By Leslie Young, Global News
Potential Canadian citizens aren’t being adequately checked for criminality or residency problems, which could lead to some people being granted citizenship when they shouldn’t be, according to a report from the Auditor General of Canada.
The report looked at whether Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada detected and prevented fraud in adult citizenship applications. Overall, the audit found that the department was not adequately identifying fraud, and in some cases wasn’t receiving the information it needed to do so.
“As a result, people were granted citizenship based on incomplete information or without all of the necessary checks being done,” reads the report. Officials with the Auditor General’s office didn’t know how many people might have been wrongly granted citizenship.
“We were able to identify about 50 cases of people where there were indications that they were trying to obtain their citizenship fraudulently,” said Auditor General Michael Ferguson at a press conference Tuesday.
And it wasn’t hard for his office to find these 50 cases, he said. “We’re not talking about here indications of necessarily very sophisticated fraud.”
“Fundamentally I think that means it’s 50 cases too many,” he added.
Immigration minister John McCallum said that his department is reviewing the cases flagged by the Auditor General, and that it could lead to some citizenships being revoked.
“I am confident of the overall integrity of the system. I am confident also that it needs to be improved,” he said.
In 2014, more than 260,000 people became Canadian citizens, according to the report – more than twice the number in 2013 — and the highest number ever.
At the very beginning of the citizenship application process, applicants are checked against a national criminal database for any crimes that might disqualify them from citizenship. This “criminal clearance” check works well, according to the auditor general. But it might be better to do it later in the process.
The problem is that the citizenship process takes a long time, a year or more in many cases, and people might commit crimes between when they first send in their application and when they’re eventually granted citizenship. The RCMP and the immigration department are supposed to talk and share information about criminal charges at multiple points in the process.
But they’re not, according to the auditor general.
The auditor looked at 38 cases where a foreign national or permanent resident had been charged with a crime, some serious enough to disqualify them from citizenship – like drug trafficking and assault. The RCMP shared this information with the immigration department in only two of those 38 cases.
Four of the people whose criminal information wasn’t being shared were seeking citizenship. Two of them were granted citizenship without the department knowing about the charges. Another one might have, except that he or she failed the test on knowledge about Canada.
Another problem is that charges brought forward by police forces other than the RCMP aren’t flagged at all, except for in that initial criminal check. And sometimes, the department doesn’t adequately check criminal records, even when they have the information.
Moving the full criminal clearance check to later in the citizenship process could help to address all of these problems, suggests the auditor general. Both the RCMP and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have agreed to review information-sharing procedures and the timing of the criminal clearance check.
One of the key requirements for Canadian citizenship is living in Canada for a minimum amount of time. To meet these residency requirements, people provide information on where they have been living. In some cases, people provide an address known or suspected to be associated with fraud. Sometimes multiple people provide the same address.
But these “problem addresses” aren’t always being detected.
In several cases identified by the auditor general, problem addresses were incorrectly entered into the department’s database, with misspellings or creating duplicate entries. This means that someone using one of these addresses might not have been flagged.
The department was also inconsistently using the information it did have: not checking for multiple people at the same problem address, for example.
“One address was not identified as a problem even though it had been used by 50 different applicants, seven of whom were granted Canadian citizenship,” said Ferguson.
The auditor general flagged a number of other issues with the government’s citizenship fraud detection. A lot had to do with information sharing.
For example, the Canada Border Services Agency didn’t consistently alert the immigration department when a citizenship applicant was linked to a major fraud investigation.
The department also wasn’t good at updating its fraud detection procedures. It didn’t review refused residency applications, for example, to see if there were patterns that could help it detect fraud better.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada agreed with all of the auditor general’s recommendations and has provided updated guidance to its employees following the audit, and pledges to review its procedures.