05/09/2012 04:07 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT

King's Investigative Series: Coming Through the Back Door


As Canadian citizens, we take for granted the high esteem in which our country is held in the eyes of people from across the globe.

Each year, about 170,000 people acquire the coveted status of Canadian citizen. For most, becoming a resident of our home and native land takes years of paperwork, waiting and, crucially, tolerance.

Today, hopefuls from countries across the world wait patiently to one day live in our rich and peaceful nation. Backlogs are inevitable; Citizenship and Immigration Canada can only grant a certain number of the desired "maple leaf cards" each year.

But what if people could buy their way in to our country, bypassing the normal queues, by making a cash-for-residency deal?

That's essentially what happened in Prince Edward Island.

For more than a decade, Ottawa has partnered with provinces to allow them to nominate foreign nationals for entry to Canada. The intent behind the provincial nominee program was to meet specific labour and economic needs, and entice immigrants to settle in the nominating provinces.

What is right for Manitoba may not be a must for New Brunswick. Major metropolises such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have always been more attractive than small towns out West, in Northern Ontario or on the East Coast. The nominee programs were supposed to change that by redirecting immigrants to the smaller centres. Ottawa agreed it would expedite entry to Canada for provincial nominees.

The programs have worked well in some provinces, particularly on the prairies. But programs in Atlantic Canada have been more troublesome, and none more so than the one in tiny Prince Edward Island. As the King's investigative team discovered, P.E.I. used the program to bring immigrants into the country, in exchange for relatively modest payments that went to businesses from one end of the Island to the other.

There was money. Lots of it. Island businesses loved it. But immigrants that Ottawa wanted actively involved in the businesses that got their money ended up barely knowing the company's name -- and vice versa.

Many of the immigrants didn't stay for long. Those who did struggled to grasp the language, find work that matched their abilities and integrate into the Island's homogeneous culture.

In 2008, scandal over P.E.I.'s program erupted amid allegations of political favouritism and conflict of interest. Our investigation, though, looks at the program through a different lens: how it stacked up as immigration policy.

The verdict? Not so well.

The evidence strongly suggests the P.E.I. program became a back door into Canada, putting one of the most valuable commodities in the world up for sale.

You might not believe it, but this really happened. Right here in Canada, in tiny, pastoral P.E.I.

We think that's pretty important.