Sweeping changes to immigration policy without debate, screaming headlines about illegal immigrants lost to the system, now another alarm bell: so-called fraudulent marriages.
The Harper government is deploying clandestine teams to fan out across foreign countries and gather raw information about elaborately staged phony weddings aimed at duping Canadian immigration officials.
The teams, which comprise up to five people, are part of a wider bid by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to crack down on marriages of convenience as immigrant communities warn that thousands of foreign fraudsters are leaving lonely Canadians broke and broken-hearted.
The wedding spies report back to their colleagues staffing Canada's visa desks about particular regions or communities where lavish parties and convincing photos are little more than a front for getting a passport. "It's a serious issue. That's why there are fraud teams around the world now," a government source said.
Officials are loath to identify which countries have been targeted for added fraud measures for fear of upsetting diplomatic relations. They also say that providing too much detail would undercut their effectiveness.
For Conservatives eager to build support among Canada's ethnic communities, the measures approved by Immigration Minister Diane Finley require some political balancing, as well.
Vocal complaints of fraud by Indo-Canadians, for instance, must be addressed in a way that avoids triggering a backlash in such communities, where overseas arranged marriages are common. Critics warn that large numbers of genuine marriages arranged by relatives are being mistakenly rejected as fraudulent because Canadian officials misunderstand the tradition.
"Thousands of foreign fraudsters are leaving lonely Canadians broke and broken-hearted"? The federal government needs to intervene because lonely Canadians are broken-hearted?
Maybe this is a public education issue. Maybe it's a fraud issue, on the level of Nigerian email scams. But a serious immigration issue? Why? To give the anti-immigrant crowd another bullet in their arsenal.
Here's a companion story from the Globe and Mail.
In the fall of 2005, the love story of Toronto's Ramesh Maharaj was splashed on the front page of this newspaper.
"The bureaucracy is destroying my family," he fumed at the time, expressing his outrage at Canada's immigration system for refusing to allow his new wife, Sudha Arora, to immigrate to Toronto.
The target of his fury was a Canadian official in New Delhi, who had concluded the marriage was motivated primarily by immigration purposes rather than love: a marriage of convenience.
Mr. Maharaj appealed the decision, spending $30,000 to win his bid to bring his bride to Canada.
Now, at 57, he is again rallying against the federal government as vice-president of a new group called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud. The bureaucrat, it turns out, had been right.
Mr. Maharaj's wife arrived with her mother and daughter in June of 2006. After a few tense months in which the three women kept to themselves in a separate bedroom, they were gone by October.
Mr. Maharaj said he supports new federal efforts to root out the latest fraudulent-marriage trends by using Canadian personnel overseas, such as anti-fraud squads that keep tabs on phony wedding ceremonies.
It's hard to know what to make of this. Maharaj fought the immigration system tooth and nail, and won, and now says it should have been stronger and not permitted him to win? If anything, this might point out the impossibility of screening for such marriages in the first place.
When I Googled "immigration fraud canada", a bevy of websites turned up. Some are clearly the work of xenophobic bigots, pounding the table about all those foreigners overrunning Canada. Others purport to be support sites for "victims" of fraudulent marriages. All the language looks suspiciously similar. They all point to the UK, Australia and the US as countries that supposedly have more stringent immigration rules to prevent fraudulent marriages. They all repeat this, but the only evidence is a link to those countries' immigration websites (the same could be done for Canada), and in the case of the US, not even that. Using the US as a model for immigration is cause of skepticism in itself.
Government spies infiltrating weddings and backyard barbecues are bound to make mistakes. In forcing people to prove the legitimacy of their marriages, the government undoubtedly will make errors and break up legitimate families. And for what?
For the institution of marriage? Arranged marriages and marriages of convenience are as old as civilization itself. The world over, marriage is an economic and social contract. Canada cannot change that nor exempt itself from the equation.
To prevent "broken hearts"? That's hardly an issue for the CIC.
To reduce or prevent immigration? That's an issue for the xenophobes.
Meanwhile, the refugee system encourages marriage. It's thought that the war resisters who have families are much more likely to be accepted than the single men. Naturally we want them all to be accepted. But why should Corey Glass be deported because he is single? Why is his future less important because he doesn't have a family?
It's distressing to see the Tories pander to anti-immigrant sentiment in Canada. I can only hope it backfires on them badly in the next election.