Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Court acquits immigration consultant

Toronto Star

Court acquits immigration consultant

After long delays, Crown refuses to call evidence
Feb 07, 2007 04:30 AM
Nicholas Keung
Jim Rankin
Staff Reporters

Nearly two years after Mounties raided the Bay Street offices of an immigration consultant and accused him of counselling undercover officers to make an unfounded refugee claim and arrange a fake marriage, Yuri Gavris walked out of court yesterday with an acquittal and plans to return to the business.

On the eve of a trial that was expected to last two weeks and likely involve testimony from undercover officers and a former employee, the case against Gavris unravelled.

Following several legal applications and delays in the case, Crown Attorney André Chamberlain told Mr. Justice Ramez Khawly yesterday that the prosecution would not be calling any evidence in the case.

In return, Gavris agreed to turn over two hard drives that contained sensitive information regarding the identities of the undercover RCMP officers.

With that, Khawly told Gavris he was free to go.

After court, Gavris, 41, said he has been unable to do any immigration consulting since his arrest because of conditions imposed after he was charged.

The Feb. 15, 2005, bust and charges of counselling misrepresentation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act made headlines at the time, complete with images of RCMP officers toting computer hard drives from his office.

Gavris said he is now looking at his legal options.

"Once they destroy and damage your reputation, you can't do anything," he said.

Gavris said he employed six to 10 people in his former business and at the time of his arrest had 500 open cases.

He said his clients, most of whom were applying for status from abroad, paid between $500 to $1,000 to retain his services, and about $3,000 in total.
He said he plans to return to his work as a registered immigration consultant.

Outside court, Chamberlain said he would not elaborate on the reasons why the case ended as it did.

But Gavris's lawyer, Eginhart Ehlers, said he had intended to argue that too much time had passed since his client's arrest, and after last-minute discussions with the Crown, the two sides agreed the case should end this way.

With no evidence called, a sole charge against Gavris was dismissed. Three former employees charged in the case had charges against them withdrawn at earlier stages of the case, said Ehlers.

One was expected to testify for the Crown.

Gavris said none of the delays in the case were due to him. Court heard how the RCMP held on to his computers for 17 months, during which time they tried without success to crack a sophisticated password and encryption system Gavris had created to protect his clients' personal information.

At no time did the Mounties ask for Gavris's help, and rather than copy and return the computer hard drives to Gavris, chose to keep them, a decision Khawly questioned in an earlier argument over disclosure issues.

When the computers were returned, Gavris told court he tried for months but couldn't crack his own elaborate password system, and experts also couldn't help him.

At the time of his arrest, the RCMP alleged among other things that an undercover officer posing as a married woman with a Trinidadian boyfriend approached the consultant about his immigrating to Canada.

Police alleged they were offered two routes: Pay a $1,500 charge for a refugee claim, or $5,000 for a marriage of convenience with a third party.

Counselling to fabricate a genuine marriage is illegal under the act. If found guilty, penalties range from no jail time up to a maximum of $50,000 fine and two years in jail.

After he was acquitted yesterday, Gavris chose not to address the specifics of the allegations with a reporter. "Our position from the very beginning was to vigorously defend ourselves," he said with his lawyer at his side. "Obviously, we were not (found) guilty of this."