The Progressive Conservative candidate for Brampton North is facing four lawsuits from former clients of his immigration consultancy business who allege he duped them out of tens of thousands of dollars, court documents show.
Four other ex-clients have also told QP Briefing that Ripudaman Dhillon convinced them to pay thousands of dollars up front for assistance in bringing friends and loved ones to Canada, only to see the immigration applications denied. They allege they were deceived about the immigration process, asked to make exorbitant payments and given success-or-money-back guarantees that Dhillon failed to honour.
After learning Dhillon was a candidate in the June 7 election, one former client decided to go public with his complaints, releasing a Facebook video warning his community about his experiences with the consultant.
Other past clients also expressed concerns about Dhillon’s entrance to politics in interviews with QP Briefing.
“This guy does business in a bad manner,” said Brampton resident Kanwaljit Kang. “Think about when he has power.”
The PC party said through a spokesperson it was aware of the lawsuits against Dhillon when it green-lit him as a potential PC candidate. “These concerns were reviewed by the Provincial Nominating Committee and the party was satisfied with the conclusion,” said spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman in an emailed statement. “Ripudaman Dhillon fully co-operated with the review and will be an excellent representative for the people of Brampton North.”
However, PC Leader Doug Ford, addressing the issue at a media event in Ottawa on Saturday, said he was personally unaware of the complaints against Dhillon but has faith in him as a candidate nonetheless.
“That’s actually the first time I’ve heard of that. But I’m proud of our team. I’m proud to move forward with 123 all-stars,” Ford said.
.@fordnotion names last remaining @OntarioPCParty candidate for Brampton's five ridings at a local rally on Friday. Ripudaman Dhillon (@ripudhillon_bn) will running in #Brampton North. Follow link to see all five candidates. pic.twitter.com/MQCYE5Uomp
— Brampton Guardian (@BmptGuardian) May 6, 2018
Dhillon has not responded to multiple emails and calls over the past few days from QP Briefing.
He is the latest would-be PC lawmaker to find himself embroiled in controversy. The second-last candidate to join the Tory slate, Dhillon won the nomination in Brampton North on April 28 after the previous candidate, Jass Johal, was dropped by Ford in March following a Globe and Mail story concerning a controversial financial arrangement with former PC leader Patrick Brown.
Dhillon's 11-year-old company, ICC Canada Immigration Solutions, is located in a Mississauga strip mall. It often charges clients up to $10,000 or more to process a work permit or permanent resident application for a relative or friend abroad, usually demanding as much as $5,000 up front and with at least one bill running up to $20,000, according to court documents and interviews.
Those prices are unusually high, says immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann.
“If they're charging $15,000, it better come with champagne and a limo from the airport,” Mamann said. “That's excessive by a factor of two or three.”
His firm charges about $5,000 for a successful permanent residence application, with a full refund if the consultant erred in the assessment. “And we're an up-rent firm...with experienced lawyers,” he said “Ten thousand would certainly be high in most routine permanent immigration applications...A $5,000 deposit is almost unheard of.”
Clients say they found themselves waiting months or even years after ICC took the first step of processing an application to a provincial trade body for certification, which could pave the way for entrance for work as a truck driver, plumber, bar bender and other jobs that clients sought for their relatives and friends.
Another common complaint from the dissatisfied ex-clients is that Dhillon and his company promised a positive result from the applications, backed up by a money-back guarantee that the company didn’t honour when the application process stalled or failed.
According to Mamann, ”it is considered unethical to guarantee a result — that's the first thing, because you can only guarantee what's in your control.”
He said consultants and lawyers can generally tell whether trade certification or a work permit application will go through based on applicants' documentation and credentials. “These days, it's very, very difficult to get a refusal that you didn't anticipate or that you didn't deserve,” he said.
Beyond the time and money spent, a faulty application can have “catastrophic consequences” for people’s lives.
“Misrepresenting, or even a typo, can result in a two-year ban on applying for permanent residence,” he said.
Shoddy and unethical work is all-too common in the field, Mamann added. “I'll be honest with you, our industry is plagued with charlatans and inexperienced people.”
The company has filed statements of defence in the four cases disputing the allegations.
Dhillon has also been the subject of at least three complaints to the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, two of which proceeded to the discipline committee, with decisions pending, according to court documents and interviews.
A complaints committee panel decision from April 2016 states that “there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Member may have committed infractions” against the industry's professional code of ethics.
Meanwhile, the PCs’ political opponents expressed concerned about the party’s handling of the allegations against Dhillon.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne told QP Briefing on Saturday that Ford “will have to answer” for the Tory nomination committee's decision to greenlight him as a candidate.
“What on earth is their vetting process? What on earth went through the minds of the people who signed off on a candidate with that history, that present, to say that it was okay for them to run for a major party in the province?” Wynne asked.
“Such a person with that kind of history would not have passed the vetting in our party,” she added.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the allegations “very disturbing.”
“It raises more questions than answers about what the PCs' process is and also what Mr. Ford is prepared to allow to pass as appropriate for his candidates.
“You have police investigations by three different police forces into Mr. Ford's candidates,” she said, referring to unrelated controversies concerning the party. “You've got the nomination scandals in a number of different ridings, unanswered questions around the 407 data and how that's been used or may still be being used by candidates.”
The first of the four lawsuits against Dhillon alleges breach of contract, “unjust enrichment” — when a person benefits at another’s expense — and “negligent/fraudulent misrepresentation."
The plaintiff, Ram Mahay, states the defendants — Dhillon, ICC, and three others associated with the company — charged him $14,500 to process two work permit applications. The processing went no further than obtaining permission to write a trade certification exam, according to the statement of claim from August 2017.
“ICC provided no immigration services to the plaintiff at all,” the lawsuit states. It says the plaintiff signed retainer agreements that the company never provided a copy of, an accusation common to all the former clients QP Briefing spoke with.
The defence documents state: “We disagree with all the allegations. All the evidence and supporting documents will be produced before the [court].” A hearing is slated for later this month.
Kang, the Bramptonian who said he's worried about Dhillon having political power, said he paid Dhillon’s company $6,700.
Kang, 44, heard ads for ICC on a local Punjabi radio program in 2013. He sat down with Dhillon and other defendants to discuss how to help his brother’s family immigrate from near Jalandher in Punjab, where the would-be Canadian worked as a crop farmer.
ICC suggested a path to permanent residence through student visas for Kang’s two nephews and a farming business investor stream through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program for his brother and sister-in-law.
“[Dhillon] said, ‘I will take $15,000 in total until they arrive. But you have to pay $6,000 before we start,’ ” said Kang, who now lives with his wife and two children in Caledon and runs a dump-truck business.
Kang said he paid that plus a $700 fee, handing over a $6,700 cheque along with passport photocopies and his brother’s personal and bank information in 2013.
After going 10 months without hearing from ICC, he became suspicious.
“So I start calling them day after day…We’re working on your file.’ ” Eventually he was told his brother’s application was denied.
“I said fine. If it’s denied, that’s okay, reasonable....so take your money for filling out the application and submitting it and return my money back. That’s what they promised me at the beginning. ‘If that didn’t go through, your money will be back. Fully.’ ”
Kang said the promise was verbal. “I was so anxious to look at the program as my whole family’s going to be here with this kind of money. And I wasn’t much thinking about the way they were providing.”
ICC refused to give back the $6,000 Kang was requesting, he said. In 2014, he arrived with two-dozen men at the company to demand his cash back. The police were called, though he insists he didn’t mean it as a threat, but rather to show he would spread word of the alleged injustice.
Kang has since changed his driving route to temple so as not to see his office on the way. “Every time I go by his office my face gets red.”
After hearing an ad for ICC on a Punjabi radio program, Brampton resident Chandulal Patel contacted ICC in 2013 to handle his brother-in-law’s immigration process. Last November, he launched a lawsuit against Dhillon, ICC, a co-director and an employee for $11,600 that alleges “fraud, deceit, dishonesty.”
“The defendant asked the plaintiff to sign few documents 3 to 4 times without disclosing him the contents of the documents. None of the documents signed by the plaintiff were given to him,” the lawsuit states, in a claim common to all the clients QP Briefing spoke with.
“The defendants demanded $20,000 from the plaintiff and the assurance of his brother in law’s immigration application being approved and he be allowed to enter Canada,” according to the statement of claim. It goes on to list “false assurance” of services to be completed, constant “delay tactics” and periodic demands for pricey payments.
“The defendant first said that they would arrange for work permit for the plaintiffs [sic] brother in law and then delayed the matter for nearly two years without doing anything,” the lawsuit alleges.
After temporary resident visa applications were rejected in February and May in 2016, the defendants “called him over the phone and demanded money.”
The suit claims Dhillon and his company were “hiding the facts of immigration procedure and process and the eligibility of the program” and “charged the client money...for the work not done.”
The statement of defence reads, “First and foremost, the plaintiff is confused.” It says ICC was seeking permanent residence for Patel's brother-in-law, not work permits, which allow temporary residence.
Discrepancies over what service was being rendered is common to several of the cases.
ICC's response cites a trade credentials evaluation in Alberta submitted within 6 months, “as opposed to plaintiff’s statement that no work was done for 2 years.” It also alleges Patel failed to pay for obtaining work permits.
”Plaintiff Chandulal Patel is of the opinion that ICC should work for free and should not charge any amount for the hours spent on the applications.”
The response nonetheless says a $3,000 refund would be appropriate.
Brampton resident Naunihal Kalkat sought Dhillon's assistance to bring his nephew over from Qatar for work in construction in 2010, paying him more than $11,000 in cash and cheques to process visa applications over several years, he said.
“But they never filed, they always ask, every year, every one-and-a-half years, 'We can close this file and we can issue another file...You can bring some more money and we’ll open another file.'
“I don’t want him as an MPP,” Kalkat told QP Briefing. “These guys are not good guys.”
He filed a lawsuit in March demanding $7,000.
A defence statement says that ICC will pay $4,000 to Kalkat if he withdraws a regulatory complaint he filed in 2016 and signs a full release.
Former client Balwinder Cheema laid out his experience with Dhillon in a video he posted to Facebook on May 28 after learning Dhillon was running for office. The recording, which had 10,000 views as of Sunday evening, states he paid ICC $5,000 in August 2013 to process an application for Cheema’s friend to immigrate to Canada from Dubai.
“You bring these guys forward, then they will loot us,” says Cheema in video. “If these types of people ask for votes, we should be forcibly pushing them out.” (Two fluently bilingual speakers of Punjabi and English confirmed the translation of portions of the recording.)
Cheema, 55, claims Dhillon and several colleagues at ICC promised that his friend would be on Canadian soil within a year or the bulk of his money back. Cheema said he signed a contract, but did not receive a copy.
Cheema, now a truck driver in Barrie, paid the $5,000 on Aug., 6, 2013, according to a Visa statement seen by QP Briefing. He said he waited 11 months but heard nothing from Dhillon. He spoke with ICC in summer 2014. “They said, give us four months more...After those four months, they made excuses and asked for four more months.”
After 19 months in total had passed, Cheema went into the office again, and was told by Dhillon that they could facilitate his friend’s immigration but first needed another $5,000. Cheema walked away.
Another ex-client, Palwinder Bhella, a 40-year-old truck driver who lives with his family in Brampton, went to Dhillon to help his cousin attain permanent residence in Canada for work as a plumber. Bhella signed a cheque for $5,000 on Sept. 12, 2016, to kick off the process.
Bhella said Dhillon told him, ‘If your work is done, then I will charge you $5,000; if your work is not complete or successful, then I will return all $5,000.’ ” A copy of the retainer agreement was never sent, Bhella said.
The application was rejected. ICC eventually agreed to return half of the payment.
“I said, ‘I showed you all certificates before you sent the application. If the skill is insufficient, why did you send the application?’ ”
“I think he would not give us any good service,” Bhella said of Dhillon's candidacy. “We are citizens here; he cheated us.”
Another complaint comes from Sudhir Kumar, who said he paid $10,600 to Dhillon's company to help his cousin in India obtain a work permit and find employment in Canada as a truck driver in 2014.
He said he never received a copy of the retainer agreement he signed. He trusted them. "In the beginning, they made me feel like a family. 'The case is very strong.' " Ultimately, however, Kumar demanded his money back after years passed without a work permit being secured. ICC refunded him $5,600, he said.
“From 1980 to 2014, my relations with my family were very good. Now, my relations are very bad,” he said, claiming family members lost money.
-with files from Jessica Smith Cross and David Hains