Citizenship officer who stole from newcomers apologizes
Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012 7:08PM EDT
A Citizenship and Immigration officer who admitted to taking money from newcomers in exchange for false promises of permanent residency in Canada apologized in a Toronto court Tuesday.
“It was a gift that I was given, and I misused it,” George Gonsalves-Barriero told reporters outside the courtroom.
The apology comes after Gonsalves-Barriero admitted to phoning potential immigrants whose cases he was working on and arranging meetings in secret locations to exchange money in return for a promise of permanent residency.
Gonsalves-Barriero worked exclusively with immigrants who were trying to come to Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
These actions came after Gonsalves-Barriero took an oath vowing not to breach trust and authority in his role.
Among Gonsalves-Barriero’s victims were a husband and wife from Trinidad and Tobago who used the savings they had earmarked for their son's education to pay a $4,000 bribe.
There was also a Brazilian victim, who Gonsalves-Barriero asked for $2,000.
"I always have been a positive person but after all that experience my belief in the human beings has changed a great deal,” the victim said in an impact statement. “If someone working for the government can attempt to get money out of me, who else can try as well?"
Crown Attorney Ken Lockhart said that Gonsalves-Barriero exploited his victims’ vulnerable situation.
"Mr. Gonsalves-Barriero opportunistically took advantage of those most vulnerable, of those who wanted to join what we know to be a wonderful community and a wonderful country,” Lockhart told the court. "This is an offense that strikes at the core of what it means to be Canadian."
Gonsalves-Barriero was once in the same position as his victims. He came to Canada from Antigua as a teenager.
“Yes, yes I can relate to it and that's what makes it very difficult for me,” he said outside the courtroom.
A tearful Gonsalves-Barriero told the court he was sorry.
“Part of my healing has to do with owning up to it and facing it, so that I can move on as much as a 55-year-old can,” he said.
While employed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Gonsalves-Barriero made an annual salary of $59,000 per year, plus benefits.
Gonsalves-Barriero said he has suffered from anxiety and depression since he was charged two years ago.
His lawyer is asking for a sentence of two years of jail time. The Crown is pushing for four years.
The judge will make her decision on Sept. 20.
With files from CTV Toronto’s Tamara Cherry