If anyone dialed the Halifax phone number Mohd Morelley wrote in his application for citizenship as proof he was integrating in Canada, it would ring out in an office on the outskirts of Halifax. Someone might answer, but it wouldn’t be Morelley or his wife or three children, who all wanted to be Canadians.
They were all living in Kuwait.
Along with the bogus phone number, Morelley and his family bought a full-service bogus citizenship package from an immigration consultant, including a Halifax address for a home he never lived in, tax returns and employment records for a job he never held, payment of utility bills he never used, ATM withdrawals to show local transactions he didn’t make and a letter from a local Islamic society saying he was deeply involved in the activities at a mosque he didn’t attend.
Everything needed to create a pretend life in Canada.
Morelley’s phantom phone — and fake life — were far from unique: more than 140 cell phones, labeled with the number and name of a client, were organized in the Bedford Highway office of the Canadian Commercial Group, run by immigration consultant Hassan Al-Awaid.
At least 1,244 clients were listed in Al-Awaid’s files, most accompanied by family members.
And he is but one of several crooked consultants caught recently peddling easy ways around the residency (and other) requirements for foreigners to gain Canadian citizenship.
Here is how they did it.
Hassan Al-Awaid, 62, an Iraqi national, worked in public relations and marketing for a government-owned petrochemical company in Kuwait before immigrating to Canada in 1992 and settling in Nova Scotia, where he and his wife had three children, including twin girls.
He might have once been a legitimate immigration consultant when he started, at least as far back as 1997. He was a member of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants until he was suspended in 2006. And he didn’t join the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, Canada’s current regulatory body, making him another “ghost consultant,” working in the shadows.
Increasingly, Al-Awaid shifted to black market services and relied on referrals from clients, since his specialization was hard to advertise.
“My office is one of the famous offices in Nova Scotia and my services differ from any other office, especially after arrival, and everyone know that,” he boasted in an email to a client.
What he offered clients, mostly from the Middle East, was the opportunity to buy a fake life in Canada to circumvent the requirements of residency and integration here prior to citizenship.
So while the would-be Canadians continued their lives abroad, Al-Awaid scurried about mimicking the petty drudgery of their everyday life in Canada — collecting their mail, answering their phones, paying their bills, filing their taxes — as if each one was adapting to Canadian society.
One of Al-Awaid client’s, Wael Kamal, noticing his permanent resident card was about to expire, emailed Al-Awaid saying he hopes to avoid coming to Canada to renew it. Another, Farris Abu-Dayyeh, hired Al-Awaid to fake his and his family’s lives in Canada and, after only a few day’s visit here, was told to come back in three years for their citizenships.
The pattern for many clients was similar.
In April, 2006, Khaldoun Halasa and Nadia Iskander first met Al-Awaid at a hotel in Jordan where the consultant told them he could arrange for their citizenship in Canada. His fee was US $2,000 up front, another US $2,000 at the end and C $200 a month to keep the charade going, court later heard.
Brent Foster / National PostInternal records however show while the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has received several hundred complaints about suspected illegal immigration-consulting operations over the past four years, it has opened only a few dozen investigations.
That August, Halasa and four family members arrived in Canada and were met by Al-Awaid at the Halifax airport. He drove them to a hotel and then to his office, where they filled out paperwork. (Many clients signed blank forms for Al-Awaid to fill in as needed.)
He then took them on a whirlwind trip around Halifax, laying the groundwork for their spurious Canadian lives: they got Nova Scotia health cards, provincial photo ID, they opened up a bank account and arranged for bogus leases on property. They got an ATM card and a cell phone with a local number and handed both over to Al-Awaid before leaving.
Al-Awaid had many clients list one of eight false addresses on their forms for homes and apartments where either he lived with his own family or an employee of his firm lived.
Al-Awaid also had clients apply for child tax benefits, inclome tax refunds, GST/HST refunds and other government benefits, money some used to pay their monthly fee to Al-Awaid for preparing their tax returns and collecting their mail.
Mohd Morelley and his family paid $20,000 over four years to have Al-Awaid manufacture their Canadian lives.
For Morelley, the subterfuge ran deeper than for many, likely accounting for the higher price. Al-Awaid wrote a false letter of employment and created bogus T4 slips over four years for his tax returns, claiming Morelley was an employee of his immigration firm as a marketing officer. He also wrote a letter, as President of the Al-Batool Islamic Association, saying he knew Morelly for more than four years and he is involved in its activities.
For another client, Effah Dajani, he wrote a letter of employment from the Canadian Arab Information Centre, an organization Al-Awaid was president of at the time.
For many, early in his schemes, he even acted as the official “Guarantor” on the applications, falsely swearing to have personally known the applicants for a long time, claiming he was a “Minister of Religion with the Nova Scotia Islamic Community.”
Al-Awaid told clients how to manipulate their cross-border travel to avoid incriminating stamps in their passports. Many had passports from more than one country and he told them to enter Canada using one passport and to leave on another, the one they should then use for all international travel while outside Canada.
In an email dated April 15, 2008, Vladimir Krastev, a Bulgarian client, asked Al-Awaid “Please suggest to me what to tell Immigration Office at Halifax airport. They could ask me about the purpose of my visit.” Al-Awaid responded, “You can tell them that you will be staying in Halifax for work purposes.”
Krastev then asked for help with the names of Canada’s leaders for the citizenship test. Al-Awaid said not to bother, the names could change before he wrote the test. For client Majeda Omar, he helped him get out of jury duty, putting a false signature on an application to be excused.
Al-Awaid’s furtive and sometimes frantic business began to unravel in 2007, when Shawna Woodin, an intelligence officer with the Canada Border Services Agency in Halifax, noticed two different signatures for the same person in a citizenship application.
The CBSA and the RCMP started a lengthy investigation. Several of his clients confessed to investigators of the duplicity. Searches in 2010 at Al-Awaid’s office, home and car revealed his meticulous record keeping.
Police found more than 140 labelled cell phones and a stack of ATM cards with their PINs among the 20 filing cabinets of records seized, including reams of emails with clients and detailed records.
He was arrested in 2011
Al-Awaid eventually pleaded guilty to eight offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and ten under the Citizenship Act, for cases stretching from 2002 to 2011.
At his sentencing this summer, court heard he was being treated for hypertension, hypothyroidism, elevated cholesterol, gout and diabetes.
“I am simply not satisfied that the Correctional Service of Canada can safely and effectively monitor and treat Mr. Al-Awaid’s very significant health issues,” provincial court of Nova Scotia judge Anne Derrick said.
That allowed him to avoid jail, instead getting a conditional sentence of two years less a day, a $4,000 fine and 240 hours of community service.
Prosecutors lamented the growing presence of citizenship fraud.
“That these ‘address of convenience’ cases went from virtually unheard of a short number of years ago to making regular appearances in news reports across Canada is indicative that the scheme has served to foster an overseas industry that thrives on immigration fraud,” prosecutors Timothy McLaughlin and Ronda Vanderhoek told court.
For the charges against Al-Awaid, police focused on 53 clients who used eight Halifax addresses to falsify residency. Of those 53, seven provided states to police; nine of the applicants had already obtained their citizenship, 19 withdrew from the process, while the rest were still in the application process at the time his case went to court.
Source : National Post