Few people in Montreal’s Indian community don’t know Daljit Singh Kalkat.
Until Sunday he was the president of the India Canada Organization, which organizes the city’s annual India Independence Day parade in August — “the only secular parade!” as it is often touted.
Several people allege he also works as an immigration consultant, though he has never been certified as such. He runs his business out of an apartment in Park Ex, but has friends in high places.
Among his Facebook friends, for example, are MP Maxime Bernier, Barbara Pisani — a senior regional adviser to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, and president of Union Montreal — and Mary Deros, a long-time city councillor for Park Extension.
Kalkat has even rubbed shoulders with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who personally thanked Kalkat for his role in setting up the celebration of Eid on Parliament Hill last November.
But what some people might not know about him is that his real name is Baljit Singh Wadyal, and before he came to Canada he spent years in the United States, leaving only after serving a jail sentence of four years for trafficking one kilogram of heroine.
As the Harper government continues its crackdown on immigration fraud, slapping a visa requirement on several Caribbean and African countries, and investigating more than 3,000 cases of people pretending to live in Canada to obtain citizenship, some are wondering whether it has the right priorities.
Kalkat/Wadyal has been hiding in plain sight.
According to documents obtained by The Gazette, authorities first discovered Kalkat’s true identity in 2006. A native of India, Kalkat arrived in Canada in 1994, claiming refugee status, which he was granted in 1995. But in 2006, he was arrested by Montreal police and charged with uttering threats. That’s when they took his fingerprints and matched them to Wadyal, who had been convicted in the United States for trafficking heroin.
The Immigration and Refugee Board, at the request of the minister of public safety, reopened his refugee claim in 2009. Given that Kalkat, who admitted his real name was Wadyal, was already in the United States at the time he claimed he was being persecuted in India, an IRB panel ruled in 2010 that his refugee status should be annulled.
He asked for leave to appeal that decision in the Federal Court, and was denied in July, 2010.
“I am very concerned about someone hiding his identity who is a criminal,” says Minakshi Arora, an immigration consultant with an office on Jean Talon St., who also lives in the same building as Kalkat. “Most of the community knows about him.”
Arora says she has several clients who transferred their immigration files to her from Kalkat.
And yet Kalkat remained president of the ICO until this week. Even after the Canada Border Services Agency raided his office in May.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Kalkat denied working as an immigration consultant, and said his troubles with the law were in the past.
“Whatever happened was 20 or 30 years ago,” Kalkat said. “I paid the time, the file is closed.”
He would not say whether a deportation order had been issued for him. He is married to a Canadian citizen.
“Why don’t you look at the good things I have done for the last 12 years,” Kalkat said. “I’ve worked so hard for the community, to give the best message of unity.”
The problem is with his credibility, says the acting president of the ICO, Naseer Mehdi Khan — and that’s dividing the community.
“Everyone was so shocked, and we were all so affected, too,” said Khan, at city hall Wednesday night to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. “He always took the stage and spoke for us … We don’t want a criminal representing us. He agreed to step down three years ago, but then he didn’t.”
Manjeet Singh Atthwal, the publisher of the Desi Times, a weekly English and Punjabi language newspaper in Montreal, said it’s time for Kalkat to come clean.
“The community tries to resolve these things amicably among themselves, but now it’s a question of credibility,” Singh Atthwal said. “Given the evidence presented in court against him, (Kalkat) has to come forward and explain himself.”
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says it’s time for the federal government to step in. He believes the immigration department is practising a double standard, cracking down on some forms of fraud, but letting others slide. According to the federal immigration department, there were more than 11,000 failed refugee claimants removed in 2011, up from almost 9,000 in 2004.
“This is the government that prides itself on introducing law and order in immigration yet allows multi-year lingering of drug traffickers,” said Kurland, who is also the editor of LexBase, a monthly newsletter on immigration issues. “Why is (Kalkat) not on the next plane leaving Trudeau airport?”
Given that the immigration department only rescinded Kalkat’s refugee status in 2010, the two year delay for removal is not unusual, Kurland said, especially if there is trouble getting a travel document for him from India.
Then again it’s rare for a minister to reopen a refugee case — only 24 people had their refugee status “vacated” in 2011 — and such a case as Kalkat’s would surely be flagged to the minister, or at least his aides, as a potentially high-profile matter, Kurland said.
“Immigration officials clearly knew about this case. The question was did they pass this information on to the minister?”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney would not comment on the case, said his press attaché, Alexis Pavlich, citing privacy considerations.
In a letter to Raman Chopra, a member of the community who wrote to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews about Kalkat, Toews in September said he passed on information regarding Kalkat to the CBSA. In the future, Toews added, Chopra should call the CBSA watchline to report suspicious cross-border activity or violations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Chopra, whose wife ran as a candidate in the last federal election for the Conservative Party, believes the government is being hypocritical in its approach, and should act faster, especially with fraudsters in their midst.
“They’re making these huge announcements (about cracking down on immigration fraud) and look who they’re surrounding themselves with … He says he’s Kalkat, he says he’s Wadyal. Who was he in India?”