OTTAWA - The federal government reprised a familiar get-tough message for immigration cheats Monday, promising to revoke the status of more than 3,100 people it says abused the system in order to claim Canadian citizenship.
Several thousand more are being investigated to determine if they obtained or are maintaining their permanent residence fraudulently, said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who was forced to admit only a handful of people have been dealt with so far.
There are 3,139 Canadian citizens currently under investigation for residence fraud, but so far, only 19 of them have had their citizenship revoked. That's because the process — part of a long-term crackdown — takes several years, Kenney said.
Letters have been sent to 530 people informing them of the government's intention to revoke their citizenship, he added.
"Canadian citizenship is not for sale," the minister told a news conference.
"We will continue to take strong measures to combat the industry of crooked immigration agents here and abroad who seek to devalue Canadian citizenship by creating fake proof of residency and committing other forms of fraud."
Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman dismissed Kenney's announcement as old information being warmed over for political purposes.
"It's important that we take measures to eliminate fraud; no one disputes that," Waldman said. "But why is it that we have to continually send out this message?"
Waldman also criticized the Conservative government's use of hard-hitting, headline-friendly language when it comes to immigration issues, which he said can hurt most law-abiding newcomers to Canada.
"The message that's constantly going out is, 'We're cracking down on fraudulent immigrants,'" he said.
"So the negative message is what gets all the coverage, and not the fact that the vast majority of immigrants are law-abiding citizens who don't commit crimes, who don't commit fraud and who respect our immigration system.
"The unfortunate consequence of this constant repetition of negative messaging is that it, over time, will erode public confidence in the immigration system."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says a total of nearly 11,000 people have been potentially implicated in lying to apply for citizenship or maintain permanent-residence status.
So far, Kenney said, federal agencies have removed or denied admittance to more than 600 former permanent residents linked to the fraud investigations.
They have denied about 500 citizenship applications where the applicants did not meet residence requirements; nearly 1,800 applicants linked to cheating have simply abandoned their citizenship applications, he added.
Kenney also said he plans to introduce amendments to the Citizenship Act that would require immigration consultants to be members of a regulatory body, which he said is intended to crack down on crooked agents.