Sean Saulnier married his Brazilian wife in their backyard last May. They didn’t kiss on the lips for photos. There was no diamond ring and no family in attendance.
According to a leaked training guide meant to help immigration officials detect marriage fraud, the Victoria, B.C., couple’s marriage would have raised a bunch of red flags as a “non-genuine” relationship.
The three-page training guide, titled “Evidence of Relationship,” lists clues officers should look for in assessing a spousal sponsorship application. Ostensible warning signs that it’s a sham marriage include: couples who are not depicted kissing on the lips in their wedding photos; university-educated Chinese nationals who marry non-Chinese; a small wedding reception in a restaurant; a Canadian sponsor who is relatively uneducated, with a low-paying job or on welfare.
Other red flags include couples who don’t take a honeymoon trip, perhaps because they were students or lack the financial resources to do so; no diamond ring; and photos of activities together taken in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto.
The training material, obtained under an access to information request and posted online by immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens, has created an uproar on social media among some Canadians and their foreign-born spouses.
“We all thought it was a joke. There’s no way this was real. Then we found out the guide was real and it was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is discriminatory. It’s against the Charter,’” said Saulnier, 37, who met his wife, Juliana, 35, while she was studying English in Toronto in 2011.
“I was born in Canada. This is racist and offensive. I’m just floored that this is accepted as criteria Immigration uses in judging the validity of my relationship,” added the software executive, whose wife is among thousands of foreign spouses waiting for long periods — the current average is 26 months — to be granted permanent residency.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada denied that the training material was racist and insisted all spousal applications from around the world are assessed equally, against exactly the same criteria, regardless of country of origin.