Sep 08, 2008, Toronto Star
In the midst of the federal election, a Toronto community group plans to launch a "bad consultant hotline" to document cases of unscrupulous immigration advisers preying on vulnerable clients.
Using the name "Screwed" – an acronym for Survivors of Consultants-Related Errors and Wilful Exploitative Dishonesty – the hotline sponsors hope to pressure campaigning party leaders to commit to reforming a self-regulatory mechanism that was criticized as ineffectual by a parliamentary committee this summer.
The regulatory body, Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, "lacks the power and responsibility it needs to effectively enforce standards," said Hilary Evans Cameron of Downtown Legal Services. "We do not want the (Commons) report to fall off the table."
Her legal clinic – operated by the University of Toronto law faculty – will host the hotline at its phone number. The hotline has a Sept. 22 start-up date, and will be staffed by multilingual U of T law students.
The intent is for people cheated or misled by unethical consultants to share their stories, to document the need for better regulation. Downtown Legal Services will assist complainants or refer cases to others, such as the Parkdale Legal Clinic.
The parliamentary report concluded the existing regulatory body was toothless and should be replaced by a new statutory body modelled on law societies, with the power to punish non-members posing as consultants.
Francisco Rico-Martinez of the Canadian Council for Refugees praised the hotline initiative, saying if the Conservative government wants to get tough on crime, it should criminally sanction consultants who defraud immigrants, as the United Kingdom has done.
"We phone (authorities) directly to denounce those abuses but they don't do anything. They are simply in denial of the situation," he said.NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow, who sits on the parliamentary committee, said it is important to act on its recommendations. All parties "need to say clearly there has to be a crackdown," she said.
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