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A Chinese woman aggravating to accretion abiding abode in Canada through the acquirement of a assemblage in a broad basic on the outskirts of Regina begin herself bent in a circuitous web of apocryphal promises and arguable practices.
Amber Zhang, a 45-year-old Chinese national, says in aboriginal 2017 she was abiding to buy into the Global Trade and Exhibition Centre (GTEC), in allotment because it has been agilely acknowledgment by the Saskatchewan government.
She planned to accessible a broad abundance in GTEC affairs aegis articles which her clearing consultant, Vancouver-based Global Fortune told her would advance to abiding residency.
Zhang said her adviser told her she wouldn’t alike acquire to alive in Saskatchewan or alone run the business. She said a adumbrative of the GTEC developer, Brightenview International, promised the aforementioned thing.
However, an adjustment like that is adjoin the rules. The ambitious class of the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Affairs (SINP) requires applicants to actively run their own business and alive in the province.
Zhang said her aplomb was additional by Global Fortune’s online advertising, which declared GTEC as a “‘Zero Risk’ Advance Clearing Project” that is “government-recommended.”
Zhang said Global Fortune’s owner, Wenda (Tony) Yang told her, “Because this activity is accurate by the government, it cannot be refused.”
In an email to CBC, Saskatoon advocate Clara Bitzer, who has formed on several GTEC-related clearing files including Zhang’s, said the activity was “wholeheartedly accustomed by the government of Saskatchewan which went out of its way to animate these applications.”
The government’s abutment of this activity comforted Zhang. On March 17, 2017, Zhang paid Global Fortune $80,000 for her clearing appliance and paid Brightenview a 50 percent drop on a $250,000 assemblage in the broad mall.
Zhang’s arrangement with Brightenview said if her appliance was alone by Clearing Canada, she would acquire a abounding acquittance of her deposit.
Her clearing appliance was denied beforehand this year. Instead of accepting a refund, Zhang begin herself in a web of business relationships that fabricated it difficult to amount out what was accident with her book and her money.
“I begin this activity to be a big scam,” Zhang wrote to CBC beforehand this year.
Zhang said she has filed a complaint about Global Fortune to the Clearing Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC). She is additionally because filing a accusation adjoin Brightenview with added barter gluttonous refunds.
Zhang said she basic to do an annual with CBC for two reasons: to burden Brightenview to accord her a acquittance and to action a accessible warning.
“I appetite added bodies to apperceive it so they will not advance in this project,” Zhang told CBC in a buzz annual from China, through a translator. “I don’t appetite to see added bodies deceived.”
According to the government of Saskatchewan’s website, SINP’s business-focused clearing affairs is “designed to allure ambitious aptitude to the province.”
Brightenview says its GTEC activity is aimed at accomplishing aloof that.
The aggregation says its 80,000 aboveboard bottom architecture at the GTH has 120 units that will anon be broad food assuming off a advanced ambit of Chinese fabricated articles from adorableness food to home advance articles to auto parts. Virtually every abundance will be run by a Chinese civic acquisitive their business will authorize them for Canadian abiding residency.
Brightenview says GTEC is modelled afterwards berserk acknowledged broad markets in China. One of them, Yi Wu abreast Shanghai, is billed as the better bazaar of baby broad bolt in the world, featuring tens of bags of suppliers. Buyers from a advanced ambit of industries fly from all over the apple to boutique there.
As of aboriginal October, about 50 of GTEC’s 120 units were up and running.
For example, GTEC hosts an auto genitalia abundance affairs Suzuki products. The company’s website addendum it “has consistently been in acceptable faith, innovation, professional, annual to win the assurance of customers. Several years of auto genitalia industry, we acquire too abundant harvest.”
The website appearance exoteric car genitalia with alien names like Garnish, Ghuard and Granis. It additionally appearance more-standard articles like anchor pads and oil filters.
Another of the businesses, a adorableness accumulation company, says on its Facebook page, “We are a banker which acquire crew supplies, aboriginal aid kit and ginseng. Welcome to visit!!!”
The folio appearance several pictures of aboriginal aid kits but no adorableness accumulation products. A CBC anchorman visited the abundance and additionally saw combs, brushes and capes.
Brightenview says this basic will allure broad buyers from beyond North America. The company’s Lorne Nystrom, a above NDP MP, explained the abstraction in a YouTube video about a antecedent abundance of the project.
“So instead of aerial to China to Shanghai, Beijing or abroad the centre will accredit North American wholesalers, retailers, contractors to admission the Chinese branch absolute products,” he said.
Richard Kurland, a British Columbia-based clearing advocate and the editor of Lexbase, a annual clearing publication, said the accomplished apriorism of this basic is flawed.
He said these sorts of clearing projects acquire been accustomed and alone in added ambit over the years.
“Hindsight shows that the archetypal delivered absolute acreage allowances to absolute acreage developers but little or no absolute allowances for bigoted clearing programs,” Kurland said.
He said the botheration is they bootless to authorize real, abiding businesses in the abate ambit breadth they were built.
“Typically, the immigrant trampolines to a British Columbia or Ontario and takes their purse with them,” he said.
Kurland said temporary, industry-specific markets like appearance or agronomical shows do able-bodied in cities with close populations like Vancouver, but he said a abiding broad bazaar in a abate burghal like Regina is untenable.
“If it was advised to be, ‘If you body it they will come,’ it’s not and they won’t,” Kurland said.
When CBC journalists visited GTEC and canvassed vendors, they were consistently told business is absolute apathetic and there is not abundant traffic. Over the advance of several visits, journalists didn’t atom a distinct chump in GTEC.
CBC asked the buyer of one of the shops how abounding barter she sees in an boilerplate day.
“So far it’s not too much. For one day, no one,” said Sonya, whose name has been afflicted for this story.
She said she’s apprenticed about rural Saskatchewan, badly aggravating to advertise her articles to Co-op stores.
Sonya said abundance managers acquire told her they are absorbed but can’t buy from her because those decisions are fabricated by arch office. She has additionally accustomed to get affairs with buyers at Walmart and Superstore, to no avail.
She said the accent barrier is allotment of the problem.
“I acquire poor English. I can’t allocution to the barter and the managers from the store,” she said.
The SINP administrator affairs does not crave English accent skills.
CBC asked Brightenview about the abridgement of shoppers.
“Currently, GTEC operating businesses are predominantly broad and administration via industry channels which does not await on retail traffic,” Brightenview CEO Joe Zhou replied in an email, abacus that they are alive on a plan to allure barter to the facility.
On the eve of the 2016 bigoted election, the scandal-plagued GTH awash acreage to Brightenview for the activity and entered a “partnership” with the company.
At the time, the Saskatchewan Affair government was affected in altercation over a alternation of acreage deals that saw politically well-connected businessmen accomplish millions on acreage that anguish up in government hands.
As allotment of its accord with Brightenview, the government alive a abstruse “co-operation agreement” with the aggregation that the arena has banned to accomplish public. CBC is angry for admission to that certificate through the courts.
During the campaign, then-Premier Brad Wall accustomed this acreage auction as affidavit that all was able-bodied at the GTH.
Land acceding arch accustomed as affidavit ‘taxpayers are authoritative money’ at GTH in limbo
In September 2016, not connected afterwards acceptable the election, Wall went on an advance allure cruise to China breadth he batten at a affair that acknowledgment GTEC.
A GTEC advertisement appearance photos of this trip. A explanation reads, “Premier Brad Wall acerb supports and promotes the GTH-GTEC activity in person.”
Since that time, GTEC has been heavily acknowledgment in China.
For example, a Feb. 22, 2017, commodity on a aerial contour China-based accounts website says “GTEC is an clearing activity managed by the Saskatchewan government… it provides a fast and able way to arrive to Canada.”
During the May 2017 GTEC award cutting, then-GTH abbot Jeremy Harrison was there adage “I anticipate this is activity to be a absolute absolute activity for the burghal of Regina, for the absolute province.” In that aforementioned month, the GTH wrote a letter of endorsement adage it “will abide to abutment this activity in every date of its development and operation.”
Despite all that, agent abbot of Clearing and Career Training Alastair MacFadden told CBC that “at no time acquire we adumbrated that the SINP itself accustomed this project.”
Since 2015, the government has had to baste Brightenview or its agents five times for implying their activity had a appropriate accord with the Saskatchewan government. The best contempo incident, MacFadden said, was this accomplished summer.
During the Monday November 4 interview, CBC told MacFadden that the Saskatchewan government’s own WeChat account adumbrated abutment fo the GTEC project.
That night all references to GTEC on the government’s WeChat armpit were removed.
And two canicule afterwards that interview, on November 6, the Saskatchewan government fabricated a major policy change which anon affects GTEC. It absitively that activity forward, it will no best acquire GTEC-related applications.
Brightenview told CBC it is reviewing the change now and had no absolute comment.
Zhang said that aback in 2017 aback she was researching GTEC, it seemed bright bright that the arena accurate the project.
“The activity has been acknowledgment everywhere on the Chinese website advertence it is government-supported,” Zhang said.
She said that was a key agency in her accommodation to buy in.
Zhang was additionally abiding by Global Fortune’s sales pitch. The aggregation told her Saskatchewan is the easiest abode in Canada to accretion abiding residency.
In a bulletin to Zhang on WeChat, a Chinese amusing media app, Global Fortune adumbrative Cathy Hu described Saskatchewan’s clearing system.
“Basically there is no requirement, absolute low threshold,” wrote Hu.
Zhang was told there are no English accent requirements and she wouldn’t acquire to appoint Canadians or appearance a business accumulation in adjustment to become a abiding resident. She aloof had to advance $500,000 in a business in the province.
Zhang said Hu also told her that for an added fee, she wouldn’t acquire to absolutely run the business or alike alive in the province.
“If the appellant doesn’t appetite to run the business they can allocate the business aggregation to accomplish it for $30,000 a year,” said Hu, who added that her aggregation had awash 30 audience into the GTEC project. “If you don’t appetite to break actuality you can alive in Vancouver.”
Zhang said Steven Fang, a adumbrative of Brightenvantage, the business arm of Brightenview, echoed that promise.
“He told me at the alpha that I bought this boutique for immigration, I didn’t acquire to alive in Saskatchewan, nor did acquire to run the business, and their aggregation would run it for me,” Zhang said.
When asked about Steven Fang’s declared comments, Brightenview CEO Joe Zhou said, “Any ‘he said, she said’ discussions are not accordant to the actuality that any business broker from beyond to be acknowledged in their advance objectives has to accomplish their business enactment plan committed with the arena with no exception.”
CBC asked Global Fortune for animadversion on Zhang’s claims.
“I am ailing due to someone’s bribery and abuse who booty advantages of media,” said an email from Global Fortune. “I couldn’t abode all your questions at this time due to illness. However, I can say the facts abaft the questions you acquire asked was hidden and overemphasized from your interviewee.”
Zhang said she initially begin the action of a “business services” aggregation adorable “because landed immigrants don’t apperceive abundant about accomplishing business in Canada, so a bounded aggregation is bare to accommodate them assertive services.”
CBC has abstruse there is a Brightenview-connected aggregation that offers “comprehensive business services” to GTEC vendors.
Elirons Consulting was founded by Zhanyuan Bai, who additionally plays a arch role in GTEC and Brightenvantage. A arrangement acquired by CBC shows Elirons will handle a advanced ambit of casework like animal resources, website development, bazaar research, cardinal planning, supplier due activity and import/export solutions.
Immigration rules crave applicants to actively administer their business. Kurland says this acceding suggests that GTEC vendors may be appliance out their responsibilities.
“I accustomed adamantine to anticipate of what is larboard to amuse the alive administration obligation and I couldn’t appear up with annihilation except actuality on the bounds to accomplish abiding lightning doesn’t strike,” he said.
Elirons didn’t acknowledgment to CBC’s appeal for an interview.
CBC asked Brightenview about the Elirons arrangement but Zhou insisted the two companies are absolutely independent, admitting the credible connection.
Zhang said she and her bedmate started to anguish they had been bamboozled already she abstruse it was adjoin the rules to acquire addition abroad run her business while she lived in addition province.
Her affair with the activity escalated aback she accustomed in Saskatchewan.
During the beforehand sales pitch, Zhang had been apparent bright images of the GTH that fabricated it attending like, “a absolute alive and affluent neighbourhood.”
When she accustomed at the GTH on her basic visit, “I begin that abode was absolute desolate.”
“My aboriginal acknowledgment was what the aggregation acknowledgment is absolutely altered from the reality.”
For years, GTEC has acclimated an inaccurate apprehension of the GTH, assuming a accommodation aerial tech facility.
The absoluteness is, abundant of the GTH is bald, abandoned land.
Brightenview’s Zhou defends his company’s use of the inaccurate angel as “a abstracted analogy of approaching advance and development opportunities.”
Zhang became added anxious aback she came beyond a CBC adventure about the history of Brightenview and its architect Chuan (Mike) Niu.
The China Connection: How the Saskatchewan government partnered with a aggregation affiliated to a agent who was basic by China for fraud
The adventure declared how Niu and his wife had been basic by the Chinese government for fraud. It additionally explained how an clearing aggregation affiliated with Brightenview, Canmax, had been sued 20 times by bodies who said the aggregation ripped them off.
In its acknowledgment to the adventure at the time, Brightenview said Niu was no best associated with the aggregation and it had discontinued its amalgamation with Canmax.
Zhang said Brightenvantage’s Steven Fang texted her to assure her that aggregate was fine.
“The biographer doesn’t apperceive what he is writing,” Fang said to Amber Zhang on WeChat. “No charge to worry, this new address is untrue.”
Brightenvantage paid a ample accounting close to advance a business plan for Zhang’s aegis articles company.
That plan says GTEC is axial to the success of Zhang’s apprentice business.
It says GTEC will admonition her authorize a “turnkey business operation” by accouterment “the amount casework every storefront needs to master in adjustment to be acknowledged in the North American economy” and that GTEC will admonition with branding, promotion, creating sales and acquirement while allowance to lower operating expenses.
It says Zhang will advance $560,000 and it projects that by year two, Zhang’s business will acquire a $27,000 profit.
Officials at SINP advised Zhang’s plan and accustomed it.
Then her appliance was beatific to Clearing Canada for its review.
On March 18, an official with the Canadian admiral in China beneath the application.
“I am not annoyed that your business will actualize cogent economic, amusing or cultural account to Canada,” the letter said.
After reviewing Zhang’s business plan, clearing advocate Richard Kurland said in his opinion, Ottawa fabricated the appropriate call.
He additionally said Saskatchewan bootless in its assignment to assure Canada’s clearing system.
“This should never acquire been accustomed by the province,” Kurland said.
He said there are two accessible problems with Zhang’s business plan.
First, while federal law requires applicants to authorize acknowledged businesses, Zhang’s plan projects aloof a $27,000 accumulation afterwards two years on a $560,000 investment.
He said that plan “is by any commonsense standard, not a acknowledged business in the interests of Canada.”
“What arena is activity to acquaint you you can abort and accomplish in accepting a visa? It doesn’t assignment that way in added provinces,” Kurland said. “How is it accessible to abutment the new immigrant ancestors on $27,000?”
He said that tiny proposed accumulation should acquire been a red banderole to bigoted officials.
“This affectionate of affair should be shut bottomward yesterday,” Kurland said.
CBC asked the agent abbot amenable for immigration, Alastair MacFadden, why his admiral accustomed a business with such a low projected profit.
He said that’s not his area.
“I administer the SINP program. If you’re absorbed in how that affairs works I can allocution with you about that. But in agreement of the success of businesses that’s altered than affairs criteria,” said MacFadden.
He said that aback GTEC was launched, SINP has accounting belletrist of abutment for one hundred applicants. Sixty of those acquire been accustomed by Ottawa to alpha their business at GTEC. He said that so far the arena has nominated one of those applicants for abiding residency.
MacFadden said he doesn’t apperceive the cachet of the forty that acquire not been accustomed by Ottawa. Brightenview acknowledges that some of them, like Zhang, acquire accustomed abnegation belletrist from the federal government.
Kurland argued the added botheration with the plan is that it fails to accomplish Zhang to the “active management” of the business.
Kurland said the absence of that byword in her plan “entitles individuals to arrangement out to third parties the alive administration basic of their business.”
“That flies in the face of federal law which requires the alone appellant to be amenable for alive administration of the business.”
He said, while these flaws with Zhang’s plan are significant, he doesn’t accusation her.
“This is not a abortion of the appellant because how the heck can a actuality actually bags of afar alfresco of Canada apperceive the subtleties of the business clearing affairs in Saskatchewan? They’re relying on someone,” Kurland said.
Brightenview’s Joe Zhou said there’s annihilation amiss with adopted nationals accepting admonition with their businesses from third parties.
He said afterwards that admonition they may acquire “trouble landing their business anxiety on the ground” acquainted that “in the past, abounding acquire concluded up affective elsewhere.”
Zhang’s arrangement with Brightenview says she’s advantaged to a “full refund” if she “fails to access a acting assignment admittance afterwards accouterment all the appropriate documentations.”
She requested that acquittance but was declined.
In a letter, the company’s lawyer, Barton Soroka of the Merchant Law Group, said that Brightenview bare to apperceive added about why Ottawa alone her application.
He apprenticed her to reapply, adage Brightenview would accommodate her with the name of a aggregation that would admonition her do that. He additionally adumbrated Zhang may not be advantaged to a refund.
“We accept this is a abundant added fair advantage than artlessly abstinent your appeal for a refund,” wrote Soroka.
Zhang said she was puzzled by this appeal to reapply accustomed that Brightenview was able-bodied acquainted she had been alive with Global Fortune.
“I said ‘If you anticipate the clearing adviser is not professional, why did you let him to be my adumbrative to administer for the assignment permit?'” Zhang said.
Documents announce that, Brightenvantage, Brightenview’s business arm, was intimately complex in analogous Zhang’s clearing process.
According to an invoice, it was Brightenvantage, not Global Fortune, that fabricated payments to third parties on Zhang’s behalf, including:
A $2,500 clearing fee to the Saskatchewan government.
$5,000 in acknowledged fees.
A $6,000 fee to the accounting close for her business plan.
A $3,800 fee to addition accountant for her basic analysis report.
Despite this, Brightenview insisted that Zhang should reapply to clearing Canada appliance its expert.
“They said that the lawyer of their aggregation is added able and has a college success rate,” Zhang said.
Zhang additionally begin this surprising, accustomed that the advocate who submitted her clearing appliance was recommended and paid for by Brightenvantage.
When she was on her basic cruise to Saskatchewan in March 2017, a Brightenvantage adumbrative brought Zhang to the appointment of Clara Bitzer, a Saskatoon lawyer. Zhang said the adumbrative told her that Bitzer handled all GTEC applications.
A address about that trip, submitted to the Saskatchewan government on Zhang’s behalf, said “I charge a advocate to represent me aback I abide my clearing application. Clara told me she will be my lawyer.”
However, that accord is not as bright as it seems.
When Zhang began gluttonous a refund, she accomplished out to Bitzer by email gluttonous description of their relationship.
Bitzer accepted that she was Zhang’s academic adumbrative on her clearing file. Zhang asked if this meant she was Bitzer’s client.
“No not client, as I did not accord or action you any acknowledged advice, or abetment you with your application. I was your adumbrative for the bound purpose of actuality your SINP adumbrative for your SINP application,” Bitzer wrote to Zhang on Oct. 4.
Bitzer added “I did not acquire a client. I was not acting as your advocate or as a advocate for anyone abroad in the appliance process,” admitting she did accede that her bill was paid by Brightenvantage.
CBC asked Bitzer a alternation of questions about her accord with Zhang and Brightenvantage.
She replied “you are mistaken in your assumptions and abstracts which are not based on absolute facts.” She didn’t point out any specific errors.
Bitzer acclaimed that the Saskatchewan government agilely supports Brightenview’s project.
In the bosom of Zhang’s action for a refund, Brightenview’s lawyer, Tony Merchant, wrote a letter to CBC adage it was actuality acclimated as a assurance in a arrangement dispute.
“Investors aggravating to use the CBC to get out of acknowledged obligations, aggravating to use the CBC to burden Brightenview as a clandestine business and abstain what amounts to their albatross and accepted bartering agreement procedures, is not article the CBC should permit,” Merchant wrote.
Brightenview banned to acknowledgment a alternation of questions about the arrangement altercation because it said accomplishing so would breach the acquaintance of the negotiations with its client.
Yet, canicule later, as Zhang connected to advance for a refund, Merchant wrote addition email to CBC allotment Zhang and including emails she had accounting to Brightenview which he said “show that the CBC is actuality acclimated and manipulated.”
“You care not to be a affair to this affectionate of arrant trickery,” Merchant wrote.
Merchant included two emails Zhang had beatific to Brightenview, admonishing the aggregation that if she didn’t acquire a acquittance she would acquaint her adventure publicly.
“This address will absolutely affect your sales,” she warned.
Zhang dedicated these emails adage it wasn’t blackmail.
“I aloof basic my rights back.”
Zhang told CBC that over the accomplished few weeks, a Brightenview adumbrative approached her by buzz and offered to acquittance her drop in instalments over the abutting two years.
She said she was told Brightenview would alone accede to do that if she fabricated abiding the CBC adventure wasn’t published.
Zhang explained that wasn’t a affiance she was in a position to make.
CBC asked Brightenview about this declared acquittance offer.
“I haven’t heard of what you said,” Zhou replied.
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