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Fraud in Canadian immigration: The unauthorized practice of law and broken dreams

By CILA on September 13, 2022

This guest article was authored by Natalia Bialkowska, Canadian Immigration Lawyer, NB Law Firm.

It’s only Wednesday and this week I have personally come across five different instances of unauthorized practice of law. Four of those were brought to my attention by a potential client of mine, who, after I refused to take them on, asked me to verify identities of other “lawyers” and “consultants” that they contacted and would consider hiring. Out of the infamous group of five, I will discuss only two specific incidents so that anyone who happens to find themselves in my uncomfortable shoes, will know what to do.

The tale of a wannabe Canadian lawyer, who is only a student

This incident begins with an online platform, on which anyone can advertise their services, including legal representation. Technically not a referral service in a sense that the platform does not refer clients and any member of the public can browse and choose any lawyer, the platform does take a portion of your legal fees. On there, I found a student-at-law self-proclaiming themselves as a specialist lawyer available-for-hire at an hourly rate of over $100 CAD. It did not take much to connect his profile on the online platform, to the one on LinkedIn, to the actual Ontario-based law firm, which verified his current employment therein. Of course, they claimed no knowledge of his unsupervised practice on a side. The initial shock of his articling principal must not have lasted long enough since – despite the public notification of everyone involved – the student managed to finish two projects for the total value of a bit over $1,000 CAD and continues working on over three other ones. Aware of my ethical duties, I was bound to and did report it to the proper authority – our Law Society. The wheels of justice turn slow and so we wait and see when and how this unpleasantry, to say the least, gets resolved.

The tale of a fake immigration consultant who stole a licensed consultant’s identity

The issue of an unauthorized practice of law turns yet a different color when it is committed by someone completely dissociated from our legal profession and ethics, i.e. a non-law-student, a never-have-been lawyer. My potential client got messaged and almost fully tricked, both out of money and his dreams, when a completely fake immigration consultant replied to their cry for help. Long story short, said fraudulent consultant stole a true one’s identity – used their name, used their office address but faked a website and a phone number. It is unclear how many people he defrauded but as of today, he continues to do so.

What you can do about it

Where to report such a person? Other than law societies and College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC) which might or might not follow through fast enough or at all, you should consider filing a report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, as well as provincial/territorial or federal consumer affairs offices such as Canadian Competition Bureau. The abundant benefits of reporting outweigh the costs it takes. Namely, most agencies allow you to file a report online: questions are basic and supporting documents practically create themselves, just “print” the e-mails and fake website pages of the scammers. Filing a report does not actually take much time. Meanwhile, the more we, qualified legal representatives or consumers, report, the safer the legal profession will become, separating the honest and authentic lawyers and consultants from swindlers and scammers.

Now, I am a skilled lawyer, who has been through the ringer enough and knows how to verify whether someone else is a lawyer or a consultant. A lot of clients, however, are too concerned with how good of a legal representative someone will be, and not whether they are one at all. So, hereby, I provide an easy guide for those wanting answers to their questions of “Is my lawyer a real lawyer?” … “Is my immigration consultant licensed?” … “Is so-and-so a qualified legal representative?” … “Am I being defrauded?”:

  1. At the very initial contact with a lawyer or consultant, ask for their full name, license number, and licensing authority or province. No honest and licensed legal representative will be offended, and they should willingly give you this information. Here, I do have to mention that even if the person sends you copies of their licenses – beware! Scammers know how to fake a diploma or a certificate.
  2. After you are provided with their information, go to the actual website of claimed licensing authority and do your search. All of this information is verifiable online. For instance, Law Society of Ontario provides a free-of-charge website wherein you will find your lawyer or paralegal. You will also be able to see their disciplinary history, shall they have one. If you are looking for an immigration consultant, check your potential hire against the CICC directory.
  3. Check out the legal representative’s website and social media. True lawyers or consultants do not hide their online presence. They also do not use only one photograph. And there is likely more than one link about them on the internet.

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Natalia Bialkowska is a Canadian lawyer of Polish origin, educated in the United States. She is the founder of NB Law Firm, specializing in Canadian immigration and personal injury law. Based in Toronto, Ontario, she serves clients speaking English, Polish, and Spanish.