Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is using public and private measures to secure the release of two Canadians detained in China for 18 months, who on Friday were formally charged with espionage in the politically charged case.
Trudeau said he was “very disappointed” with the charges Chinese prosecutors unveiled, while Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland described feeling personally angry at the news.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig was charged in Beijing on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence. Businessman Michael Spavor was charged in Dandong near the North Korean border on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.
Speaking at a press conference in Chelsea, Que., just north of the national capital, Trudeau said the only reason the two are being detained is because of independent judicial proceedings involving Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei who is fighting an extradition request to the United States.
Trudeau said aside from public statements, there is “action behind the scenes in very direct and firm ways” to secure their release.
“We have developed a certain expertise in what has worked to get Canadians home in very difficult circumstances over the past years,” Trudeau said.
“In the case of the two Michaels, I can say that we are using a wide range of public and private measures to ensure that everything is being done to get these Michaels home.”
The two have been held since December 2018, shortly after Canadian authorities arrested Meng at Vancouver’s airport. U.S. authorities want her extradited over allegations she circumvented American sanction on Iran.
The daughter of Huawei’s founder and the company itself deny any wrongdoing. She remains out on bail as hearings at the B.C. Supreme Court continue in her case. A judge rejected the first set of arguments from her lawyers late last month in a bid to set her free.
“We will not, and must not, and cannot interfere in the independence of our judiciary in this country,” Trudeau said.
“The Chinese authorities have directly linked the case of the two Michaels to the judicial proceedings against Ms. Meng, which is extremely disappointing because for us … there obviously are no links except in politics.”
Wrapped up in the case is Huawei’s bid to be a player in Canada’s 5G network, which was put in doubt after Bell and Telus announced partnerships with the Chinese company’s European rivals.
The Liberals have yet to decide whether Huawei will have a role in building the network.
The United States has warned Canada and other allies that it will limit sharing intelligence with countries that have Huawei equipment in their 5G networks — citing its potential use for spying by China, an allegation Huawei denies.
The charges against Spavor and Kovrig were announced Friday by China’s highest prosecutor’s office in brief social media posts. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said each is charged with “secretly gathering state secrets for overseas forces with particularly serious consequences.”
“The facts are clear and the evidence solid and sufficient,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing, without providing further details.
The International Crisis Group, where Kovrig worked at the time of his arrest, said the diplomat regularly interviewed Chinese officials to accurately reflect their views in his reports and had a constructive relationship with Chinese officials.
“This is yet another arbitrary and baseless step in a case that has been arbitrary and baseless from day one,” the group’s chief executive, Robert Malley, said in a statement. “Michael was not endangering China’s security: everything he was doing was in the open and well known to China’s authorities.”
Kovrig and Spavor have had no access to lawyers or their families as of May, with the exception of a phone call the Chinese embassy said Kovrig was allowed to make to his sick father in mid-March. Consular visits have also been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a midday press conference on Parliament Hill, Freeland said it was essential to restore consular access to the two men.
“They are a priority for Canadian foreign policy in general, they are a priority for our government in general, they are not forgotten and we are going to continue to work very, very hard for their release,” she said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the government’s “naive approach to Beijing” has hampered efforts to release Spavor and Kovrig.
“This case should be being dealt with at the highest levels. But Justin Trudeau has repeatedly refused to intervene,” Scheer said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2020.
— With files from the Associated Press
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to offer Canadians modest hope about progress in testing and vaccine development after Canada notched an all-time high of new COVID-19 cases in a day.
Trudeau told a news conference Friday that the government is spending $214 million toward the development of COVID-19 vaccines, signing deals with two Canadian biotech firms.
But even as he touted Canada’s portfolio of potential vaccines, Trudeau warned it’s unlikely that any of these candidates will be ready to distribute to Canadians this year or early next year. It’s reasonable to expect that vaccines will start to roll out at some point in 2021, said Trudeau, but even then, supply will be limited, and high-risk populations will be prioritized for inoculation.
“We are hopeful that the vaccines will arrive yesterday, but they won’t,” said Trudeau. “There’s still a number [of] more months of work to do.”
Trudeau said his government signed a $173-million contract with Quebec’s Medicago to secure the rights to buy 76 million doses of its vaccine, should it meet health and safety standards. The funding will also be used to establish a production facility in Quebec City, he said.
Ottawa is also investing $18.2 million in a potential vaccine from British Columbia’s Precision NanoSystems. Meanwhile, the National Research Council is spending $23 million to support other Canadian vaccine initiatives, Trudeau said.
WATCH | Study casts doubt on use of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 treatment:
The prime minister said Canada has signed six agreements with a number of companies taking part in the global race to produce a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 .
Two more American vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, have asked Health Canada to review their products, which are undergoing clinical trials.
What’s happening elsewhere in Canada
As of 5 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 211,732 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 177,879 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,888.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says authorities need the public’s help to rein in infection rates through practices such as limiting in-person contacts, wearing masks and physical distancing.
“The number of people experiencing severe illness continues to increase,” Tam told a media briefing Friday. “Over the past seven days, there was an average of just over 1,000 individuals with COVID-19 treated in Canadian hospitals, including over 200 in critical care.”
In Ontario, an additional 826 cases and nine more deaths were recorded, as Premier Doug Ford hinted more regions could be headed for a modified Stage 2 next week.
During his daily news conference, Ford called the situation in the Halton region “concerning” and suggested it and potentially Durham Region could join Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York regions in a modified Stage 2 in the coming days.
WATCH | Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission releases recommendations:
Modified Stage 2 means the closure of indoor dining, gyms and other fitness centres, movie theatres, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.
Quebec on Friday reported 905 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, four of which were in the past 24 hours.
There are 540 people in hospital including 99 in intensive care. In its latest projections, the province’s national health institute said hospitals will not reach full capacity in the next four weeks due to the rate of transmission having stabilized in recent days.
Premier François Legault has said it’s likely the province will have to maintain many public health restrictions currently in place in red zones past Oct. 28, including keeping restaurants and bars closed.
In Alberta, 50 inmates and five staff members at the Calgary Correctional Centre have tested positive, according to a statement from Alberta Health Services.
All inmates and staff are being tested and isolation and monitoring of the positive cases are underway. Contact tracing for anyone potentially exposed to these individuals is ongoing.
WATCH | Reduce gatherings even more, health experts urge:
Alberta reached 300 COVID-19 deaths on Friday and reported 432 new cases and 3,651 active cases.
While the premier and the province’s top doctor have called the numbers concerning, the government has reiterated it has no plans to bring in new restrictions.
“I believe we can continue to protect the health-care system without widespread disruption and lockdowns that have massive broader consequences,” Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday.
In British Columbia, health officials announced 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Seventy-five people are in hospital, with 24 in intensive care.
Yukon’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brendan Hanley, has reported three new cases in Watson Lake, which he says are part of a “family cluster.” They hadn’t travelled outside Yukon, so it’s not known yet where they contracted the virus.
WATCH | Manitoba’s top doctor on the increasing community spread of COVID-19:
Manitoba reported a total of 163 new infections on Friday, most concentrated in Winnipeg. The province also said a man in his 80s is the latest death linked to an outbreak at Winnipeg’s personal care home Parkview Place, where 15 residents have died of the illness.
Manitoba has announced new rules for northern Manitoba and schools in both the Winnipeg area and the north. Those measures will take effect on Monday.
Nova Scotia reported new no cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day after the province warned residents against unnecessary travel to the Campbellton-Restigouche area of New Brunswick due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
The recommendation came after New Brunswick announced new restrictions for the Campbellton region, almost two weeks after it was pushed back to the orange phase of recovery. While Zone 5 will remain in the orange stage, people will be limited to interacting with a single household bubble, N.B. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said.
New Brunswick announced two new COVID-19 cases and eight recoveries on Friday. That brings the total number of cases the province has recorded to 324, with four deaths.
Newfoundland and Labrador announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The province has recorded a total of 288 cases and four deaths.
What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 42.2 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 28.5 million have recovered.
More than 84,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 across the United States on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, a record one-day increase in infections during the pandemic as the virus surges again nationwide.
The spike of 84,218 cases — breaking the record of 77,299 set on July 16 — comes as University of Washington researchers forecast that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could reach a total of 500,000 by February.
About 8.4 million Americans have tested positive and nearly 224,000 have died from the illness.
WATCH | Remdesivir does little to help COVID-19 patients, WHO says:
The World Health Organization revealed on Friday that of the nearly 445,000 new cases of coronavirus reported worldwide in the past 24 hours, almost half were from European nations.
Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a record high, soaring to over 15,000 in one day for the first time.
The country’s health ministry says the day-to-day increase of confirmed cases in the hard-hit country reached 15,252 on Friday. The previous record of 14,968 was set on Wednesday.
The record surge has continued for last two months despite tight restrictions, including limits on movement, closing stores, schools and restaurants and banning sports competitions and gatherings of more than two people. Face masks are obligatory outdoors and in cars.
The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital has surpassed 5,000 for the first time, putting the health system under pressure.
The Czech Republic has had over 238,300 confirmed coronavirus cases, including over 78,000 in the last seven days, and reported 1,971 virus-related deaths.
In Poland, President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for coronavirus, his spokesperson said on Saturday. The spokesperson, Blazej Spychalski, said on Twitter that the 48-year-old conservative leader was tested the day before and his result was positive. He said the president feels all right and is in isolation.
Duda’s diagnosis comes amid a huge surge in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths in Poland, a nation that saw only very low numbers in the spring. On Friday, the country hit another daily record of new infections — over 13,600, with 153 new deaths.
In Italy, protesters angered over new coronavirus restrictions, including a new regional curfew, clashed with police in the city of Naples on Friday night. Some threw rocks and smoke bombs, and police officers responded with tear gas. The protesters numbered several hundred, according to local media.
The virus is blamed for killing more than 37,000 people in Italy since the start of the pandemic.
In Britain, bars, restaurants and most shops have closed across Wales for 17 days, starting Friday night, in the U.K.’s strictest lockdown to curb surging coronavirus cases.
Most businesses had to close, high school students will be taught online and people must avoid non-essential journeys.
The U.K. has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus numbers, with more than 44,500 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths. There have been 1,756 deaths in Wales, which has a population of about 3 million.
In Turkey, the mayor of Istanbul has tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for the city municipality said Saturday.
Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has undergone treatment in hospital and his condition is good, spokesperson Murat Ongun tweeted.
Authorities in Sri Lanka on Saturday closed at least two fishery harbours and many stalls on Colombo’s outskirts after a surge of 609 cases linked to the country’s main fish market. Hundreds of traders and fishermen are being tested. The government also widened the curfew in parts of Colombo.
India, meanwhile, has reported 53,370 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the overall tally past 7.8 million.
The country’s health ministry on Saturday also reported 650 deaths, driving the country’s toll to 117,956.
The highest number of new infections is coming from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka states. They’re also reporting the maximum number of daily recoveries.
Last month, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third, even as testing has remained consistent.
Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca
Why lockdowns alone won't save us from the pandemic – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
The prospect of locking society down again the way we did in the first wave of COVID-19 — and the collateral damage that comes with it — is daunting.
The financial devastation on businesses forced to close and lay off employees, the increase in mental health issues, the halting of elective medical procedures and the continuing risks to essential workers on the front lines all factor in.
Keeping society functioning and supporting devastated sectors of the economy while limiting the spread of the coronavirus is key to navigating the pandemic until a safe and effective vaccine is here.
But experts acknowledge there is growing resistance to some of the restrictions that highlights a need to manage the public mood as the pandemic rages on.
You arguably could not find a more politically charged term right now than “lockdown,” since everyone has a different, personal idea of what it is.
“This term has become equated with so many bad things that no one really understands what it means,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“It’s everyone’s worst fear about what somebody else is doing to them regarding the pandemic.”
Osterholm, a veteran of SARS and MERS who warned the world for 15 years that a pandemic was coming, thinks the term lockdown should be abolished altogether.
Instead, Osterholm said we need to look at it as targeted public health measures necessary to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and getting back to normal as quickly as possible, while at the same time supporting those who have suffered financially.
The key to successfully riding out the pandemic lies in finding balance between working with the population to help keep the number of cases low without substantially changing life as we know it.
“The challenge is, the end isn’t coming soon,” he said. “But it’s coming, and what we need to do is try to have as few cases as possible between now and the time a vaccine arrives.”
‘Pandemic fatigue’ can turn to ‘pandemic anger’
Managing the public’s frustration presents a challenge for public health officials in the second wave.
During a journalism conference at Carleton University in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that public health messaging can seem inconsistent because of the evolving science in the pandemic.
“We are living in a more challenging period right now,” she said, in which authorities have “to convince people who are fatigued to stick to sustainable habits or public health practices.”
Ontario and Quebec have already moved to close bars, restaurants and gyms in their hardest-hit regions amid rising cases, while Alberta and British Columbia weigh the need to tighten restrictions amid record-high rises in cases.
Osterholm said resistance to public health restrictions not only stems from the concept of “pandemic fatigue,” but also from something he calls “pandemic anger.”
“It’s people who don’t believe that the pandemic is real,” he said. “They think it’s a hoax.”
Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the resistance also stems from “raw selfishness.”
“There’s an inability to think about community responsibility,” he said, explaining that people think they won’t personally be seriously affected by the virus because it has a comparatively higher survivability rate in younger age groups.
“But if you scale this up to a population, then that’s tens of thousands of deaths – and they don’t care.”
Perception of risk has a cost
The latest World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund found that while lockdowns controlled the spread of the coronavirus, they also contributed to a global economic recession that disproportionately affected vulnerable populations.
But the IMF report also found the damage to the economy was largely driven by people “voluntarily refraining” from social interactions out of a fear of contracting the virus.
Osterholm said the perception of risk — and not strict public health restrictions — is what holds people back from doing things like travelling by plane or entering a retail store.
“Nobody is telling you you can’t go to the grocery store rather than ordering online — it’s just people don’t feel safe and secure,” he said.
“Well, how do you make that happen? You make it happen by making cases occur at a much, much lower rate than they’re occurring now. It’s not going to be just by telling the virus we’re done.”
Lockdowns should be last resort
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Md., isn’t in favour of lockdowns as a first line of defence in the pandemic.
“If you’re going to take public health interventions, they have to be very targeted towards specific activities that are actually leading to spread,” he said. “You only use a lockdown when you have fouled up your response so bad that that’s all you have left to do.”
WATCH | Push to pursue COVID-19 herd immunity is ‘dangerous’:
But ignoring lockdowns isn’t an effective strategy, either.
The Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial proposal from a group of scientists (backed by a U.S. think-tank) to lift restrictions, made headlines last week for its calls to protect “the vulnerable” from COVID-19 with strict measures while allowing those “at minimal risk of death” to return to normal life and build up herd immunity to the virus.
But it failed to present a logical counterargument for controlling the virus or concrete ways to protect the vulnerable (including the elderly and the poor), not to mention those who care for them.
Referring to the declaration, Deonandan said, “If there wasn’t a vaccine coming, if nothing changes and this has to be how we live in perpetuity, then OK, maybe we have to discuss some other options. But none of that is true.”
Canada has had more than 200,000 cases and is approaching 10,000 deaths, but modelling predicts the situation would be much worse if public health guidelines like physical distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene weren’t followed.
Osterholm said those pushing the the Barrington Declaration completely misunderstood the concept behind public health restrictions and the reasons behind enacting them in the first place.
“If you’re going to keep thinking about this as a lockdown, then we’re going to find a lot of resistance to this,” he said. “But on the other hand, if you don’t suppress transmission, we’re also going to see a lot of deaths.”
A question of public tolerance
Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease outbreak, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them.
China imposed some of the most severe public health restrictions in modern history upon the discovery of the coronavirus at the beginning of this year, something democratic nations would be unlikely to imitate.
But China is already seeing the rewards of its draconian efforts to control the spread. It’s the only major economy expected to grow this year, with retail spending surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time and factory output rising on the backs of demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies to countries like Canada.
Other regions like New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong acted swiftly by closing borders, imposing strict public health measures and opting for shorter, more strategic lockdowns, which have allowed them to carefully reopen society.
South Korea, meanwhile, didn’t lock down at all and instead focused on testing, tracing and isolating cases to control the spread of the virus successfully.
“The lesson here is you choose one path and you stick with it,” Deonandan said. “What is not acceptable is vacillating between different strategies.”
Australia imposed targeted lockdown measures in the face of outbreaks, which University of Western Australia epidemiologist Dr. Zoë Hyde said has been “enormously successful” in eliminating the virus in much of the country.
“While lockdowns absolutely have harms associated with them, the harms are much less than those of an unmitigated epidemic,” she said. “Governments can also minimize the harms of lockdowns by making them short and sharp, and by financially supporting workers and businesses.”
Lockdowns ‘a sign of failure’
Hyde said the eastern Australian state of Victoria was a precautionary tale for the debate over lockdowns, because of mistakes made in a hotel quarantine system that allowed the virus to spread again.
“If governments have not tried hard enough to suppress the virus, then a lockdown is inevitable, whether people want one or not,” Hyde said.
“Lockdowns are a sign of failure. They’re a sign that governments have not been doing enough.”
Victoria was recording around 700 new cases per day in July, but a second lockdown coupled with a mask mandate have brought case numbers down to only a handful a day at most.
“Measures to combat the virus have to be tailored. They can’t be more than the economy can bear,” Hyde said, “but equally we must remember that the best way to protect the economy is to suppress the virus.”
“Ultimately it’s the virus doing the damage to the economy, not the measures designed to suppress it. No matter what we wish, the economy won’t go back to normal if a dangerous virus is circulating.”
To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.
Would-be immigrant to Canada learns the hard way after online consultant denies refund – CBC.ca
For Rene Todd, it began as a simple quest for a refund.
Shortly after signing up for an online Canadian immigration service in August, the South African woman changed her mind and decided she wanted her money back.
But a string of frustrating emails and a few months later, Todd’s journey has turned into a rabbit hole — an odyssey into the world of online sales, fake testimonials, toothless regulators and international operators preying on the desperation of people dreaming of a life in Canada. Her experience illustrates the need for legislation and funding to boost investigations and enforcement around online immigration services.
Todd doesn’t just want her money back anymore. She just wants accountability.
“I cannot stand unfairness,” she said.
“But it was actually also almost a fascination with getting to the truth of exactly what is going on here. So it probably did get into something a little bit bigger than a refund.”
‘A huge red flag’
According to its website, Professional Immigration Consultants of Canada, or PROICC, “focuses on helping clients from all over the globe start their process toward immigrating to Canada in the easiest and quickest way.”
The company offers a “basic” service for “visa assessment” and a “gold” package for “eligible individuals” to shepherd their applications with the help of immigration professionals.
Todd, who lives with her husband and three children in Cape Town, first came across PROICC after taking an online test for Canadian eligibility that popped up as an ad on one of her favourite news sites.
Not only was she eligible, but a PROICC representative contacted her within days. After a couple more calls, she said, the representative accused her of wasting his time.
“Under normal circumstances, this is where I would have ended the call,” Todd said.
“Perhaps because I did not wish to look not serious in such a serious matter and because he was offering a ‘special today’ at $279 US as opposed to the usual charge of $479 US, I continued with the transaction. With hindsight, this was a huge red flag.”
Complaints to Better Business Bureau
Todd began researching the company and came across a series of complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Her husband also had concerns about her giving out her credit card information over the phone, and so she cancelled her card and called to ask for her money back.
And that’s when Todd started exchanging emails with Amelia Adams, who claimed to represent PROICC’s “legal division.”
Adams insisted in an email that the terms of the “special offer” meant there could be no refund.
Todd said no one told her that when she paid over the phone.
Adams said it was on PROICC’s website under “terms and conditions.”
Todd, a trained but non-practising lawyer, noticed that Adams’s email signature said “Vancouver, Canada,” and so she sent her a copy of a British Columbia law requiring that refund policies be explained to distance sales customers and asked “under what law do you get to opt out of statutes on refunds?”
Adams wrote back: “Because we are an international company.”
At that point, Todd reached out to CBC News.
Vancouver address on website, but no actual listing
A Google search says PROICC is located at 1021 West Hastings St., an office building in Vancouver’s city centre. But there’s no listing for the company at that address, and a receptionist at a shared office space said she had no record of PROICC ever being there.
There is also no Amelia Adams listed in the Law Society of British Columbia’s directory of lawyers.
On PROICC’s website, the “About Us” section features testimonials from three supposedly happy customers: Celina Lindberg of Denmark, Andres Bartoludo of Argentina and Thorsten Stormer of Germany.
“I have my Permanent Resident card and now I live in the Canada with my kids, finally giving them a better future,” Lindberg is quoted as saying.
Bartoludo agreed: “I moved to Canada to be with my partner. PROICC is the only reason I completed everything successfully.”
But both Lindberg and Bartoludo — until the CBC began asking questions — were included on U.S. immigration websites owned by the same parent company as PROICC: “I have my Green card and now I live in the U.S. with my kids, finally giving them a better future,” Lindberg said on a U.S. site.
And Bartoludo said: “I moved to the U.S. to be with my partner ….”
On further inspection, Stormer’s photograph also turns up elsewhere on the internet: as a stock image people can download if they need a “portrait of a young smiling man.”
When Todd initially began to worry about PROICC, she said she looked at those pictures.
“So that kind of gave me a bit of comfort that actually they are legitimate,” she said.
“But now … not even that is real.”
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre investigates complaints
Until this week, when CBC News began asking questions, the owner of the U.S. sites, PROICC and another Canadian online immigration consultancy — Canadaims immigration Services — was listed as Indigo Ltd., an Israeli company located in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
The owner of PROICC has now changed to Canada Immigration Ltd., though the telephone number remains the same.
Indigo’s CEO, Amit Shulian, did not respond to an email or a phone call requesting comment.
The terms and conditions attached to both the PROICC and Canadaims websites claim the company’s liability is governed by the “Exclusive Courts of Spain.”
In one detail that also changed after CBC contacted PROICC, prior to this week customers were warned that any information and documents they sent in were being uploaded to another website and its servers: itscanadatime.com.
That associated entity, itscanadatime.com, was the subject of a Radio-Canada investigation into a series of Israeli-based immigration websites that have generated hundreds of complaints to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
In the days after CBC emailed two queries to PROICC, the terms and conditions changed. Customers are now warned that their documents are being uploaded to proicc.com.
Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst with the fraud centre, said it has received three reports about PROICC in the past two years and another related to the company’s phone number.
The most recent complaint, in July, was filed online, and Thomson shared it with CBC News.
“Our home was destroyed in our country and we lost everything and we wanted a better way of life for us,” the complaint reads.
The complainant said they paid $39 for an assessment last January and were told by PROICC that they were excellent candidates for the Express Entry system to Canada. All it would cost was $990 for each of three family members.
“We proceeded and charged the $2,970 on our credit card,” the complaint reads.
After months of calling, the complainant said a company representative told them they were accepted for Express Entry and that the next step in the process was the company would help them to look for jobs. But that would cost another $4,500.
The worried complainant did some more research.
“I found that the Express Entry is not a simple process and that we didn’t meet all the criteria to even be good candidates for this route,” the complaint reads. “We want our full $2970 from PROICC. That’s all we want so that we can try to pick up the pieces and make something of the rest of our lives.”
Thomson said the complaints — like so many involving immigration — are heartbreaking.
“We know that there’s questionable activity going on,” he said.
“They’re using our reputation to try and solicit people and collect the fee to help them immigrate.”
Enforcement power needed
Michael Huynh, director of professional conduct for the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), said his organization is aware of PROICC, but there’s not much it can do but say “buyer beware.”
“There’s a lot of companies like this that are on our radar,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that there’s very little effort at this point done to control this proliferation. And there certainly needs to be a greater investment of resources and effort.”
In Canada, only members of the ICCRC, lawyers registered with one of 13 provincial or territorial law societies or notaries registered in Quebec can legally offer immigration advice or services for a fee.
Huynh’s organization is waiting for Parliament to proclaim legislation to give it statutory power to act as a professional college that can regulate the industry as a whole.
He said the ICCRC needs the power of enforcement to build a “body of immigration professionals who can start to instil appropriate values and fair practices across the entire immigration industry and stem this proliferation of these quasi-scams — if not outright scams.”
In a statement, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the 2019 federal budget included $51.9 million to “increase investigations and enforcement, expand public awareness and strengthen the oversight of consultants.”
Huynh said PROICC may provide some level of service, but no one needs to pay to assess their eligibility to work, study, visit, travel through or live permanently in Canada. The government provides a free tool on its website.
On its website — again in the terms and conditions that customers like Todd say they were not advised of on the phone — PROICC warns that “preliminary eligibility assessments do not constitute personal immigration advice and do not guarantee the issuance of immigration visas or other documents to the user.”
And it also points to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to say that anyone wanting immigration advice or representation will have to go through “an authorized representative.”
Thomson, the RCMP anti-fraud analyst, said he wonders whether the time has come to start “regulating the promotion of access to government services where people are making money off people trying to access these services that are otherwise free to access.”
As Todd’s experience indicates, when a customer wants a refund or to challenge the level of service provided by an organization such as PROICC, they find themselves wondering exactly who lies behind the website, its shadowy associated entities and its phoney testimonials.
“At the end of the day, they’re not accountable to any organization, so the consumer is taking a huge risk,” Huynh said.
‘You are absolutely mistaken’
Todd had her last email conversation with Amelia Adams in August.
This week, CBC sent PROICC a long list of questions about its legal status, ownership and relationship with itscanadatime.com. The next day, Todd said Adams called her “literally … 15 times.”
She said Adams now claims that her money was refunded two months ago after Todd threatened to contact CBC, the Law Society of B.C., Huynh’s organization and others.
Todd said she has no record of the refund, and she had already cancelled her card. She has asked her bank to investigate. But she’s skeptical that her money was refunded, given that the last she heard from Adams in an email before going public was: “You are absolutely mistaken in what you are stating, therefore there is no reason for me to keep giving you the same answer over and over again.”
Todd said she’ll consider Adams’s explanation for her sudden reversal, but she’ll need written proof before she believes anything.
Le Chateau files for CCAA protection, plans to close its doors – BayToday.ca
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca
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