Asylum seekers fall victim to bogus immigration lawyers - New Canadian Media
The Montreal Bar Association has launched a campaign to warn newcomers about fraud. Photo: Montreal Bar Association

Asylum seekers fall victim to bogus immigration lawyers

Fake lawyers often come from the same community as the victims and were lawyers in their home countries but not licensed here

Asylum seekers are being warned against fraudulent immigration lawyers, with the Montreal Bar Association cautioning, “If an immigration lawyer tells you, ‘With me, it will be simple and quick’ or claims to have ‘high-placed contacts,’ meets you in a public place and doesn’t provide any copies or documents for you to sign, consider them a fraud and ‘Beware!'” 

A campaign to raise awareness about these impostors was launched, following a sharp increase in recently filed complaints.

From 2018 to 2022, the percentage of immigration-related grievances received by the Montreal Bar jumped from 13 per cent to 39 per cent, representing “only the tip of the iceberg,” according to the association’s president David Ettedgui.

Pedro (a pseudonym) and Loma Louis, two asylum seekers who arrived in Canada during this period, learned this lesson the hard way. Pedro left Chile for Montreal in 2018, traveling through more than 12 Latin American countries.

“Upon arrival, I went to an immigration office,” he told New Canadian Media (NCM). “I told them I was looking for a lawyer, and they said they were one. So, I handed them my file.” 

After spending over $4,000, Pedro failed his Refugee Status Commission hearing. He later discovered the individual was not actually a lawyer when asked to file a humanitarian residence application on his behalf. “He told me: ‘Go see a lawyer,’” Pedro recalls, clearly still shaken by the experience.

Meanwhile, Loma Louis was redirected to Niagara, Ont., from Roxham Road, where he had crossed the border from the United States with his wife and their four children. A bogus Toronto lawyer, operating out of a legitimate-looking office, took on his case, claiming to accept being paid by government legal aid.

Louis said the bogus lawyer took the legal aid code to bill the government for services for six people. “But he gave me no proof, no receipt, and despite his promises and the phone calls made to his office, the case never proceeded,” Louis said. In April 2023, the asylum seeker moved to Montreal and hired another lawyer, costing him another $4,000.

“I filed a complaint against this man with IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada),” says Frantz André, an asylum seeker advocate for the organization, Promis. Andre said he believes the office in Toronto exists but is in cahoots with the fake lawyer. “I tried contacting the main lawyer at the Toronto office but got no response after three attempts. In my opinion, these are people who are just taking government money,” André said.

Victims from Their Own Community

Montreal Bar president David Ettedgui points to several factors that could explain the rise in immigration-related complaints.

David Ettedgui, president of the Montreal Bar Association. Photo: Submitted

“Increased immigration, more scammers, victims are more aware of their rights… maybe,” the Montreal lawyer said in an interview with NCM. “But often, what we see is that the complaints we receive come from legitimate lawyers. People who have been duped go to real lawyers to rectify the wrongs done.” 

He said the association has found that these fake lawyers often come from the same community as the victims and were lawyers in their home countries, though not qualified here.

“For anyone leaving their country to settle here, it’s crucial to be well supported. The ‘Beware!’ campaign provides resources to ensure immigrants place their trust in the right people,” says Ettedgui. 

He said that the services of fake lawyers often cost clients more than those authorized to represent people in immigration matters. The association encourages everyone to verify the registration of over 29,000 authorized lawyers in Quebec on There are also Justice Pro-Bono, some notary offices, and certified immigration consultants, against whom complaints are minimal.

“Immigration consultants are qualified to represent clients. But sometimes, some of them claim to be lawyers. It’s a shame, “since they are authorized to do so, one wonders why,” Ettedgui said.

Many Complaints

The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants has not been able to provide the number of complaints it has received in recent years. Its president, John Murray, said via email that it “will launch a global awareness campaign in March as part of Fraud Prevention Month.” However, the College’s website listed about forty revoked permits and a hundred complaints of serious professional misconduct currently being processed.

The “Beware!” campaign is here to stay. The Montreal Bar Association is collaborating with several community organizations, such as Praida (Regional Program for the Settlement and Integration of Asylum Seekers) and Maison d’Haïti, distributing pamphlets in multiple languages including Haitian Creole, Spanish, and South Asian languages to better reach victims.

A quick verification process is also available to check if a person assisting with immigration procedures is authorized to do so. If not, a simplified complaint form is available to everyone on the Montreal Bar Association’s website to report the fraudulent lawyer.

This story was originally written in French. Translated by Pierre Michaud, New Canadian Media.

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Jean Numa Goudou, a Canadian of Haitian origin, has more than 25 years of experience in journalism. Having started his career at Radio-Métropole in Port-au-Prince, he then immigrated to Canada, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Quebec in Montreal. Passionate about original stories, particularly in immigration and local news, he has worked for Radio-Canada, Le Devoir and the Métro newspaper. In 2014, Goudou founded In Texto Journal Nou, a media outlet dedicated to black and immigrant communities.

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