On one hand, immigration lawyers must provide zealous representation. On the other hand, everyone must follow the law. Former immigration lawyer Balrah Singh Bhatti did not understand the second part. He has been charged and convicted of 17 criminal offences, including forgery. He has been suspended by the Law Society and, I expect, he will be disbarred.
Counts 1 to 3 and 5 through 10 charge the Criminal Code forgery and uttering offences in (b) and (b) respectively. These offences were committed when Mr. Bhatti forged notes from his family physician at the time, asserting either that he or his client was not well and was unable to attend for a scheduled hearing before the IRB. Mr. Bhatti then submitted these forged notes to the IRB in support of applications to adjourn a number of hearings which had been set down for several of his clients.
Clearly, the acts committed by Mr Bhatti are wrong and illegal. As an Officer of the Court, lawyers have a duty and responsibility to act in the best interests of the legal system as a whole while, at the same time, acting in the best interests of the client.
2.1-1 A lawyer has a duty to carry on the practice of law and discharge all responsibilities to clients, tribunals, the public and other members of the profession honourably and with integrity.
The above is described further:
Public confidence in the administration of justice and in the legal profession may be eroded by a lawyer’s irresponsible conduct. Accordingly, a lawyer’s conduct should reflect favourably on the legal profession, inspire the confidence, respect and trust of clients and of the community, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Indeed, this type of case puts the whole system in question and undermines public confidence in the legal profession.
The Public Interest test
In this case, the judge considered the joint submissions to the Court and opted to follow the SCC precedent regarding the “public interest” test:
In Anthony-Cook, the Supreme Court of Canada considered and rejected a “fitness test” for joint submissions; the court came down in favour of a “public interest” test. The public interest test requires that trial judges “should not depart from a joint submission unless the proposed sentence would bring the administration into disrepute, or is otherwise not in the public interest.” A joint submission will bring the administration of justice into disrepute or be contrary to the public interest if, despite the public interest considerations that support imposing it, it is so “markedly out of line with the expectations of reasonable persons aware of the circumstances of the case that they would view it as a break down in the proper functioning of the criminal justice system.” The court concluded that the public interest test, as distinct from the fitness test, “helps to keep trial judges focused on the unique considerations that apply when assessing the acceptability of a joint submission”, including the importance of promoting certainty in resolution discussions.
Sentencing by the Criminal Court
In mid-June 2021, Dahak entered guilty pleas and received a conditional sentence of two years less a day with conditions that included house arrest for the first eight months, a curfew for the next eight months and 100 community work hours. He was also fined $14,000.
As a practitioner, this news is deeply troubling. I have never met Mr Bhatti nor any members of his family or his business. From the documents, it appears that he was motivated to try to help his clients; however, he was completely misguided. He committed numerous criminal acts during the course of his practice and it does not appear as though he did so for personal gain. In the end, he will suffer for his crimes. His family will suffer and his former clients will suffer.
Regarding his former clients:
The CBSA said in 2020 that most of the claimants from Bhatti and Dahak’s offences were found not to be refugees and were removed from Canada.
Therefore, it seems that, despite the fraudulent documents, he did not even help those people.