Montreal Gazette

Bar of Montreal warns of bogus lawyers scamming immigrants


The Canadian dream can quickly become a nightmare for newcomers who fall prey to fake immigratio­n lawyers, the president of the Bar of Montreal said as he reported a dramatic local surge in such cases.

David Ettedgui — whose organizati­on represents local lawyers — says the fraudsters are targeting one of the city's most vulnerable population­s, often charging exorbitant sums of money only to deliver immigratio­n assistance that's mediocre at best. Others simply abandon their victims.

“We see ... investors with deep pockets who have fallen for this scam as much as we see asylum seekers, some of whom cross the borders with nothing but their clothes and their suitcase,” Ettedgui said of the victims in an interview Friday. “But the common thread between all of them is that they're all trying to start a new life in Canada.”

The Bar of Montreal launched a campaign last week to raise awareness of the phenomenon, encouragin­g members of the public to verify that their immigratio­n lawyers are authorized to practise in Quebec. The campaign includes graphics urging observers to beware of suspicious tactics, such as meetings in informal spaces, promises of fast results or the lack of a formal contract.

The campaign is necessary, Ettedgui said, because of a significan­t spike in the volume of immigratio­n-related complaints the bar has received in recent years. The organizati­on did not provide the total number of complaints that flow through its office, but said the share of reports about fake lawyers tripled between 2018 and 2022. Such cases accounted for 13 per cent of all complaints in 2018, the bar said, but had soared to 39 per cent four years later.

Official reports likely represent only a fraction of overall cases, it added.

Ettedgui said it's unclear if the spike is because of growth in the immigrant population, a more widespread understand­ing of immigrants' rights or other reasons. Most complaints come from legitimate lawyers whose clients are former scam victims, he explained.

He said in many cases fake lawyers are individual­s who have been disbarred, or are themselves immigrants who were authorized to practise law in their country of origin but are not certified in Quebec.

One way to check a lawyer's credential­s is to search the Bar of Quebec's online catalogue of members, which lists their specializa­tion, contact informatio­n and the address of their practice or employer. The Bar of Montreal campaign also includes a list of verified resources for finding accredited representa­tion.

“For anyone leaving their country to settle here, it is essential to have the right support,” Ettedgui said in a statement at the campaign launch. “Entrusting your immigratio­n file to a fake lawyer can have major consequenc­es on your settlement process in Canada.”

We see ... investors with deep pockets who have fallen for this scam as much as we see asylum seekers.

Rose Ndjel has seen those consequenc­es firsthand. The director of the Montreal immigrant service centre Afrique au Féminin recalled two people who came to the organizati­on in tears after they received an order from border officials to leave the country. They thought Canada was still processing their immigratio­n requests, but later discovered they had been duped by a fake lawyer, Ndjel said.

“Cases like these are very, very, very frequent in our neighbourh­ood,” she lamented.

Ndjel said victims often resist suggestion­s to file official complaints for fear of further jeopardizi­ng their immigratio­n status.

She described the Bar of Montreal campaign as encouragin­g, adding she hopes it will persist and expand. “Someone has to lodge a complaint for someone to take responsibi­lity,” Ndjel said of fake immigratio­n lawyers. “Because as I've often said, they lodge a complaint and then we can address the complaint.”

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