OTTAWA - The government is warning prospective lovebirds to protect themselves against marriage fraud before tying the knot.
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration has launched an ad campaign aimed at informing Canadians and newcomers on how to avoid becoming victims of immigration fraud involving so-called "marriages of convenience."
The campaign launched on Wednesday — which includes a video featuring real victims of marriage fraud — is part of Fraud Prevention Month, which focuses on a particular immigration issue each year.
Last year's campaign focused on informing Canadians about unauthorized immigration consultants.
The Conservative government moved last October requiring some immigrant spouses to live with their sponsor for two years or risk losing their permanent resident status.
The rule only applies to those who have been married less than two years and have no children together at the time of their immigration application.
Four short videos were posted on the Citizenship and Immigration website and YouTube channel on Wednesday.
"Many Canadians marry people from other countries, but sometimes marriage is a scam to jump the immigration line," one of the videos intoned.
"Marriage fraud, it could cost you more than a broken heart. Don't be a victim," said another.
In the longest video, which runs for just over five minutes, victims of marriage fraud share accounts of their spouses using them as tickets into the country.
"I have heard stories from victims across the country that have been left emotionally and financially devastated because of immigration fraud," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement.
"Canada's doors are open to the vast majority of newcomers who are hard-working and follow the rules, but Canadians have no tolerance for anyone who tries to jump the immigration line to gain entry to Canada or acquire permanent residency or citizenship through fraudulent means."
Ottawa's new rules on marriage fraud were developed over two years of consultations during which the government heard concerns from dozens of groups that victims of domestic violence could be unfairly penalized.
In implementing the new rules, the government said the conditional permanent resident status for sponsored spouses will be waived in cases where there is evidence of abuse or neglect, or where the Canadian spouse dies.
Nonetheless, the government has still been criticized by groups like the Canadian Council for Refugees who say the new rules could allow an abusive sponsoring partner to use the threat of deportation to manipulate their spouse.
The new rules are complaint-based, meaning it's up to those caught up in fraudulent marriages to report possible violations to the Canada Border Services Agency.
Immigration officers are also trained to detect marriages of convenience while going through immigration applications.
In January, the CBSA charged seven people in the Toronto area in connection with a ''marriage of convenience'' scheme.
The agency had said the accused acted as go-betweens who arranged for Canadian citizens to marry and sponsor Chinese nationals.
A four-year investigation revealed the marriages were bogus and done to let the in-name-only spouses gain entry status in Canada for a fee of $30,000 to $35,000 dollars each.
_ By Diana Mehta in Toronto.
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