Manager showed off jewelry she received from immigrant clients, fraud trial hears
By Matthew Pearson
A senior Citizenship and Immigration Canada manager broke the rules by accepting gifts from clients and ordering an underling to approve work permits for clients who had previously been denied, an Ottawa court heard Tuesday.
Samia Caron worked with Diane Serre at the Catherine Street immigration office from June 2002 until December 2004, when Serre was arrested.
Because she hadn’t been on the job long, Caron said she followed Serre’s direction when told in the summer of 2003 to reconsider a family’s file.
“I trusted she knew more than I did, so I did what I was told,” Caron said.
Serre is accused of teaming up with a man to take money from mostly Arab immigrants in exchange for fast-tracking their applications.
The Crown alleges the man, Issam Dakik, would meet with the applicants and collect the money before contacting Serre, who would use her influence as a supervisor at the immigration office.
Serre, 41, has pleaded not guilty to 28 charges, including multiple allegations of fraud against the government and breach of trust of a public official. She is also charged with one count of bribery.
Caron testified that she had refused a family’s application in April 2003.
Later that year, at a social gathering of colleagues — which occurred while Caron was on holidays — Serre brought up the family’s application and said Caron should have approved it.
Caron had refused the applicants because certain documents were missing, but Serre said she should have shown the clients “procedural fairness.”
Caron then revisited her decision not because she agreed with Serre, but because she was being told. Serre also told her not to charge the clients any further fees.
“I did what I was told, I revisited my decision and I reversed it,” she told the court, adding that, in her eyes, turning it down a second time would not have been an option.
Caron said she did not hear about the file until about a year later when she learned the case — and the officer who approved the permits — was under investigation.
She wasn’t personally investigated and suffered no consequences, she told the court, adding she still works for the immigration department.
Caron also told the court that Serre had once shown colleagues jewelry and perfume she’d received as gifts from clients for whom she helped obtain permanent residence in Canada.
Accepting gifts was contrary to the department’s code of conduct, Caron said.
“(Serre) told us not to say anything to anybody.”
Caron also claimed Serre had made off-the-cuff comments in the employee lunchroom about how much money employees could make off clients by doing favours for them.
On another occasion, Serre told colleagues she had $8,000 in cash stashed away at home.
The Crown played for the court three wiretapped phone conversations, during two of which a female identifies herself as calling from the “Department of Citizenship and Immigration.”
Caron — who worked with Serre for more than a year and spoke with her on a daily basis — identified one of the voices as that of her former boss, now seated in the front row of the courtroom.
The trial continues.