2 million to improve subway power and signal reliability.

She said Friday she couldn’t specifically remember what her reasoning was for opposing the spending, but asserted she’s committed to improving the subway signalling system.

Headed into the 2019 budget process, city staff, with the mayor’s blessing, have asked all agencies and departments to prepare spending plans that keep expenditures at 2018 levels. Council will finalize the budget in March.

Robinson said she wants to expand TTC service, but conceded “that would be tough to do” unless the transit agency gets more money.

The TTC already receives a lower per rider subsidy than other comparable transit agencies. This year the city provided an operating subsidy of about $578.8 million, while fare revenue made up the remainder of the TTC’s $1.8-billion operating budget.

“They are strapped for cash, there’s no question there,” Robinson said.

The cost of riding transit rose every year between 2011 and 2017, before the board implemented a freeze in 2018. The new chair said she hopes to avoid fare increases in 2019.

“I would hate to see the cost on transit riders go up, because they’re doing the city a favour by riding the system, quite frankly. It takes pressure off the roadways,” she said.

The TTC board will likely have to decide as early as next year on the thorny question of whether to pick up an option in the agency’s contract with Bombardier to buy additional streetcars from the company.

TTC staff say that in order to meet growing demand the agency could need another 60 vehicles on top of the 204 it’s already ordered, and despite the Quebec-based manufacturer’s well-publicized struggles to produce the first batch of cars on time, finding another supplier could take years longer and carry additional risks.

Although Bombardier has improved its rate of production recently, Robinson said she’s open to looking for another manufacturer.

“I think certainly we should look at alternatives and options down the road because it’s been far from ideal,” she said of the $1-billion Bombardier deal.

On the frequently glitchy Presto fare card program, Robinson vowed to “push harder” on Metrolinx, the provincial agency that owns Presto, to improve reliability.

The TTC board’s first meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Okotoks family fears they will be forced to leave Canada following permanent residence rejection

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A family of four chasing the Canadian dream in Okotoks fear they may soon have no choice but to pack up their belongings and leave the country.

Mexican nationals Guillermo Rojas Vertiz Cervantes, his wife Irma Canut and their two children were certain they would obtain permanent residence over the summer, but were rejected by Immigration Canada due to the way an immigration agent defined “employee” versus “self-employed.”

Rojas Vertiz Cervantes – whose temporary work permit expires Dec. 1 and has not yet been extended – believes that without permanent residence, his family will be forced to return to Mexico.

“We are stressed and anxious. We don’t know what to do,” he said.

Investing in Canada

The family was introduced to Okotoks by chance during a trip to western Canada in 2013. Touring B.C. and Alberta, they stopped in the town on Halloween and picked up costumes to celebrate the holiday.

Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said he was struck by the kindness of the locals, and he and his wife decided it would be a good place to fulfill their dream of opening a café and restaurant in Canada.

Guillermo Rojas Vertiz Cervantes was refused permanent residence due to a discrepancy over his work experience.

Blake Lough / Global News

That’s how they met their realtor, Inge French, who quickly became one of their closest friends.

“They are the highest quality people I have ever met,” French said. “They’re delightful, they’re intelligent, they’re articulate, they’re educated, and their children are spectacular.”

Moving to Canada through an investor program, Rojas Vertiz Cervantes and Canut leased a property where they would open their business, Café Cancun.

Both Rojas Vertiz Cervantes and Canut own shares in the company.

“We have sold everything in Mexico in order to set our business here in Canada,” Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said.

In order to qualify for permanent residence in Canada’s Express Entry system, Rojas Vertiz Cervantes needed at least one year of skilled work experience as an employee, so he took on the job of director and manager.

An employee contract as well as pay stubs and tax returns provided to Global News showed Rojas Vertiz Cervantes worked and paid taxes as an employee. Even the work permit issued to Cervantes by Immigration Canada lists him as an employee.

In a ruling the family requested from the Canada Revenue Agency, it concluded Rojas Vertiz Cervantes worked as an employee.

‘Truly a nightmare’

All that information was submitted to Immigration Canada in the application for permanent residence.

But in July, the family received a letter from an immigration agent outlining “serious concerns” with Rojas Vertiz Cervantes’ application.

Citing the fact that he owned shares in the company he worked for, the agent deemed Rojas Vertiz Cervantes’ work experience as “self-employment.”

Under the Canadian Experience Class stream of Immigration Canada’s Express Entry system, self-employment does not count as skilled work experience.

The letter shocked the family.

“I am not self-employed,” Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said. “I pay taxes and the corporation pays taxes as a corporation.”

“We are good people, we are good, hard-working people.”

Rojas Vertiz Cervantes responded with a reconsideration letter, but a few weeks later the refusal letter arrived.

“I am not satisfied based on a balance of probabilities that your employment with Café Cancun Co. Inc. is not self-employment,” read part of the refusal letter.

Irma Canut says the worst case scenario for her family is that they will need to move back to Mexico after investing all they had into their Canadian business.

Blake Lough / Global News

“We never expected it to be this way,” Canut said, “because we thought that we were doing everything as perfect as it could be. We didn’t want to take any chances.”

“It became a catastrophe when we received [the letter],” she added. “We were not thinking of renewing our working permits because we were almost sure that we were going to be permanent residents by the end of the summer.”

‘Arbitrary’ definition

So why does Immigration Canada consider a person “self-employed” when seemingly all other documentation and branches of government consider he or she an “employee?”

Long time immigration lawyer Michael Greene – who is not connected to the case – said that when the Express Entry system was developed, Immigration Canada adopted a much narrower interpretation of employment.

Michael Greene, with Sherritt Greene Barristers & Solicitors, says there is no consistent definition of “employee” versus “self-employed” across federal government branches.

Blake Lough / Global News

“One branch of the federal government says ‘you’re an employee’ and taxes you on that basis and the other branch says, ‘well, we’re not going to count that as employment for immigration purposes so too bad, so sad,’ ” he said.

Greene said he has seen this issue come up in immigration cases before and believes changes should be made to create consistency throughout all government branches.

“When we see something like this happen I say, is this really necessary? Should we be applying such an arbitrary definition and why are we applying a definition that’s different than what the CRA is applying?”

Global News reached out to Immigration Canada for comment on this story, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Worst-case scenario

“We are at a point where we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what door to knock, and we don’t know who to talk to on the phone,” Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said.

Even if the extension is granted when December hits, he would only be allowed to work at the café, which has been closed due to a separate legal issue with the building’s landlord.

Canut’s job at a local daycare alone would not be enough to support the family.

“The worst-case scenario is we need to leave,” Canut said.

“The decision of one agent is really affecting the future of the whole family,” she added. “I’m an adult, I can live with that. I can clean my tears and move on. But I have two kids that have made a whole life here that they can truly not imagine living away from here.”

“It’s really starting to come home that they might have to leave,” added French.

“For a family that is contributing to the community, that is not sucking any resources from Canada – they are contributing – the idea of sending them home? I can’t wrap my head around it,” she said.

The family has sent letters to their local MP, the office of Immigration and to the Prime Minister himself, hoping for some sort of intervention.

“I believe in Canada,” Canut said. “And I truly believe that someone will hear us and realize that we are not a number.”

Friends of the family have launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Rojas Vertiz Cervantes and Canut as they try to find a solution.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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