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EXCLUSIVE investigation: Kenyan man says he wrote essays for Canadian students

Last Updated Feb 19, 2019 at 10:08 pm EDT

A Kenyan man more than 12,000 kilometres away from Toronto claims he has written hundreds of essays and assignments that have been submitted by Canadian university students over the last year.

It’s called “contract cheating” — where students have a third party complete their assignments on their behalf, often for a fee.

CityNews first reported on contract cheating last March, after dozens of posters advertising the website Ehomework.ca were spotted on University of Toronto’s St. George campus.

Using the website, CityNews requested an essay on social problems in the criminal justice system and asked that it be written within 12 hours. For a payment of $165 the completed essay was received within the promised time.

Earlier this month, CityNews received an email from a man in Kenya who claims he’s the one who wrote the paper. He says he was paid only $18 of the $165.

“I don’t think if you expected that your essay could be written by someone in Kenya who has no knowledge in criminal justice system”, said the man who asked to be called Joseph in an effort to protect his identity.

Joseph says he has written hundreds of assignments for at least 50 students over the last year. He sent us logins for students from schools including University of Toronto, York, University of Ottawa and Simon Fraser.

He also claims he was offered help with immigrating to Canada if he continued to work for a reduced fee for at least one year.

“The promise was that I work for him, then he can send me a formal job offer for me to immigrate to Canada. He was to withheld part of salary to facilitate my immigration process.”

Joseph, who says he holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, says he started working for the website after responding to a Craigslist Kenya advertisement for freelance writers.

CityNews attempted to contact Ehomework.ca several times through email, voicemail and text messages, but did not receive a response prior to publishing.

Joseph says he personally knows of at least four other people working for this website.

Ehomework.ca says the people behind the papers are professional academic writers, stating on their website: “We do NOT outsource our work to other countries. All our work is done by tutors in Canada and the USA who have gone to North American Universities and are native English speakers”.

Joseph says he does not meet any of that criteria and feels students who are paying for these papers are also being duped.

“Understand that somebody somewhere is being exploited because of your work and you’re going to use that credit to find a good job there, leaving someone like me without anything.”

According to the University of Toronto, plagiarism offences at the school have steadily increased over the last four years, with over 1000 incidents last year and an additional 600 cases of “unauthorized aid.”

Andrea Ridgley, co-chair of the Academic Integrity Council of Ontario says educational institutions are trying to prevent plagiarism and cheating by making students and faculty more aware of ethical practices.

“More and more, colleges and universities are getting together to build best practices, not only in terms of teaching, but how to talk to our students and educate our students around contact cheating specifically,” she says.

Ridgley says they are focusing on helping students become critical consumers with regards to what tutoring services are ethical versus those that could be considered cheating.

“We’re not really taking fault with students for this. It’s these predatory companies that are all over our campuses … if you walk around any campus right now there are posters up [saying] ‘be a good student, help your friends out…share your professor’s tests from last year,’” she says.

Along with flyers found on university campuses, a simple online search for terms like “essay writing” or “contract cheating” will bring up hundreds of results for services that offer to write university papers. Many promise original term or research papers by professional writers, delivered within a quick turnaround time.

The websites may be able to skirt any legal complications by claiming to provide only notes or structure for essay writing. However, some states in the U.S. and countries like New Zealand have set up laws against providing any form of assistance to cheat, with penalties in place if caught.

In Canada however, the practice is legal, with the onus falling on the student to do the right thing and only submit papers they have personally researched and written.

Education lawyer John Schuman says legally, there’s not much that can be done to prevent students from plagiarizing or purchasing fully written essays outright.

“There isn’t much by way of the law in Canada that addresses this type of academic dishonesty. That’s entirely within the universities and their own codes of conduct and their own disciplinary procedures,” he says.

If caught however, the discipline for these offences can range from a reduced grade to expulsion. At the University of Toronto, the penalty for buying an essay is expulsion, even if it is a first offence.

“When you’re not doing the work, you’re defrauding the university and getting a degree that you don’t deserve,” says Karen Bellinger, a lawyer with Downtown Legal Services, explaining the severity of the disciplinary action.

However, she also believes that students do not set out to defraud the system. Many of the cases involve international students who cite language barriers as the reason for buying essays.

“Most of the time, they’re in over their heads in their class. A lot of students don’t have the language skills that they need to succeed,” she says. “When they’re paying the [high] fees that they are and the parents have expectations, they don’t want to disappoint them and lose that money and they make difficult and unfortunate decisions.”

The essay requested by CityNews was based on a real Humber College assignment from last March about the possible social problems that could arise with retail sales of cannabis. A Humber professor graded the essay and gave it 48 per cent.

They said the paper would have received a mark of 24/50 (48 per cent) based on the marking rubric used by the professor. The professor indicated that it was obvious to them that the “student” who wrote the paper did not attend class, did not use or reference the textbook nor adhere to the assignment guidelines.

Here are some other reasons for the failing grade:

– The paper does not follow the assignment guidelines, does not provide supporting evidence for wildly inaccurate statements of fact, and generally disregards the intent of the assignment.

– The paper failed to address any theoretical component, as outlined in the textbook, which uses the same set of theories in each chapter to discuss how those theories apply to the topic in that chapter.

– The paper repeatedly made vague and unfocused statements about ‘the law’ that are not in line with the topic of cannabis retailing.

– There were nonsensical sections such as the following:

“The population has further adopted various lifestyle decisions that largely influence their act of involving in cannabis abuse and buying. The lifestyle they desire is akin to what most of the celebrated celebrities and world icons in music adopt. The use of cannabis is evident amongst the celebrities, and hence, the copying of the act from them becomes inevitable leading to the situation where they get hooked into the act.”

– The paper was ostensibly about the potential social problems faced with retail sales of cannabis, but instead focused on cannabis as a drug with the potential to cause addiction, heart attack and suicide and had no information on the actual issues of retailing of cannabis.

– The citations used did not include any policy documents, and such materials are key to understanding this developing issue.