An Ontario lawyer has been awarded $400,000 in damages from a Chinese immigration consulting firm after it forged his signature on least 25 applications to a Nova Scotia provincial nominee program (PNP).
LB, who specializes in immigration law, had initially contracted with the firm — Welltrend Beijing — to provide legal services for Canadian federal immigration applications, according to the ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Welltrend Beijing submitted the applications on behalf of clients seeking to immigrate to Canada from China. LB said that the company was at one time the largest immigration consulting firm in China.
Despite an initial discussion regarding the provision of legal services for provincial immigration programs, no agreement was reached between LB and the firm for these specific services.
Questions from Nova Scotia
LB, who earned his law degree from the University of Windsor in 1994, learned of the unauthorized use of his name and signature only when an official from the Nova Scotia Immigration Office inquired about the validity of five applications.
Welltrend Beijing was not registered as a qualified immigration consultant in Canada at the time and had contracted with LB to meet the Canadian legal requirements for their federal applications.
LB alleged that Welltrend Beijing’s actions constituted a breach of contract, fraud, and conspiracy to commit an unlawful act to harm him. He also argued that the firm was unjustly enriched at his expense by collecting fees from its clients and commissions from the Nova Scotia government for successful applications.
In a recent judgment, the court found Welltrend Beijing in breach of an implied term of its agreement with LB, awarding damages equivalent to the $20,000 commission paid by the Nova Scotia government for each of the 20 accepted applications bearing LB’s forged signature. The court thus awarded him a total of $400,000 in damages.
Adding to the case’s complexity, the defendants changed lawyers in 2018, and their representation withdrew in June 2022. Subsequently, none of the defendants appeared at the trial, although they were duly served with the notice of trial.
The president of Welltrend Beijing and two other defendants connected to the firm did not appear in court, it said.
Court declines to award punitive damages
LB sought punitive damages from Welltrend in this case. The notion of punitive damages in Canadian law is typically reserved for conduct that is “malicious, oppressive and high-handed,” and that which “offends the court’s sense of decency,” as outlined in the 2002 Supreme Court of Canada case Whiten v. Pilot Insurance Co.
Such awards aim not to compensate the plaintiff but to punish the defendant and act as a deterrent.
While the court acknowledged that the conduct of Welltrend Beijing in forging LB’s signature was the kind that “offends the court’s sense of decency,” it found punitive damages inappropriate in this particular situation for two reasons.
First, the $400,000 award already covers more than what LB would have likely negotiated for acting as the authorized immigration representative for the 20 successful Nova Scotia applications. The court reasoned that forcing Welltrend Beijing to disgorge the full commission, which it would have likely shared with LB, already meets the objectives of retribution, denunciation, and deterrence.
Second, the court noted that LB was not entirely blameless, as he had previously supplied blank application forms to Welltrend Beijing.
Although these were not the forms that led to the breach of contract, the court held that LB’s own standard of conduct contributed to an environment that likely encouraged Welltrend Beijing to forge his signature.
As a result, the court concluded that no punitive damages would be awarded in this case.
For more information, see Bao v Welltrend United Consulting Inc., 2023 BCSC 1566 (CanLII)