B.C. cabinet minister under fire for penning immigration references for foreign nationals on watch list

B.C.’s minister of citizens’ services is blaming a communications error for writing visa reference letters for foreign nationals on a security watch list that cite her role as a minister instead of as an MLA.

“As soon as the MP told me what some of the background issues were, I let them know that I was no longer interested in pursuing that,” said Jinny Sims on Tuesday.

The letters, sponsoring 10 people from Pakistan, three of whom were on a watch list, were sent to Cloverdale-Langley MP John Aldag’s office. Immigration is a federal matter.

Sims, who is also the MLA for Surrey-Panorama, said the reference in the letter to her role as minister “was done by error in the [constituency] office.”

“As an MP, I used to write these letters … as an MLA, all I’m saying is I know the people who are sponsoring them, and in this case, I knew some of the people who were coming.”

Sims spoke to reporters after B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong alleged in question period that Sims “was attempting to facilitate entry into Canada of foreign nationals who were on a security watch in exchange for money.”

But Sims denied money was ever discussed or that the individuals donated to her campaign. 

Sources told CBC News that Sims didn’t see the letter before it was sent and an auto signature was used, but that she was making sure the error would not be repeated.   

Claims from fired employee

The allegations leveled against Sims in the legislature stem from two letters written by a former employee in her constituency office, who was fired in February after six weeks on the job.

They contain a number of claims Sims used personal email addresses and social media accounts to conduct ministerial business — allegedly skirting Freedom of Information requests — and mixing constituency and ministerial work, both of which she denies.

The claims in the letters have not been verified, and the B.C. Liberals’ have not repeated them outside of the legislative chambers, where they are protected by parliamentary privilege.  

“I am very very clear that there is government communications, and then there is constituency communications,” she said.

“And if it’s government work, that you use my government email, but not to use my government email if it’s to do with my constituents, because of the rules that we have.”

Sims is the minister responsible for B.C.’s freedom of information rules. Last year, she acknowledged that a cabinet minister and several members of Premier John Horgan’s office seemed to have deleted all emails for the first 100 days of the NDP’s new government.

With files from Tanya Fletcher and Paisley Woodward

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