Former judge Yves Bourbonnais convicted of offering immigrants and refugees positive judgments in exchange for cash.
QUEBEC - A former judge with the Immigration and Refugee Board was among 11 people charged yesterday with offering immigrants and refugees positive judgments in exchange for cash.
Yves Bourbonnais and 10 others face a total of 278 charges after a 31/2-year RCMP investigation uncovered an alleged scheme to get between $8,000 and $15,000 from immigrant applicants.
"The accused individuals are alleged to be part of a very well-structured criminal organization," said Staff Sgt. Sergio Pasin of the RCMP in Ottawa, who was the lead investigator in an operation involving Mounties in Ottawa and Montreal.
Mr. Bourbonnais -- who was a board judge until recently, hearing cases in Montreal and in Ottawa -- faces 98 charges, including 36 counts of defrauding the government.
He is also charged with 18 counts each of breach of trust, obstructing justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, four firearms offences, additional fraud charges and one charge of forging a Canadian passport.
"Forging a Canadian passport? ... "It's a pretty sad thing," said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council of Refugees.
Ms. Dench noted immigration and refugee claimants who have had brushes with the law, and who often don't know their rights, face zero tolerance from board judges who may themselves have spotty records.
While Prime Minister Paul Martin's commitment to end patronage appointments of refugee board judges is commendable, Ms. Dench wondered how firm that commitment is. She noted the minister still has the final say in nominations.
Mr. Bourbonnais, 62, and fellow judge Roberto Colaveccio were suspended with pay in October 2001, a year after the investigation began.
Mr. Colaveccio, who gave $3,000 to the Quebec Liberal party in 2003 and has ties to former Quebec MP Alfonso Gagliano, was not charged.
But, Sgt. Jocelyn Mimeault of the RCMP in Ottawa said the investigation is continuing and there could be more charges.
"We don't rule out further charges," Sgt. Mimeault said, adding the investigation found that between 50 and 60 individuals facing refugee board hearings had been contacted and offered favourable judgments in exchange for money.
In some cases, those charged were involved in smuggling people into Canada and forging documents, Sgt. Mimeault said.
Mr. Bourbonnais was named to the board in 1996 by then-immigration minister Lucienne Robillard. His term was renewed in October 2000, after the investigation began, for another three years.
The appointments of Mr. Bourbonnais and Mr. Colaveccio ended last year.
A Gazette investigation in 2001 determined that Mr. Bourbonnais, a former lawyer with the Quebec justice department, lost that job after he was convicted of breach of trust for selling furniture from two courthouses and a prosecutor's office in 1988. Mr. Bourbonnais was granted a pardon before he was named a refugee board judge.
The investigation also found that 32 of 58 refugee board appointees had ties to the federal or Quebec Liberal parties, and were often defeated candidates or relatives of Liberal office holders.
The RCMP investigation began in September 2000 when Ottawa immigration lawyer David Morris told the Mounties that his client, a man with a criminal record for drug trafficking, had been approached by someone seeking a bribe in return for a decision by Mr. Bourbonnais to stay his deportation.
The immigrant, Fares Hamze, became an RCMP agent and at least three other immigrants filed complaints, according to a sworn RCMP affidavit. The affidavit also said the criminal organization targeted immigrants from East Indian, Arabic and Italian communities in Montreal and Ottawa well as the Asian community in Ottawa.The accused will appear in court in Montreal May 12.
BRENDA BRANSWELL, The Gazette
Published: Thursday, June 29, 2006
For his leading role in a bribery scheme that targeted cases he was slated to hear, former Immigration and Refugee Board appeals division judge Yves Bourbonnais was sentenced yesterday to six years in prison.
"You have dishonoured yourself acting that way," Quebec Superior Court Justice James Brunton said.
Bourbonnais, a lawyer, had also dishonoured his profession, his position as an IRB member and "the immigration system in this country," Brunton said. Bourbonnais, 64, faced nearly 100 charges - including defrauding the government and breach of trust - after being charged in 2004 along with 10 others following a lengthy RCMP investigation.
Yesterday, his steady voice became softer as he uttered "guilty" over and over again - 30 times in all.
Bourbonnais pleaded guilty to 15 counts of obstruction of justice and 15 counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice in the influence-peddling scandal. The charges involved 15 people who were in a "desperate situation," crown prosecutor Lucio Garcia said.
They were either facing deportation for criminal activity or had been turned down in their attempt to sponsor a relative to come to Canada. Garcia told the court how the kickback scheme operated: Bourbonnais, who was appointed to the IRB in 1996, passed on information to two accomplices - his tailor, Franco Macaluso, and restaurateur Bill Wong - about cases that would be coming before him. They, in turn, contacted other accomplices who approached the people to offer them a favourable decision at their appeal in exchange for money.
Garcia called Bourbonnais "the most important player." "The only person who could change those decisions ... was Mr. Yves Bourbonnais." Six of the 15 people approached forked over $33,600 in total. It wasn't possible to calculate how much Bourbonnais received, although he assuredly got a cut each time someone paid money, Garcia said. In some cases, they asked for $10,000 or $15,000, Garcia told reporters afterward. Some paid $6,000 and $2,000. "But that was the range asked of these people."
Two or three people faced deportation because of serious crimes or a criminal record, Garcia said outside court. In those instances, others had already deemed they posed a danger to Canadian society, he said. And in certain cases, Bourbonnais intervened to stay the deportation orders and they were able to remain in Canada, Garcia added. (Two men with criminal records who received a reprieve on their deportation orders insisted they never forked over money.) Garcia said he didn't know whether the people in these cases are still in Canada.
The evidence presented in court showed one man who had received a 66-month sentence for drug trafficking in 1999 was approached by Nirmal Singh after appealing a deportation order. The man, whose lawyer had contacted the RCMP, gave Singh $12,000 supplied by the Mounties.
In March 2001, Bourbonnais ordered a stay of his deportation for a five-year period.