Campaign To Crack Down On Fake Immigration Lawyers Aims To Protect Newcomers From 'scam Artists' | CBC News


Newcomers to Canada often turn to lawyers to help them navigate the ins and outs of the immigration system. But increasingly, in Montreal, people posing as immigration lawyers are taking advantage of immigrants and refugees, which can have devastating consequences.

With increase in investigations into illegal practice of immigration law, Montreal Bar urges caution

Alison Northcott · CBC News

· Posted: Feb 15, 2024 4:00 AM EST | Last Updated: February 15

Staff members at the Welcome Collective, a community organization that helps refugees in Montreal, say a growing number of clients are falling victim to fake immigration lawyers and unauthorized consultants. (Alison Northcott/CBC News)Newcomers to Canada often turn to lawyers to help them navigate the ins and outs of the immigration system. But increasingly, in Montreal, people posing as immigration lawyers are taking advantage of immigrants and refugees, which can cause serious problems.

The Montreal Bar is investigating a growing number of allegations of people posing as immigration lawyers, leading it to warn newcomers to be vigilant.

“The impact and the consequences are quite significant,” said David Ettedgui, president of the Montreal Bar. That’s why the bar has launched an awareness campaign to “prevent people from falling victim to these scam artists,” he said.

In 2022, nearly 40 per cent of the bar’s investigations into the illegal practice of the profession of law were related to immigration, up from 13 per cent in 2018, Ettedgui said.

The fake lawyers often approach their victims on social media and can end up costing victims hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The president of the Montreal Bar, David Ettedgui, says it is investigating a growing number of allegations of illegal practice of immigration law. (Alison Northcott/CBC News)”They’ll go to their victims, say that they are lawyers, take on their files and if they do it at all, most often it’ll be poorly done,” Ettedgui said.

The bar’s campaign will reach people online and through community groups with links to new immigrants and refugees. It aims to raise awareness about the risks and help prevent newcomers from falling into a trap. It includes links to verify a lawyer’s credentials and information about where to file complaints.

‘People taking advantage’Community groups in Montreal like the Welcome Collective, which helps refugees settle in the city, said they have clients who have been duped by fake lawyers or others posing as immigration consultants who aren’t authorized or licensed.

Community worker Mariangel Betancourt said she’s seen clients’ files delayed or abandoned because of fake lawyers or bogus immigration representatives failing to submit documents to the immigration officials properly, or on time.

WATCH | Spike in reports of fake immigration lawyers and consultants in Montreal: 

Spike in reports of fake immigration lawyers and consultants in MontrealThe Montreal Bar Association is warning would-be immigrants to beware of people pretending to be immigration lawyers or consultants after they noticed newcomers handing over hundreds — even thousands — of dollars to hucksters promising a quick and easy process.

“They’re just people taking advantage,” Betancourt said. “There are many people just calling themselves lawyers or consultants and people are in desperation,” she said.

“They believe it, they pay.”

The consequences can be devastating: serious delays, abandoned claims, or even deportation, Betancourt said.

While other bar associations and law societies in Canada contacted by CBC News have not reported significant upticks in reported cases of fake immigration lawyers, the Canadian Bar Association said the issue has preoccupied its members for several years — mostly in urban centres with large populations of immigrants.

Lisa Middlemiss, a Montreal immigration lawyer and past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration law section, said when a fake lawyer or unauthorized representative gets involved with someone’s immigration file, it can cause a string of problems.

“It’s so easy for someone who doesn’t know the rules, the law and the regulations to make a mistake,” she said. “It’s so difficult and challenging to try and fix it after.”

The awareness campaign by the Montreal Bar includes social media posts pointing out red flags to look out for when seeking an immigration lawyer. (Courtesy Montreal Bar)That’s what happened to Ankit Joshi. Originally from India, he got involved with a fraudulent immigration consultant in Halifax when he was immigrating to Canada from Australia.

The unauthorized consultant created fraudulent documents and never submitted Joshi’s papers to the immigration department, putting his application and his future in Canada at risk. His case prompted an investigation and immigration fraud charges against the fake consultant.

“We were new to Canada, not even very familiar with the rules and regulations,” Joshi said. “We were trusting the system and the person who was belonging to our own community.”

Joshi eventually found an immigration lawyer and ultimately became a permanent resident, but continues to speak about his experience in the hopes of helping others avoid similar problems.

Look out for red flagsExperts, including Ettedgui at the Montreal Bar, said anyone looking for help with their immigration file should be aware of red flags — promises of a quick and easy process, or meetings held in fast-food restaurants and coffee shops, rather than at a lawyer’s office.

Ettedgui said the bar’s campaign includes a link to the directory of lawyers registered with the bar and a guide to help find a qualified representative.

Immigration consultants are licensed by the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants, which also has a registry available online.

The college’s president and CEO, John Murray, said while unauthorized practitioners “pose significant risks to the public,” the college’s powers to hold them accountable are limited.


Alison Northcott is a national reporter for CBC News in Montreal, covering current events and politics across Quebec. Born in Winnipeg, she has over 15 years experience in journalism.

Follow Alison on TwitterWith files from Kwabena Oduro and Jessica Rubinger

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