OTTAWA -- A five-year sponsorship bar to crack down on bogus marriages of convenience falls short of addressing the real problem, critics said Friday, shortly after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced the regulatory change.
Starting immediately, Kenney said spouses will have to wait five years from the day they are granted permanent residence status before they can sponsor a new partner.
The move is meant to prevent people from fraudulently marrying Canadians for the purposes of immigration only to leave them and then sponsor a new partner while their Canadian spouse is still financially responsible for them for three years.
"I held town hall meetings across the country to hear from victims of marriage fraud," said Kenney, who made the announcement in Brampton, Ont., just west of Toronto.
"In addition to the heartbreak and pain that came from being lied to and deceived, these people were angry. They felt they had been used as a way to get to Canada. We're taking action because immigration to Canada should not be built upon deceit."
NDP immigration critic Don Davies, however, said the new rule fails address those cases in which Canadian citizens are complicit in these bogus marriages.
Canada should be investing more resources into overseas immigration bureaus that vet applicants before they come to Canada in order to stop marriage fraud before it occurs, Davies said.
"Of all the problems in the immigration system -- we have a backlog of a million, wait times are appalling, we have hundreds of thousands of families in this country who are unable to sponsor their parents because there's a freeze... and Minister Kenney thinks the most important thing to legislate on is the relatively small number of people who are engaged in marriages of convenience. I don't think that that's where the focus of immigration reform should be," he said.
"Where I would put my focus is on prevention rather than the defeatist position of the minister which is simply to ramp up penalties after the problem has occurred and after the pain has been caused."
Davies fears the government will actually cut resources for overseas missions by five to 10 per cent as part of austerity measures being taken by all departments in a bid to erase the federal deficit by 2015.
Canadians will find out more when the budget is tabled on March 29.
The regulatory change comes less than two years after the Conservatives promised to tackle marriage fraud. In the fall of 2010, the government held online consultations to gather public opinion and ideas on how to address the issue.
The idea of a five-year sponsorship bar was proposed in the Canada Gazette last April and was followed by a 30-day public comment period.
The measure officially came into force on Friday and is just one of several actions the government is considering.
Public consultations will begin in the coming weeks on a proposed conditional permanent-residence provision that would deter people in newer relationships from attempting to gain quick entry to Canada when they have no plans to remain with their sponsoring partner.
According to the proposal first published in the Canada Gazette last spring, the sponsored partner in a marriage or common-law relationship of less than two years would be subject to a conditional two-year period of permanent residence.
The measure would bring Canada in line with other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, which have similar policies.
It's not clear exactly how many cases of marriage fraud occur every year in Canada, but victims' groups and immigration lawyers have said it's in the thousands.
-- Postmedia News