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Chinese company forged lawyer's name on immigration applications, B.C. court hears

The B.C. Supreme Court is seen in this image from Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. The B.C. Supreme Court is seen in this image from Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.
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A Chinese company that forged its Canadian lawyer's signature on dozens of immigration applications has been ordered to pay the lawyer $400,000 for breaching its contract with him.

The award represents $20,000 for each of 20 applications that were submitted with the forged signature, each of which was successful at securing Canadian residency for the applicant. Five other applications also bore the forged signature.

Ontario lawyer Lihua Bao brought the case against Welltrend United Consulting Inc., Beijing and various people associated with it in B.C. Supreme Court, despite the fraudulent applications being submitted to the province of Nova Scotia.

Justice F. Matthew Kirchner's decision, issued earlier this week and posted online Thursday, begins with a discussion of whether the B.C. court had jurisdiction to hear the case. 

Kirchner concluded that it did, relying primarily on the fact that the defendants hired a Vancouver-based lawyer and did not challenge the court's jurisdiction.

Bao brought the case in B.C., the court heard, because Welltrend Canada Consulting Inc. – a separate company with some ownership connections to the Beijing-based corporation – was incorporated in the province.

Though it initially hired counsel and participated in proceedings, Welltrend Beijing stopped communicating with the court system after its second lawyer withdrew in June 2022, according to the decision.

The trial proceeded without the participation of any of the defendants.

LAWYER HAD NEVER HEARD OF SUPPOSED CLIENTS

The applications in question were submitted to the Nova Scotia Nominee Program's Economic Stream, a program that awarded a $20,000 commission to successful applicants or their representatives.

Bao told the court he learned of the forged signatures when he was contacted by a representative of the Nova Scotia government looking to send him these commissions for five successful applications.

"Mr. Bao was surprised to receive these letters since he had never acted as a representative for any of Welltrend’s clients applying under the Nova Scotia program," Kirchner's decision reads.

"Nor had he ever heard of any of the five successful applicants named in the letters."

Though educated at the University of Windsor and a member of the Law Society of Ontario, Bao worked out of an office in Beijing from 1996 to 2021, according to the decision.

He worked primarily as an immigration lawyer, helping Chinese residents seeking permanent residency in Canada. The decision indicates he entered a contract with Welltrend Beijing in 2004 in which he agreed to represent the company's clients in their Canadian visa applications.

However, the agreement did not extend to applications made to provincial authorities, and Kirchner's decision notes that the company had asked him to do such work in the past, but balked at his asking price.

When Bao confronted Welltrend about the forged Nova Scotia applications, emails partially replicated in the court decision indicate the company denied forging his signature. It also sought to get Bao to accept the money from the province on its behalf.

"Welltrend has worked with you for more than 10 years and the cooperation has been smooth and pleasant to both sides," reads one such email, as quoted in the court document.

"Welltrend has never caused any difficulties or legal troubles for you. Now, Welltrend has indeed encountered difficulties in getting the commissions from the government of Nova Scotia. Therefore, we want the then lawyer (which is you) to get back the money to which Welltrend is entitled. Welltrend did its best and incurred huge costs helping these clients succeed in their immigration applications. Therefore, we strongly wish that you could understand the difficulties that Welltrend now faces and help Welltrend overcome the difficulties."

NEGOTIATIONS FAILED

While Bao maintained that he had never previously agreed to represent Welltrend clients at the provincial level, Kirchner's decision indicates that he and the company did negotiate an agreement under which he would take on clients with applications still pending and support whatever explanation the company submitted to Nova Scotia authorities.

The proposal would have seen him paid one million Yuan, which Kirchner notes was worth about $200,000 at the time, plus an additional $50,000 for any additional forged signatures that were discovered.

This agreement was never completed because, according to Bao as quoted in the court decision, the company did not "honour the offer."

"He did not disavow the offer or suggest it could not have led to a resolution of the matter but simply testified that Welltrend walked away from the discussions and the proposed agreement was not pursued," the decision reads.

Bao commenced his lawsuit shortly after the negotiations fell apart.

BREACH OF CONTRACT AND DAMAGES

While Bao accused Welltrend of conspiracy, fraud and unjust enrichment, the judge found no basis for ruling in his favour on any of these grounds.

Rather, Kirchner found that Welltrend had breached its contract with Bao.

"His agreement with Welltrend Beijing was limited to applications made directly to Immigration Canada and did not extend to any provincial program," the decision reads.

"It goes without saying that the contract does not permit Welltrend to forge Mr. Bao’s signature on any application, be it one to Immigration Canada and certainly not on one for a provincial program when Mr. Bao specifically declined to provide services for those types of applications because Welltrend did not want to pay the fee he demanded."

Bao sought the disgorgement of all of Welltrend Beijing's profits from the cases in question, an amount he claimed totalled more than $1.6 million, representing the $50,000 fee the company purportedly charged each of its 25 clients, plus $20,000 for each of the 20 applications for which a commission was paid.

Kirchner did not accept this approach, noting that the company's fees had not been confirmed and certainly would not have been pure profit, given the overhead costs of application fees and employee salaries.

Without the company's participation in the court case, estimating its actual profits would be impossible, the judge wrote.

Further, he determined that disgorgement would not be an appropriate remedy because it would not be proportionate to the economic value of the breach.

Kirchner also noted that Bao did not find Welltrend Beijing's conduct "so abhorrent" that he was unwilling to legitimize it through the proposed agreement that the company abandoned.

Similarly, the judge criticized Bao's practice of providing the company with signed blank applications for federal immigration matters.

"This does not excuse Welltrend Beijing for falsely identifying Mr. Bao as authorized immigration representative or forging his signature on application forms," Kirchner wrote.

"However, it does colour the extent of any harm Mr. Bao may have suffered by the improper use of his name. Although none of the impugned applications were signed in this manner, it should not be ignored that Mr. Bao’s actions likely contributed to an atmosphere in which Welltrend felt more at ease with forging his signature on the Nova Scotia applications than it might have otherwise."

In the end, the judge concluded that the appropriate penalty was $400,000, representing the $20,000 the government of Nova Scotia paid to Welltrend Beijing for each of the 20 successful applications that bore Bao's forged signature.  

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