MONTREAL -- Some immigrants are marrying their own sisters -- or even their mothers -- to get them into Canada.
While the majority of these immigrants hail from Africa, some are coming from Europe.
Awatif Lakhdar, a Montreal lawyer specializing in immigration, says he is aware of two cases in which bogus couples managed to thwart the law before appearing in his office.
"The first had married his sister, the second, his mother," he said. "They had managed to slip through the cracks in the system, but eventually they found themselves before the courts."
According Immigration Canada, between 70% and 80% of those claiming marital status are accepted on production of documentation only.
Lawyer Patric-Claude Caron, said he knows of at least three foiled schemes involving wedded brothers and sisters in recent years.
"They asked me to help them. It didn't take long to figure out they were brothers and sisters," he said.
The practice is not unheard of in several ethnic communities of Montreal, including Somalis, Congolese and Guineans, and from other countries where it is relatively easy to falsify documents.
One case cited was of a man of Guinean origin arriving in Montreal in 2001. He married his sister in 2004 after wedding another woman in a nearby country. His sister arrived in Montreal early this year and he has since left the country to be with his real wife.
Another man from Guinea, however, was tripped up in his attempt to bring his sister to Canada. Sources say Immigration officials raised questions and ordered DNA tests when he attempted to bring in more than the two children registered in his file.
It's very difficult to know exactly how widespread the practice is.
Our reporters met at least 30 recent immigrants who claim to know at least one person who gained entry to Canada this way. All requested anonymity, fearing personal retribution.
One former Congolese official expressed fear that public knowledge of the scam would be harmful to his people.
"You're giving away all our secrets to Immigration, you're giving them weapons against us," he said.
An Immigration Canada official told Sun Media the federal department is aware of the practice of using fraudulent marriages between brothers and sisters to gain entry to the country, but has no special plans to address the issue.
"We have no particular position on this subject," Stephane Malepart said, adding a reliable system is already in place to verify the authenticity of family relationships.
Immigrants are sometimes advised to go to great lengths to persuade Canadian officials their marriage is legit. The steps recommended by one Montreal immigration consultant include:
- Invent and memorize the story of how you met and the history of your relationship up until marriage.
- Create evidence of an exchange of letter mail or e-mails between the couple. This exchange of love letters must have begun at least one year prior to the official date of the marriage.
- Get a bogus certificate, identity card and passport.
People are ready to go to this extreme because it is much quicker to get a spouse into Canada than a sibling or parent. In addition to presenting forged documents to immigration officials, many also produce phony wedding photos depicting the happy couple kissing.