The government’s decision to no longer require Romanian citizens to obtain travel visas before coming to Canada has led to a “noticeable increase” in organized crime activity, according to a declassified report obtained by Global News.
A Canada Border Services Agency Intelligence Advisory, obtained under the Access to Information Act, linked the growth of Romanian organized crime directly to the Trudeau government’s halting of the visa requirement six months ago.
“The lifting of the visa requirement for Romanian nationals on December 1, 2017, has precipitated a noticeable increase of the activities of Romanian-based Organized Crime Groups (ROCs) targeting Canada,” the report said.
Officials have already acknowledged that refugee claims by Romanian citizens have jumped since the government ended the visa requirement. In 2017, only nine Romanian refugee claims were successful. Since the new policy went into effect late last year, there have been more than 1,000 asylum claims.
But the report said it had also fueled organized crime.
“While a significant increase in the number of refugee claims by Romanian nationals has followed the lifting of the visa requirement for Romanian nationals, another tangible result has been a noticeable increase in the instances of members or associates of ROGs entering or attempting to enter Canada,” it said.
The February 2018 report, by the CBSA’s Intelligence Operations and Analysis Division, noted that Air Canada had announced plans to begin direct flights from Bucharest to Toronto and Montreal between June and October 2018.
WATCH: Trudeau said Ottawa is working with Romania to crack down on organized crime groups targeting Canada
Asked by the Conservatives about the Global News report during Question Period on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government was “very much engaged exactly on this issue.”
“We continue to work with the Romanian government to ensure that our system works. We’re in discussions with them right now to look at ways of ensuring that organized crime and others are not using and abusing Canada’s immigration system,” Trudeau said in response to a question from Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it was monitoring the situation and had introduced new entry requirements for Romanians. On June 5, the government announced that Romanian citizens who did not have electronic passports (which contain a chip used to verify the traveler’s identity) would have to obtain visas.
The visa requirement had been an irritant for the government of Romania, which called it a form of discrimination and hinted the country might withhold support for the Canada-European free trade agreement unless Ottawa ended it.
Rempel said she was concerned the Canadian government had halted the visa requirement without any strategy for dealing with the problems that prompted the previous government to put it in place.
She said the visa requirement was imposed not only because of a spike in refugee claims but also due to concerns about organized crime and its impact on public safety.
“I’m particularly concerned about sex trafficking in this context,” she said.
When the visa lift was announced in October 2016, the government said it was reserving the right to reimpose it “should irregular migration trends increase significantly” from Romania.
At a sitting of the immigration committee on May 31, a senior immigration official, Paul MacKinnon, would not disclose what it would take for Canada to once again require Romanians to obtain travel visas.
“There is a threshold in place, but out of respect for the relationship with Romania, the government is not releasing that threshold publicly,” he said.