Seventh Meeting of the

CSCAP Working Group on Transnational Crime

 Manila, Philippines

Galleria Suites

“Identity Fraud and Transnational Crime”




Juan Gabriel Ronderos


May 31 – June 1, 2000


“Identity Fraud and Transnational Crime”


This topic is extremely timely from a Canadian perspective.  Canada has been preoccupied with a number of debates related to laws and government policies pertaining to people smuggling and illegal migration. In recent months, the Canadian media has been inundated with news reports that address not only the issue of human smuggling but also the use of false identification to facilitate this activity.  Of particular significance is the interwoven corruption that plays a significant role in many of the false identity schemes. Hence, the topic is important for 3 diverse reasons: 

·                    the role played by various ‘officials’  forces us to acknowledge corruption issues;

·                    the creation of false identification is a criminal market in and of itself; and third,

·                    the need for false identification can be seen as a precursor for future crime.

Corrupt acts that facilitate the acceptance of (or obtaining) fraudulent documents take diverse forms. Immigration and police officers working at entry points have been vulnerable to involvement in criminal schemes. The media has highlighted the illegal pursuits of some officials at a number of Canadian consulates, who have been allegedly “selling” Canadian visas. Most recently, an Ontario court convicted a former Immigration Judge for his involvement in aiding the illegal migration of a number of Chinese families (Mitrovica, 2000) .  Thus, this paper comes at a time when Canadian officials and the public have turned their attention to defining the ‘problem’ of people smuggling and identification fraud.

Perhaps some of you may have seen or heard about the recent release of a movie entitled “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. This movie is a suspenseful thriller about a handsome, wealthy bachelor with a beautiful girlfriend and all the finest things money can buy--and an envious friend who schemes to murder him and assume his identity. This movie provides some insight into the dangers and consequences associated with assuming someone else’s identity.

However, the story of Mr. Ripley does not reflect the most common purpose of documentation fraud; that is, how identification fraud is generally connected to transnational organized crime. Rather than assuming an identity for its’ own sake, individuals involved in transnational organized crime generally use false identities to deceive authorities in order to commit other crimes, such as buying goods or investing illegal profits under different names. In this way, identity fraud provides a vehicle for convicted felons and other criminals to commit more crime and elude authorities. Thus, fraudulent documents and identification allow organized criminals to engage in more complex and structured criminal schemes rather than merely providing individuals with new identities in order to elude officials and construct a new life.

In this brief paper, we will explore the meaning and scope of identity fraud and its’ relationship to transnational organized crime. As we will show, identity fraud, as is the case with money laundering, should be treated both as an independent crime and also as the means to achieve greater criminal ends.  Indeed, documentation fraud generally acts as a facilitator to criminal activity. 

Cases involving identity fraud tend either to be ‘invisible’ in the sense that there is no detection, or high profile. Once a case becomes high profile the media typically portrays Canada’s sovereignty as being put ‘at risk’ from the fraudulent use of legal documents, the ‘flood’ of illegal aliens, or the fraudulent manufacture of false identity documents. The high profile cases—usually around issues of immigration and transnational crimes—have directly influenced Canadian policies. 

This paper will present the measures that are currently being proposed and adopted by the Canadian state to counter identity fraud and related crimes.  Canada has always seen herself as a humane/caring nation.  For this reason, ‘tightening’ and ‘toughening’ entrance procedures must always be ‘balanced’ against humanitarian considerations. Where this balance-point is, is open to debate—and receives much debate.  This paper will present some of these criticisms of the proposed solutions to the ‘problem’ of identification fraud and illegal migration.


Defining Identity Fraud

Identity fraud can be carried out either by counterfeiting documents of identification such as passports or by using stolen documentation. Identity theft involves:

“…acquiring key pieces of someone's identifying information in order to impersonate them and commit various crimes in that person's name. Besides basic information like name, address and telephone number, identity thieves look for social insurance numbers, driver's license numbers, credit card and/or bank account numbers, as well as bank cards, telephone calling cards, birth certificates or passports.” (Cavoukian, 1997)

These pieces of identification can be purchased or rented from specialized criminals in order to assist the movement of peoples between countries. For cases involving illegal immigration, passports have been the most popular forms of identification to be bought or rented.  Prices for the forged/stolen documents vary greatly, depending on the quality, the purpose to which the documents are to be put, and the risks to the supplier. The prices range from a high of $25,000 for black-market Canadian passports, to a low of $500. In cases involving terrorism and espionage within the Middle East, the price of Canadian passports has been reported to be as low as $500 US (Ayed-Nahlah, 1997) .

Renting is also an option—the price for renting passports is reported to be approximately $5,000 with a deposit system that allows the ‘user’ to get some of the money back after he/she returns the documents upon arrival at the destination. (Phone interview with RCMP Superintendent Ben Soave).

This paper will concentrate on the issue of identification fraud from a traditional perspective, meaning the fraudulent use of traditional means of identification such as passports, identification card, social insurance numbers and health care cards, by criminals. Other important forms of identification fraud exist but this paper will not address the issues related to forms such as:

·                    the acquisition of stolen or cloned credit cards or financial documentation, allowing criminals to commit numerous forms of fraud.  Fraudulent activities include taking over the victim's financial accounts, opening new accounts, applying for loans and credit cards, spending money under the victim's name, and/or diverting the victim's financial mail to the thief's address (Cavoukian, 1997) .

·                    electronic identity fraud, which involves the impersonation of someone else through electronic media resources in order to access e-mail, Internet banking accounts, electronic financial services in general, and special or secure services over electronic networks.

·                    the fraudulent ‘identification’ of goods for importing or exporting and the fraudulent documentation that serves as invoices, shipping documents and customs slips to move illicit goods around the globe.


In the more narrow sense that we are using the term, identification fraud is the portrayal of another person with the intention to deceive authorities or to commit a crime. In most jurisdictions, identity fraud is a crime itself, independent from those crimes committed by using false identification.[1] Impersonation is possible by using false identification documents, such as passports and identity cards, or by using stolen and fixed ones. However, identity fraud should not be restricted to the portrayal of another person. Identity fraud should also make reference to the use of false documentation to portray a non-existent link with legitimate corporations, supporting documentation for non-existent corporations, or fraudulent ones. This is usually done in order to engage in all type of criminal activities such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering, and maritime fraud, or to gain citizenship via the entrepreneurial categories.  For example, the Toronto-based Criminal Visa Screening Team made up of the RCMP and Immigration officers uncovered a scheme by which the letterhead of legitimate corporations was being used to create bogus sponsorship letters that were presented to embassies overseas. The letters would outline supposedly joint business ventures between the applicant and the Canadian company. The objective was to obtain visas to Canada (Lamothe, 1999).

The types of crimes committed by using false identification are endless. However, in terms of the media and police exposure, there are three main types of criminal activities that involve the use of identity fraud: drug trafficking, human smuggling and terrorism. In the Canadian case the last two types of criminal activities have gained the largest amount of publicity.


The Portrayal of Canada as a 'weak link' in Immigration Policies and Identity fraud

In 1992, the Canadian government decided to impose tougher controls with relation to passport fraud.  This response was in part the result of a report filed in 1991, which found Canadian passports bearing phony names, birth dates, and dates easily obtainable and used on a regular basis by international criminals (Share, 1992) . In addition, Canada has had an image of being a 'weak link' when it comes to accepting immigrants and refugees into the country.  The difficult task for any analyst is to separate the facts from the politics—and then to determine the policies that best balance toughness with appropriate refugee and immigrant treatment. Politics—both domestic and international—takes a vocal interest in the debate.

For example, Reform Party member Leon Benoit argues that Canada interprets the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951 in a manner that is far more liberal than other countries (Fennell, 1999) . He points to the fact that female refugees can claim gender persecution, and homosexual claimants can argue persecution based on sexual orientation.  The definitions that determine who is or is not a refugee necessarily blurr. As set by the 1951 United Nations Convention refugees are those who are:

“…fleeing persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular  social group or political opinion”.

During period of war, it is often clearer (or more politically acceptable) to determine who is a ‘genuine’ refugee.  During periods between wars or in jurisdictions who are not engaged in a ‘recognized’ war, categories of people are driven by other forms of persecution—poverty, denial of legal status, slavery, gender discrimination, environmental destruction—to seek legal and illegal escape.

Paul Kaihla states that Canada's acceptance rate for refugees is much higher than in many other developed countries. A much publicized ‘acceptance’ figure is 70% compared to 17% in the United States and 7% in Germany (Kaihla, 1996) . According to The Economist (2000), Britains rate (61.6%) came the closest to the Canadian acceptance rate.  One’s changes of being accepted as a refugee in Europe, varies greatly among the different countries. Germany and France generally accept as refugees only those who have been persecuted by ‘agents of the state’. These rates for all countries are ‘approximate’ and each may be refuted on various grounds within the separate countries. The Canadian rate is open to debate since the 70% ‘acceptance’ rate only counts the number that remain in the refugee process though to the end. If all of the Canadian refugee status claimants were counted, the percentage would be considerably lower.  The accusation from those who work with refugee groups is that this much quoted high Canadian acceptance rate is used politically to justify tightening up the processes.

The key issue remains the people who are denied refugee status in Canada but who ‘slip through the cracks in the refugee process’ after Canada issues the deportation orders. It is estimated that since 1995 20,000 foreigners have vanished into the underground or into the US. During the same period 2,611 Chinese nationals vanished after being denied refugee status (Travers, 2000).

While Canadian politicians worry about the possible abuse of the refugee category and the fear of illegal aliens, the US worries that Canada is letting in terrorists though ‘the Canadian border’—as distinct from the US-Canada border! The United States has been quite vocal about what they consider 'slack' Canadian policies around immigration, particularly since the arrest of Algerian- born Ahmed Ressam at the Canada-US border in December of 1999.  Newspaper headlines announced that “Canada is terrorist haven” (Slanchfield, 2000).   Behind the barrage of US accusations, at least one of the articles from the US emphasized that blaming Canada for potential terrorist attacks made good US political press but that the cases that were often used to support the allegations of a ‘weak-neighbour’, could be interpreted to illustrate the effectiveness of some of the policing partnerships and intelligence collaborations. Ressam was arrested as he attempted to cross the US border from Canada carrying a car full of explosives.  The criticism of Canada comes from the fact that Ressam had been denied access to Canada as a refugee in the early 1990's, but he took advantage of the 1997 Canadian Government policy, which forbid deportations to Algeria as a result of political violence in the country.

Testimony in April 1999 before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Immigrations and Claims Subcommittee on the Northern Border Enforcement Issues outlined the concerns of a 20 year serving Deputy Chief Patrol Agent at the US Blaine Sector of the US/Canada border between British Columbia and Washington DC.  Deputy chief Eugene Davis described the open fields that separated the two countries that virtually negated the need for sophisticated false documentation. ‘Berry fields separated by a slight ditch’ was characteristic of the barrier to the flow of illegal commodities and people between the two countries. Three individuals with ‘terrorist ties’ have been arrested since 1996 in this stretch of border—the most notorious being Abu Meser who eventually made it to NY where he was shot by the NY Police Department Response Team hours before he had planned to blow up the NY subway.  In January of 2000 a hearing of the House of Representatives Immigration committee was called to discuss the incident (Blanchfield, 2000) .  Texas Republican Lamar Smith felt that Canada's liberal policy on immigration was detrimentally affecting the national security of the United States. The ‘threat’ of terrorism was of particular concern.

The United States border patrol has not been without criticism itself.  A report by Paul Kaihla (MacLeans,1996), stated that RCMP claim that many Tamil refugees use phony passports to clear US Immigration. The false documents present the Tamils as being Canadian citizens who wish to visit the United States.  Once they get to the Canadian border, they claim refugee status.

Border points across Canada share similar vulnerable crossing locations. Across the St. Lawrence into New York State is considered another key area that leaves the US open to criminals being smuggled from Canada. Following a ‘bust’, which according to US Attorney-General Reno “crippled yet another criminal smuggling syndicate”,  RCMP Police Constable Paradis described the strategy used by those particular smugglers—and typical of human smuggling in that part of Canada:

“They used altered passports and fraudulent documents to spirit the Chinese citizens to Canada by airplane. Once in Canada, the aliens were instructed by the organization to claim refugee status. They were then taken to one of the many safe houses in the Toronto area where they remained until a portion of their smuggling fee was paid. From Cornwall they usually traveled by boat across the St. Lawrence to a Mohawk reserve in upstate New York before concluding their trip on New York City.” (Human Smuggling Ring Busted, 1999)

The Canadian response has certainly been influenced by criticism such as this coming from United States immigration and government officials.  In February of 2000, the Canadian Finance department allocated more money to reinforcing border controls and preventing illegal immigration facilitated by human smugglers (Laghi, 2000) . The Finance department justified its' allocations by stating that 'there is a need to address new and emerging threats, including those from terrorism, to the security of Canada and its' neighbors'.  Since Canada is generally not a target of terrorist attacks, it would appear as though the federal government response was largely the result of pressure from the United States in response to the argument that Canada is a 'weak link'. 

There have been a number of high profile cases in Canada that the government has had to address in relation to immigration laws.  In the summer of 1999, two boatloads of illegal immigrants arrived on the British Columbia coast. Despite the high profile of the Chinese 'boat people', some argue that most illegal Chinese migrants come by air rather than by boat (Fennell, 1999) .  Nevertheless, the arrival of so many migrants sparked criticism both within the country and by other nations that pointing out that Canada is a safe haven for refugees and migrants, facilitated by 'people smugglers'.  It is argued that because many refugees are allowed to go free until their immigration hearing, many move underground, often traveling to the United States.

China is of course not the only source of illegal migrants to Canada who use altered documents. A smuggling ring that was uncovered in the Netherlands, revealed that illegal aliens, (large percentage of Iranians) were first being smuggled into Western Europe, then the smugglers would fly them, into Amsterdam. Once in the Netherlands they would claim refugee status or stay in a safe-house operated by the smugglers. The smugglers would then take new passport photographs of the ‘refugees’ and insert them into illegally obtained Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Israeli or Canadian passports. According to Canadian court records (Refugee Smuggling Ring Brought Thousands into Canada, 1996) one Dutch smuggling ring had lined up 300 to 400 people in the Netherlands who were waiting to be provided with forged travel documents for Canada. Dutch authorities told the Toronto Globe and Mail that as many as 5,000—mostly Iranians—had entered Canada via the Netherlands.

A number of themes appear to be relevant to understanding the issues related to identification fraud:

The ambivalence of some Governments

According to critics of the Canadian policies such as Jonathan Winer, traditionally countries focus on inbound, not outbound movements of people and illegal commodities—that makes them poor partners. (Jonathan Winer, talk in Toronto February 22, 2000). While Canada can claim a philosophic position regarding the welcoming of refugees and new immigrants, the sanctions that have been applied in the past to the convicted smugglers, may speak to a failure to take the crimes seriously. Passport fraud and other documentation fraud play an instrumental part in facilitating human smuggling.  Before Canada's “crackdown” on human smugglers, the maximum penalty for using a phony passport was 14 years however, the most common sentence was a $500 fine (Nikol, 2000) .

Other countries may be equally ambivalent regarding the seriousness of this offense. Chinese officials have stated that they will attempt to do everything they can to crack down on the smuggling ring in their country. However, China has argued that until Canada stops accepting refugees so readily, there will be a constant flow of people from their country to Canada (Fennell, 1999) .  Chinese officials have made these comments despite the fact that they have done little to publicize Canada's harsher sentences against 'people smugglers' in the media.  In January 2000, the Immigration Minister chose to go to China to ‘urge Chinese not to come [illegally] to Canada’ (Duffy A. & Bronhkill J., 2000 p. C3).  This seemingly naive jester was largely ignored by the Chinese officials and by the Chinese media who failed to report on her pronouncements.  Critics within Canada questioned whether this strategy by the Immigration Minister adequately addressed what they saw to be a serious cross-jurisdictional issue.  Politics in various forms plays a significant role in undermining enforcement efforts. While Canada might determine that a number of Chinese citizens are to be likely candidates for deported back to China, China must accept these people.  Beijing must provide travel documents, which has tended to be a lengthy process.  As of February 2000 Canada was officially negotiating the return of almost 600 people to China.

Hong Kong is one of the busiest embarkation points for illegal migrants to Canada. It is claimed to be the world’s second-busiest port with over 15 million containers passing through every year. Following the controversy over the Chinese stowaways that were caught entering British Columbia, Hong Kong officials announced plans to implement sophisticated screening devices that are intended to detect smuggled humans and to enhance the intelligence-gathering at the container terminals and to share this information with Canadian and American counterparts (Cohn, 2000).

There have also been rumors that Chinese government and immigration officials may be involved in smuggling rings, or at least facilitate or tolerate/encourage the illegal movement of Chinese citizens to Canada (Skelton, 1999) .  The US Department of Justice, following a case code named Project Squeeze Play alleged that Beijing Government –key Chinese officials—sanctioned the human smuggling trade (Mitrovika and Korin, 2000). Whether or not this trade was officially sanctioned in Beijing, governments around the world have been implicated, either via corruption, direct policies, or neglect.

Official documentation itself can facilitate fraud. Passports around the world vary greatly, ranging from simple hand written documents to highly sophisticated and therefore harder to forge documents. This variation is of course, compounded by the numerous languages used—making the task of immigration/ customs control officers extremely difficult.  In some cases the lack of more advanced security features, the languages involved, and the variation in names used on the documents makes Asian passports particularly difficult for Western officials.

We have written before about the fact that illegal aliens–with or without false documentation—are only seen to be a problem, when they are deemed unnecessary and/or dangerous. The Economist (May 6th, 2000) in an article titled “A Continent on the Move” describes the movement of legal and illegal summer workers around the EU in search of jobs. As the article states:

“Today, Britain is far from alone in hiring workers from abroad, whether legally or illegally, to fill such jobs [farm labour]. Moroccans pick tomatoes and peppers in hothouses in south-east Spain. Poles harvest vegetables in Germany.  Sikhs from India’s Punjab pick fruit in Belgium.  Russians harvest crops in Ireland…” (p. 25-27)

As noted above, the ambivalence of governments toward illegal immigrants when migrant labour is required, is matched by the ambivalence inherent in the concept of ‘refugee’.  Varying policies among the receiving countries mean that potential illegal or false asylum-seekers have an opportunity to ‘shop’ for the country that offers the highest percentage of ‘acceptances’ while giving the widest number of benefits—from the ability to work during the application process to welfare/ health and schooling.  Together these conditions take away from a sense of legitimacy of the legal migration process.


Potential Adverse Consequences from Enhanced Enforcement Efforts

Some experts argue that the business of human smuggling has become more popular than drug smuggling in recent years as a lucrative illegal activity with much less risk (Nikol, 2000) .  The consequences for getting caught 'people smuggling' have been much less serious than has been the case for drug smuggling.  Now, governments around the world are looking into strengthening their sentences related to people smuggling.  Canada is one such country.

According to Nikol, laws that allow authorities to intercept mail of suspected smugglers together with personal interviews (questioning/ interrogations) by immigration officials at airports, etc are effective means of detecting fraudulent documents (Nikol, 2000) .  However, the effectiveness of imposing tougher laws for 'people smugglers' has been met with ambivalence by some critics (Zarembo, 1999) .  There may be a down-side—or at least issues that must be addressed. Zarembo argues that once a developed country imposes tougher laws, these actions drive the price up for illegal migrants and create more profit for 'people smugglers' in the industry.  Such has been the case in California and Texas where American policy saw that immigration to the US from Mexico was increasingly difficult. This resulted in an increase in illegal migration in other states close by such as Arizona and profits soared for people smugglers known as 'coyotes'. 

Much of the fraudulent documentation is sophisticated enough to pass through many international security systems that are in place.  Authorities estimate that despite constant changes to make passports more secure, it takes about six months before smugglers are able to replicate the features.  Bangkok, Thailand is considered by some reports to be at the center of the international documentation fraud, facilitating an estimated $10 billion dollar annual trade of human cargo.

Illegal activity around identity fraud and human smuggling has had to become more organized as a result of the crackdown by many developed nations.  According to some reporters, human smugglers have had to become more adept at monitoring the globe for weaknesses at various border crossings. Hence the enforcement efforts may have made the criminal operators more sophisticated—possibly creating a more monopolistic market while failing to reduce the illegal trafficking. World trade in humans has tripled in the last ten years (Kaihla, 1996) .  



Rich vs. Poor Countries

The reality may be that as long as there is poverty, internal wars/conflicts and ethnic violence, there will be an active market in fraudulent documents. As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, there has been an increasing surge in migrants seeking a better life in a different country. This has facilitated the fraudulent documentation industry to expand and continued to fuel a future market for criminals.


The criminal market in fraudulent documents is extremely lucrative. Undercover ‘sting’ operations in Canada and in the U.S. reveal the extent of the potential money involved. Posing as an immigration officer, one undercover officer was offered $18,000 for 6 U.S. visas—he was then offered a bribe to supply visas for 110 more Chinese passports.  In 1999 the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada concluded that Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax ports had a significant organized crime presence. According to their report, Canadian maritime ports had been penetrated via corruption, intimidation and the positioning of criminals into key positions at the ports. 

Corruption cases reported in the press during the last two years have involved: non-nationals working in Canadian embassies abroad fraudulently issuing visas; police officers involved in smuggling schemes; a former Citizenship Court Judge (Citizen-of-the-Year in Peterborough Ontario! ) falsifying information on citizenship documents; immigration  officers at Pearson Airport in Toronto conspiring to assist with the entry of  immigrants with false documents.  No country can ignore the impact that corruption has in contributing to the identification fraud criminal market.

Trying to determine the threat

Identity fraud is not a new type of crime. It has been used for spying purposes as in the case of the Second World War in which there was a wide use of false identification. The use of false identification has been also related to terrorism. In recent years Canada has even been a victim of such practices as in the case in which the Israeli Mossad used Canadian stolen passports in an attempted murder of Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal (Spector, 1997).

There is not however to our knowledge a study that quantifies/qualifies the real damage that our countries are suffering by the use of identification fraud or that indicates an increase in these types of activities in recent years.  For some countries, identification fraud may be a significant issue—for other countries, it may be less of an issue.  However—the point must be remembered that the ease of obtaining documents within one country can in certain cases have an impact on another jurisdiction.

In the case of some South American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, identity fraud has been a long lasting practice in order for delinquents to disguise themselves or to commit crimes. That is the case with drug lords who have been incarcerated in Colombia, for they have been caught, at the moment of their arrest, with false identification. In Venezuela identity fraud has a different origin, which could be very similar to the Canadian or US problems. In Venezuela, identity cards are being sold by corrupt officials to allow Colombian immigrants to establish themselves in that country. However, in the first case, delinquents in Colombia are being caught regardless of the use of false identities. In the case of Venezuela the problem is more complex, because only in some cases are the Colombian immigrants involved in criminal activities. This shows how identity fraud has different ends. In the first case it is purely criminal. In the second it is a way to get a better life.

Canada seems to take a peculiar approach to all matters that relate to organized crime. Our officials—police and government—treat all information about the subject as a ‘secret’. This became clearer to us as we researched this topic and we saw the contrasting manner in which other countries dealt with their immigration information. Australia has a web-site with all types of information related to illegal immigration and identification fraud.  This public access information allows the public and the media to evaluate for themselves the extent of the ‘threat’ to Australia. No such web-site exists for the Canadian information—if indeed the Canadian information even exists to the extent the Australia has collected and analyzed theirs.[2]


Enforcement Strategies

The solution to identity fraud is not necessarily to have tougher laws with larger sentences—at least not in isolation from other measures. The solution requires cooperation among states by enhancing the ways in which the police enforce existing laws. If the penalties increase, the end result will be that the prices of the illegal commodities are likely to rise. This is an illegal market that follows the trends of offer and demand and therefore is affected by externalities such as the risk involved in the trade.  However, although we found no study that addresses it, one might suspect that the trade in fraudulent documents is quite ‘inelastic’ in the sense that regardless of the costs (within reason), approximately the same number of people will want illegal documents. 

What is required are new and constructive ways in which this criminal activity could be fought at its origins and at its ends. At its origins there is a need to eliminating (or at least reduce) the disparities between have-not and have countries and in this way reduce the economic motivations that create a large market for false identification. Within the destination countries, this activity can be combated with special multi-agency law enforcement units that could concentrate on this activity.

Increasingly, as high profile cases gain massive media coverage, law enforcement agencies are vowing to enhance their cooperation and collaboration on anti-smuggling strategies:

Increased inspections of open-top containers leaving Asian ports;
High-tech Mobile Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System introduced into the screening done by Canada Customs;
Costly delays and large fines imposed on the large, legitimate shipping companies serve to recruit them into the enforcement struggle to control the stowaway activity. In one case a shipping line was fined $375,000 ($15,000 per refugee claimant);
Canadian Federal Government dedicated enhanced resources into reinforcing border security and ‘prevention’ activities: an additional  $579 million for 1999 to 2003 to Immigration with  $87 million over the three years allocated to Revenue Canada to modernize its border-management processes (Laghi, 2000);
More joint agency operations such as the Criminal Visa Screening team (CVST) composed of RCMP and Immigration officers who scrutinize visitor visas.  (The Report on Crime and Profiteering, “The CVST gets tough on Eastern European criminals”, Aug/September 1999, p.1)
New Bill C-31 has been introduced. We have attached an Appendix A a backgrounder on this proposed legislation.  It is not without controversy.

Citing 'national security issues' as the reason for getting tough on human smugglers Immigration Minister Caplan's introduced Bill C-31.  This new bill has the following ‘toughening’ elements:

·                    Introduces severe penalties and stiffer fines to address the problem of people smuggling and human trafficking, including a new offence --"trafficking in humans" -- that will be punishable by a fine of $1 million or life in prison or both.

·                    Provides a streamlined refugee determination process that consolidates risk assessments at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and increases the use of single-member panels

·                    Improves the front-end security screening of refugee claimants upon arrival in Canada;

·                    Provides additional resources to speed up removals;

·                    Develops a new Permanent Resident Card that will help to reduce fraud.

·                    Front-end security screening of refugee claimants as soon as they make a claim;

·                    Exclusion of serious criminals, security risks, or violators of human rights from the refugee determination process;

·                    Strengthening inadmissibility criteria to ensure that serious criminals, security risks and violators of human rights cannot enter Canada; and

·                    Establishing new offences and stiffer penalties for human traffickers and people smuggling.

It seems likely that the case of Ahmed Ressam might have provoked the Canadian government to address these issues.  However, it is interesting to note that other features of the new bill will in fact open up immigration to Canada in a number of ways.  For example, 'family class' has been extended to allow children under 22 to immigrate compared to the old standard of children under 19.  Same- sex and common law couples would be considered under 'family class' and the $925 'fee for landing' would no longer be applicable to refugees. 

One might argue that these more liberal aspects of the bill have been used to differentiate Canadian immigration policies from American policies and defy the pressure by American authorities in making Canadian policies reflect and comply with the United States.  These measures give Canada more leverage in continuing to define itself internationally as a country with strong 'humanitarian' roots.



Although identification fraud is an important problem, it should not distract us from concentrating on the main crimes that are being hidden by it or committed by using it. It would not be useful to start thinking about identification fraud as a new ‘security threat’. The use of identification fraud by organized crime and the commercialization and production of stolen or false identification documents by these groups should be of great concern for every country. However, given the fact that there is a level of uncertainty in terms of the extent of the ‘threat’ (quantity and quality) and its implications, due mainly to the lack of information from official sources, great caution should be exercise in determining governmental action to counter the problem. This should be taken into account when proposing new legislation with harsher penalties, because this could only make the identification fraud market even more profitable.

Our research shows that there is not enough public information coming from official sources to allow the public to assess the problem of identity fraud. Some of the governmental officials we approached in our research were keen in stress the necessity to maintain this information in secrecy, for this is part of intelligence gathering efforts. This governmental and law enforcement mentality is the same one that is governing all information related to organized crime. A consequence of this is that there is never open debate. In some cases a distorted (or unchallenged) view of the severity of a criminal activity can be used to formulate policies that perhaps would not be endorsed by the public if the real nature and extent of the problems were within the public domain.

The use of false and stolen identification documents is a serious problem that affects our countries in different ways, with diverse implications. Canada, Australia and the US are specifically concerned with the apparent widespread use of false document for illegal immigration purposes. In addition, the US is particularly concerned about the use of this type of fraud for terrorist ends. However, even though there is a common use of false identification by organized criminals in the drug producing countries like Colombia, this does not prevent the authorities from arresting them. In countries such as Venezuela the use of false documents serves other purposes, which are not necessarily linked to criminal activities.

We are worried that by saying that identity fraud is inevitably linked to transnational organized crime, we would be distorting wider immigration policies, that in essence deal more with humanitarian issues than with criminal ones. The danger is that we could be creating a ‘threat’ (false or exaggerated) and end up criminalizing and demonizing people (illegal immigrants) who have no other criminal involvement.

In terms of the production and distribution of illegal documentation, we can be certain –judging from what has happened in other illegal markets such as the drug market— that the higher the penalties and fines, the more sophisticated and elaborate this illegal business will become. The Canadian response to illegal migration has certainly taken this route by presenting Bill C-31, which imposes severe penalties for illegal migrants and organized criminals involved in the trafficking of humans. This affects directly the illegal market of fraudulent documentation in the sense that prices will go up when the Bill passes and comes into force.

Ultimately, production centers for these commodities will become more sophisticated and difficult to detect.  If as it is we are not able to stop the use of, and market in, illegal documentation, how will we be able to respond to an illegal market that has become even more sophisticated? It might be advisable to search for alternatives that would enhance law enforcement capabilities to counter the problem of illegal documentation. However, this is hardly attainable by using the enactment of new laws with stronger penalties to deter criminal activity. Policies related to illegal migration must include comprehensive measures that are not exclusively related to the enactment of new laws but rather focus on the enhancement of cooperation among the affected countries’ law enforcement agencies.


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Cohn, M. (2000, January 8).Crackdown on Alien Smuggling. Toronto Star

Crackdown on Passport Fraud. (1992, ).. Share, 14, 3.

Duffy A. & Bronhkill J. (2000, January 31,) Border Threat: Official Denies Ottawa is Snoozing Over Terror, Migrants. National Post, p. C3

Fennell, T. (1999, August 23). Canada's Open Door: A new load of boat people sparks calls for a tougher stance of refugees. Maclean's, 112, 12-17.

Human Smuggling Ring Busted. (1999, December 11,) National Post

Kaihla, P. (1996, April 29). The People Smugglers. Maclean's, 109, 16-20.

Laghi, B. (2000, February 29). More Funds for Border Security. The Globe and Mail.

Lamothe, L. (1999, Aug./September) Crime and Profiteering 3 (2) 1-10.

Mitrovica, A. (2000, May 16). Former judge guilty of immigration fraud: Work as consultant included falsifying citizenship applications of six Chinese families. The Globe and Mail, pp. A7.

Mitrovica A.& Korin P., (2000, May 3,) Canadians Face Arrest for Human Smuggling. Globe and Mail Nikol, J. (2000, April 3, 2000). Passport for Sale. Mclean's.

Refugee Smuggling Ring Brought Thousands into Canada form Netherlands (1996, December). Canadian Press Newswire.

Rowlingson, K., Whyley, C., Newburn, T., & Berthound, R. (1997). Social Security Fraud: The Role of Penalties (Research Report No. 64). London: Department of Social Security.

Skelton, C. (1999, November 30, 1999). Chinese Officials Help People Flee, Studies Show. Vancouver Sun, pp. A1-A6.

Slanchfield, M. (2000, January 25) Border Skirmish: U.S. Congressional Subcommittee to Charge Canada is Terrorist Heaven. Gazette Montreal. p. A1

The CVST gets tough on Eastern European criminals. (1999, Aug/September) The Report on Crime and Profiteering, p.1

Travers, J. (2000, February 22). Signaling China on Refugee Issue. Toronto Star.

Watt, D., & Fuerst, M. (1998). The 1998 Annotated Tremeear's Criminal Code. Toronto: Carswell.

Winer, Jonathan. ( 2000, February 22) talk in Toronto.

Zarembo, A. (1999, September 13). People Smugglers Inc. Newsweek.



Appendix A

This comes from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website:  []

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

April 6, 2000 -- The Honourable Elinor Caplan, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, today introduced a Bill in the House of Commons entitled An Act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.


On this site you will find the text of the Bill and related information.


Please note that a tabled Bill is not enacted and does not have effect in law. For more information on the Canadian legislative process, a link to the House of Commons is available.


This is the Background paper for the Bill in terms of Penalties and solutions






Closing the Back Door ...





What we are doing:


Increasing penalties for existing offences.

Creating a new offence for human trafficking.

Extending Criminal Code counterfeiting provisions (which                        currently apply only to passports) to cover any immigration document or travel document (with an exemption for refugees).

Allowing for the seizure of assets in cases of migrant smuggling and


Providing new authority to seize citizenship documents to prevent fraud.

Creating a new offence for those who provide false counsel.

Creating a new monetary penalty system to encourage compliance with the


Raising the penalty to life in prison for migrant smuggling and trafficking.



Increased Overseas



What it is:


More immigration control officers stationed at our offices abroad to direct

genuine refugees to appropriate missions or international organizations while

preventing undocumented persons from seeking irregular channels of

migration to Canada.


Why we're doing it:


To discourage those not in need of protection from coming to Canada

through irregular means.



Front-End Security Screening


What it is:


 A security check now starts when a person makes a refugee claim.


Why we are doing it:


We want to catch criminals and security risks at the start of the process

 and speed genuine refugees through the system. Currently, a security

 screening is carried out only once a person is granted refugee status by the

 Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).





 What we are doing:


 The legislation clarifies the grounds for detaining those arriving as part of

 criminally organized smuggling operations in addition to those who are

 suspected of being security risks, war criminals and violators of human

 rights and criminals.


Why we are doing it


To maintain the integrity of the refugee determination system for security


To keep those who pose a security risk off the streets.



Admissibility Hearing


What it is:


A hearing before an independent adjudicator to make decisions on whether

a person is admissible to Canada.


Why we're doing it:


With front-end security screening, we need a mechanism to make fair and

fast decisions on security cases. The hearing is necessary to avoid 'limbo'

cases that could result from front-end security screening and no linked

mechanism to render decisions on security cases quickly.



Exclusion from the Refugee

Determination System


What we are doing:


Barring access for serious criminals, security risks, organizers of criminal

operations, or violators of human rights. A 'serious criminal' in this context

means a person who has been convicted of an offence punishable by 10

years or more and has received a sentence of 2 years or more.


Why we are doing it:


To prevent abuse of the refugee protection system by those who are not

deserving of protection.



Eliminating Appeals


What we are doing:


Eliminating the appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) for serious

criminals, security risks, members of criminal organizations and war

criminals. There will remain recourse to judicial review with leave by the

Federal Court.


Why we are doing it:


To streamline the process and avoid costly legal delaying tactics for those

seeking to avoid removal.



Suspension of a Refugee



What it is:

Ability to suspend a person's protection application to the IRB if he or she

has been charged with a crime. The claim would be suspended until the

Courts have rendered a decision on the case.


Why we're doing it:


To prevent abuse of the system by those who come to Canada not because

they need protection but because they intend to engage in crime.



Repeat Claims


What we are doing:


Extending the period after which a new claim can be made from 90 days to

one year.


Why we are doing it


To avoid the 'revolving door' phenomenon where failed refugee claimants

return to Canada and make multiple claims.



Pre-Removal Risk Assessment


What it is:


Repeat claimants, failed refugee claimants and those found to be

inadmissible to Canada will go directly to a 'pre-removal risk assessment'.

Those who are inadmissible for reasons of serious criminality, or threat to

the national interest will have their need for protection balanced against the

threat they pose to the national interest or security.


Why we're doing it:


Legally, Canada is obligated to assess the risk of return for anyone claiming

a protection need.



Detention and Day Parole


What we are doing:


Incarcerated foreign criminals under removal order will be excluded from day parole.


Why we are doing it:


 Persons facing deportation are less likely to respect conditions for

 temporary release. Also it is inconsistent to integrate individuals into

 Canadian society who are to be deported on completion of their sentence.



Streamlined Security

Certificate Process


 What we are doing:


 Applying the current security certificate process that applies only to

 non-permanent residents to permanent residents as well. The process

 involves: a signature by two Ministers to the effect that the person is

 inadmissible on grounds of security, and a review of the certificate by a

 Federal Court judge.


 Why we are doing it:


 To make it easier to remove permanent residents who pose a serious threat

  to national security.



  New Global Case Management System


  What we are doing:


   Introducing a new Global Case Management system to modernize our

   tracking system.


   Why we are doing it:


    Our current technology infrastructure is seriously out of date. GCMS will

     enhance client service and allow for better case tracking. The new system

     will significantly enhance our ability to identify, track and remove those who

     pose a danger to Canadian society.



  New Inadmissibility Classes


     What they are:


     Two new classes of persons who will be inadmissible to Canada:

     (1) representatives of governments against which Canada has imposed

      sanctions; (2) those who committed fraud or misrepresentation on an

       immigration application.


      Why we are doing it:


       To bar from Canada criminals and those who commit fraud or serious

       misrepresentation when applying for entry to Canada.



   Strengthening Sponsorship



       What we are doing:


       Persons in default of court-ordered spousal or child support payments will be denied the right to sponsor.

       Persons convicted of a crime related to domestic abuse will be denied the

       right to sponsor, with flexibility to exempt particular cases on

       compassionate grounds.

       New legislative provisions will improve the ability of the federal

        government to recover the costs of social assistance in cases of sponsorship default. Current provisions will be clarified to prevent those on social assistance from sponsoring family members.


        Why we are doing it:


         To strengthen the integrity of the sponsorship program.



   Business Immigration


        What we are doing:


         Establishing objective criteria to assess business experience for both the

         investor and entrepreneur programs.

         Creating a new net worth requirement for entrepreneurs.


         Why we are doing it:


         To strengthen the integrity of the business immigration program.



    Objective Criteria for

   Permanent Residence


         What we are doing:


         Introducing a clear physical residency requirement to retain permanent

         residence status: A person must be physically present in Canada for a

         cumulative period of 2 years in every 5 working years to retain permanent  residence.

          Developing a fraud-resistant permanent residence card.


          Why we are doing it (respectively):


          To implement a clear objective standard that is easier to administer.

          To replace a document that is easy to forge with one that has

          state-of-the-art security features.



     Streamlining Appeals


            What we are doing:


            Restricting appeals by family class sponsors of inadmissible persons.

            Introducing a new leave requirement for those appealing visa officer

            decisions from overseas.

            Limiting Humanitarian and Compassionate applications to one per year.


             Why we are doing it:


             To avoid unnecessary delays in the system, and to speed up removals.







Question 2: What has the government done to protect Canada

               and Canadians from the abuse represented by the arrival of

               boats and refugee claimants at Canada's borders?


               Answer 2: The Minister has described some administrative changes  that will be implemented immediately. As well, the Act introduces measures to deal with those who traffic in human cargo and human smuggling. While these initiatives will not stop the arrival of refugee claimants, they will speed up the resolution of the claims, deport bogus refugees more quickly, and enforce stiff penalties on those who bring these people to our shores illegally.


Specifically, the legislation:


Introduces severe penalties and stiffer fines to address the problem of people smuggling and human trafficking, including a new offence -- "trafficking in humans" -- that will be punishable by a fine of $1 million or life in prison or both.

Provides a streamlined refugee determination process that consolidates riskassessments at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and increases the use of single-member panels.


The administrative measures:


Improve the front-end security screening of refugee claimants upon arrival in

Canada; Provide additional resources to speed up removals; and

Develop a new Permanent Resident Card that will help to reduce fraud.



Question 9: What is being done to ensure that criminals,

               terrorists and human rights abusers are not allowed into

               Canada's refugee protection system?


               Answer 9: The new package introduces tough, targeted measures to ensure that criminals, terrorists and human rights abusers do not make their way into the refugee protection system.


These measures include:


Front-end security screening of refugee claimants as soon as they make a

claim; Exclusion of serious criminals, security risks, or violators of human rights from the refugee determination process;

Strengthening inadmissibility criteria to ensure that serious criminals,

security risks and violators of human rights cannot enter Canada; and

Establishing new offences and stiffer penalties for human traffickers and

people smuggling.


















APRIL 6, 2000


                                                         Check against delivery


                                         * * * * * * *


Good morning everyone. Thank you for being here today.


Just a few moments ago, I tabled a bill in the House of Commons to create a new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is a comprehensive bill that will be supported by new regulations, and by important administrative changes in my department. It is the product of substantial consultations, following upon a series of Government commitments.


I will not mince words -- this is a tough bill.


But let's be clear: it is tough on criminal abuse of our immigration and refugee

protection systems. But not on the overwhelming majority of immigrants and

refugees who built this country, and who will continue to do so in the years ahead.


This bill creates severe new penalties for people smugglers and those caught

trafficking in humans. It calls for a faster but fair refugee determination system that will be respected.


Criminal abuse of the refugee system will be countered with front-end security

screening of all claimants, clarified grounds for detention, fewer appeals for serious criminals, and suspension of claims for those charged with crimes until the courts have rendered a decision.


By consolidating several current steps and protection criteria into a single decision at the Immigration and Refugee Board, and moreover, by combining increased use of single-member panels at the Board with an internal paper appeal on merit, we will see faster but fair decisions on refugee claims.


This bill will also strengthen the integrity of our immigration system. It will deny

sponsorship to those convicted of spousal abuse, those in default of spousal or

child support payments, and those on social assistance.


It creates a new inadmissibility class for those who commit fraud or

misrepresentation on immigration applications. It requires physical presence in

Canada for at least two of every five years to maintain permanent resident status.


Canadians have made it clear they want a system based on respect -- both for our laws, and for our traditional openness to newcomers.


That is why this new legislation will also improve our ability to attract more skilled workers, speed up family reunification, and honour Canada's proud humanitarian tradition of offering safe haven to those truly in need of protection.


It will strengthen our overseas refugee resettlement program, expand the family

class, and set out new selection criteria to bring more highly skilled immigrants to Canada. It will create a new 'in-Canada' landing class for temporary workers, foreign students and spouses already here and wishing to stay.


I have made it clear on many occasions that I want to see Canada's immigration levels increase. With our aging population, declining birth rates, and skills shortages in key sectors, we need to step up our efforts to bring the world's best and brightest to Canada.


And this is precisely the point of the bill I tabled today. Closing the back door to those who would abuse the system will allow us to open the front door even wider -- both to genuine refugees, and to the immigrants Canada will need to grow and prosper in the future.


That is the dual mandate of my department.


Here I might add that we should have no illusions about what we are up against. Since the initial passage of the current Immigration Act in 1976, the world has changed dramatically. More than ever before, people are on the move. For trade, tourism, investment, and education. To develop their skills, share their knowledge, and pursue their dreams. Canada has been an enormous beneficiary of this global movement of people. Immigration is a continuing source of our social, economic and cultural richness.


But organized criminals are also on the move, and threats to public health and

safety must always be taken seriously. In the eight months since I assumed this

portfolio, I have learned that the business of Citizenship and Immigration Canada is one of risk management. I have also learned that we have not always been very good at it. We must -- and we will -- do better.


Administrative changes are under way to provide overdue support to key offices at home and abroad in their efforts to improve client service, reduce backlogs,minimize litigation and confront every and any grievance or allegation of malfeasance quickly and fairly.


Funding announced in the recent Federal Budget will provide for strengthened

overseas interdiction, more immigration officers at our ports of entry, better medical and security screening of applicants, and an improved capacity for the timely removal of inadmissible persons from Canada.


Taken together -- these steps, this new funding, and the bill I tabled this morning -- will better enable Canada to both meet the challenges, and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.


In closing, I want to point out that this bill is the result of extensive consultations since 1994, with Canadians, provincial and territorial ministers and officials, and countless non-governmental organizations.


In particular, I wish to thank: the members of the Legislative Review Advisory Group for their seminal report; my predecessor, the Honourable Lucienne Robillard, for an outstanding government White Paper and productive series of national consultations; the Immigration Section of the Canadian Bar Association, for the very frank exchange of views we have enjoyed along the way; the Canadian Council for Refugees; the United Nations High Commission for Refugees: l'Acadie du Québec; the Interfaith Council of Churches and finally, members of the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, for their excellent report on the refugee determination system. I look forward to working with them as they

begin to study this bill.


Thank you. I welcome your questions.



[1] This is the case in Canadian Criminal law. The Canadian Criminal Code establishes two crimes related to identity fraud—Forgery of or uttering passport (Section 57) and fraudulent use of certificate of citizenship (Section 58) (Watt & Fuerst, 1998) .

[2] Canada is currently in the midst of a Commons Subcommittee series of hearings into organized crime. Witnesses are presently being called to testify. These hearings are in camera which basically means that there will not be scrutiny or debate regarding the information that is presented.