How to immigrate to Canada if you're a polygamist -

How to immigrate to Canada if you’re a polygamist

We don’t approve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in


Mohammad Shafia leaves the holding cell at the Frontenac county courthouse in Kingston, Ontario on Dec. 8, 2011. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

Canadian courts and legislatures might be standing firm against polygamy, but our immigration authorities appear to have a more, shall we say, accommodating view of the practice.

People in multiple marriages are not automatically excluded from residency in Canada, according to documents obtained by Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer and access-to-information wizard. They just need to “convert” their first marriage into a monogamous one. How? It’s no more complicated than arriving with the first spouse and telling immigration officials you plan to live together in monogamy.

Here’s what a policy memo, approved by Dawn Edlund, an associate assistant deputy minister at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and circulated among top immigration officials, says:

A polygamous marriage can be converted into a monogamous marriage provided that the couple live together in a monogamous relationship from the time of arrival in Canada. This conversion is effected by the stated intention of the parties to so convert their marriage, followed by some factual evidence that they have complied.

What factual evidence is necessary the note doesn’t say, but here’s how the process works:

A foreign national who is practicing polygamy in their country of origin, albeit legally, who applies to immigrate to Canada is informed that polygamy is illegal in Canada. They are also told that they may only include one spouse in their application and that it must be their first spouse in order to satisfy the IRPR requirements. Under Canadian law, all other marriages after the first are illegal. For this reason, the first spouse only may enter Canada on a permanent basis, which thereby creates a monogamous marriage.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say the applicant would rather settle down instead with his second or third spouse? Difficult, but not impossible:

If a husband wishes to sponsor a wife other than his first as a spouse, he must divorce his other wives and remarry the chosen wife in a form of marriage that is valid in Canada. He and his chosen spouse must sign a declaration to that effect.

Ah, a declaration. Well in that case …

Not to be cynical, but it’s easy to see how someone like, say, Mohammad Shafia could flaunt these rules by simply lying as to the number of his marriages, or who his first wife is, and bring more than one into the country. When the Shafia clan immigrated to Canada in 2007, Mohammad declared only one wife on his paperwork: Tooba Mohammad Yahya, his second bride. His first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, arrived months later on a visitor’s visa; Shafia told immigration authorities she was his cousin.

Also, sharp eyes will notice a contradiction between these guidelines and longstanding immigration policy in Canada. Polygamy is considered a crime in Canada. Criminality is supposed to exclude you from eligibility for residency. As Kurland put it in an email to me this morning: “Who lets the CIC choose the sections of Canada’s Criminal Code to ignore?”

Evidently, the policy recognizes the legality of polygamy in some countries, such as Jordan, Iraq and Syria, allowing for people to adjust their living arrangements so they comply with Canadian law. Our flexibility is this regard is remarkable: children from marriages other than the applicant’s first, for instance, can come along as dependents to Canada, provided the other parent confirms they were not abducted.

Depending on your outlook, I guess this all makes us either sophisticated, cosmopolitan and nuanced—or credulous to a fault.

Memo to Citizenship and Immigration employees on polygamy


How to immigrate to Canada if you’re a polygamist

  1. Either make polygamy legal, or stop importing ‘cousins’.

    • I suspect ‘cousin’ is accurate for many a polygamist wife.

      • You can marry cousins in NA as well.

        • Your first hand knowledge of that little tidbit explains much about your behavior.

          • LOL it’s common knowledge.

            Einstein was married to his first cousin. So was Darwin. Didn’t you know that?

          • One who was all about eating the weak, and the other about a form of technology designed to end humanity en masse.

            (both..socially awkward)


          • No, I said Einstein and Darwin. Einstein never invented any technology and Darwin never recommended eating anyone….you must mean Jonathan Swift…who never married at all.

            Of course if you’re referring to marrying first cousins there is also Queen Victoria, Roosevelt, Bach, Thomas Jefferson……..

        • But we frown on it and poke fun at it.

          • Ignorance is everywhere.

          • Its extreme cowardess, weakness, and anti social behaviour.

            Of course we berate it.

      • I would not even doubt there has been cases where the father is also the grandfather which is also the uncle of the mother.

        It would be a huge problem in any small community anywhere. If you took just 50 people, 25 men and 25 women, inside of 4 generations everyone is related to everyone.

        If you had 1000 people, it would take just 10 generations.

        In theory, to avoid genetic issues I have read that for mankind to go to another planet to settle would take at least 50,000 diverse non related people to avoid genetic issues and it would require mating to be screened to avoid issues.

        Yep, if we had to abandoned earth for human survival, you would take no related people to maximize the genetic transfer.

        • If you’re a christian you believe we’re all interbred anyway.

  2. While you’re sounding the old aliens are coming alarms, maybe you’d be interested in a different immigration scandal of much larger proportion:

    According to a quite even-handed interview with the UNHCR commissioner in Jordan on As it Happens last night, Canada plans to offer re-settlement to 200 refugees from the Syrian conflict and allow third parties to sponsor up to another 1000. Now settlement might not even be the thing that’s needed — money for the countries handling the influx, and relaxing visa duration for Syrians already in Canada would also seem to be a good idea — but so far Canada’s formal response has been pitiful.

    Given that 2.1 million refugees are already in neighbouring countries and up to 7.1 million Syrians are displaced internally; shouldn’t a G20 country that talks big about peace in the Middle East do something to help “stabilize the region?”

    Why is that we can only spend lots of money when we’re blowing shit up? Where is the Canadian response commensurate with the scale of the need?

  3. Does barring criminals from immigrating to Canada include people who aren’t actually breaking the law in their own country? It seems like we are letting law abiding citizens of other countries apply for immigration as long as they adopt to Canadian law (a law which may yet turn out to be unconstitutional, btw).

    Also, the author’s “it’s no more complicated than…” spiel seems to overlook the fact that he is describing committing fraud. While I don’t have numbers on the success rate of such ploys (I doubt such numbers can even be known), it’s generally not an easy-peasy matter to outwit immigration officials, certainly not a matte of “just dont’ say they’re your wife and you can bring over as many as you want!”

    lastly, it’s worth noting one of the holes in the polygomous marriage case was that the judge was forced to admit that if there were not multiple marraige ceremonies going on, the claimants could have lived as they were without breaking the criminal code. in fact, i would guess a polygomous spouse who divorced all partners but one abroad in preparation to immigrate to Canada, did so, was able to sponsor his remaining wives legitimately (which would be the problem because they wouldn’t be family anymore) or whose wives immigrated themselves, then took up their old arrangement without any new marriage ceremony, would not be breaking the law at all.

    • And shame on the author for being aghast that someone can bring THEIR OWN CHILD to Canada as a dependent. yeesh.

      • Welfare pays well for future taxpayers, sorry – kids.

  4. Sounds like the lawyers have found a new gray area that they can use to make money a thte expense of society as a whole.

  5. Couldn’t they just settle in Bountiful BC?

  6. Mulroney created this mess, when he listened to the financial and real estate lobbies–who want warm bodies at any cost, to sustain real estate demand. Mulroney’s PCs set the annual ‘target’ of over a quarter million, which, by necessity, included the dregs of the third world, like Mr Shafia. You will also note that Mohamed Shafia is a so-called Investor.Entrepreneur immigrant, a category conceived by the [Progressive] Conservatives. And the new/old Conservatives have expanded mass immigration, by tacking on over 300,000 ‘temporary’ (Canada has no exit visas, hence no way of enforcing the terms of temporary visas) migrants, including lots of plural-marrying types. They can’t keep blaming this on Trudeau. As usual, Bay Street and other lobbies set government policy, including immigration. And, as David Suzuki recently discovered, immigration is a forbidden topic of discussion.

    • Yep. Everyone blames Trudeau. In fact, he ran a sensible immigration policy. Intake rose and fell with employment and economic growth. In his last full year as PM (1983) Canada took in less than 100,000 newcomers. Mulroney abandoned that formula with a target of 0.5% of the population each year, and that soon became a sacred cow. We kept that number right through the grinding recession of 1990-93, and the results are there for everyone to see. Immigrants no longer enjoy the same success levels they once did 20 years after arriving here.

      • Which is too bad, since they’ll be the ones paying for your retirement.

        • That’s the way it was supposed to work. And had we allowed more reasonable numbers, likely they would have been more successful too.

          • They’re also the ones having children.

        • Since, due to competition with globalized rates and the race to see who can go the lowest; you now cannot afford to pay it yourself, and now “must” rely more on the Government CPP (with none of your own investment going towards your lifestyle…*cough*..or your own CPP for that matter).

  7. This has been known for years. There was something of a “scandal” back in 2006 when the Sun papers found out that some recent immigrants had been allowed to sponsor up to four wives, and collect social assistance for all four of them, since in their culture the women weren’t allowed to handle money. When confronted with this, McGuinty admitted that yes, the ON government was allowing them to collect welfare for up to four wives, “But we have a very strict limit of 4.” (I’m not making this up.) He also stated that it only applied to those who had been married to multiple wives before immigrating, and that they couldn’t just decide to just take on more wives once they got here, since that is in violation of Canadian law. Say what you want about McGuinty, but he was tough.

    • Muslims are allowed 4 wives.

      • No doubt his “strict limit” was chosen with that in mind, and only after careful consultation with affected stakeholders.

        • ????? It’s the only number he had

      • why not change to only one wife period.

        • Because that’s a religious idea and not everyone on the planet believes and lives as you do.

  8. Second time trying to post this:
    I think it’s disgraceful that a writer for a national magazine like Macleans does not know the difference between “flaunt” and “flout”.

  9. if you want to come in canada learn to respect canadien rules.not try bring your rules.everyones are equal.

  10. So; you dont approve, but you’re gonna share the secret to doing it.


  11. Easy, just don’t admit to being a polygamist. If known to be one, change your name in advance and keep the new name a secret. But when appropriate, say you want to start a family in Canada so we have future taxpayers and you get the golden ride in.

  12. But on a serious note, the practice does need to cease. Polygamy can create nasty genetic problems down the road and I doubt these “prophets” will be around to pay the price and there is nothing that can be done to fix these genetic problems once they erupt.

    Part of how polygamy got started is in times of large losses of men to war or poverty and bad economic times. The idea was to repopulate fast and if 60% of the men were dead in war, having one male have 3 families was a quick 20 year comeback in population. But we have no need for population growth from war.

    The real issue is the suffering and costs of who is going to take care of inbreed breeding problems? It does not take that many generations and it will become a huge social support issue.

    So for that reason, if we had leaders, the polygamy practices would be slammed hard, even with long term jail time.

    • Polygamy is traditional marriage and has been around for thousands of years.

      • Only among the ones who do not want to evolve..and who care nothing about overpopulating earth. You know- the stupid, ignorant ones.

        • I think adults should be free to choose their own life, don’t you?

          • Not on my dollar they shouldn’t. Who do you think supplies the tax revenue that pays for all of these people to sit around having kids and collecting child tax benefit cheques. OK, want to be free to have multiple wives and 20 children, no problem… sign here: it says that you forfeit welfare and the child tax benefits.

  13. I didn’t know it was illegal in Canada. I watch the show Sister Wives on tv. But I suppose they are of one type of polygamist family. I don’t see anything wrong with the way they live. At the same time there are many polygamist families that don’t live like they do and the way they live can be harmful.

  14. This is such garbage. If you declare that you have multiple wives you should be denied entry to Canada. If you are suspected of doing it secretly after the fact – deportation. The thought of these men bringing over multiple wives and then getting each of them on the dole is infuriating. In whose hands do you think the money will end up?