Canada's Immigration System Deeply Flawed

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Appeared in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, June 2002

Canada would do well to imitate the US tizzy. As the United States tries to figure out how terrorists got in and why those with clear terrorist connections weren't tracked, Canada ignores deeper problems on this side of the border.

According to security and police experts, Canada provides haven to about 50 terrorist groups. The preferred method of entry is simple: flush identification papers down the plane's toilet (so your story can't be traced), claim refugee status at Canada customs, pitch a practiced story, and walk out a free terrorist, eligible for paraphernalia of welfare, social and medical benefits unrivalled by any other nation.

On a per capita basis, Canada accepts six times as many refugees as the United States and four times the average among members of the Convention on Refugees. This is because Canada's open welfare system attracts more applicants and because of Canada's high acceptance rate (46 per cent). The United States accepts 21 per cent. Other large refugee-accepting nations receive an average of 15 per cent. This is not because other nations are turning away legitimate refugees but because Canada's system can't distinguish between legitimate refugees and fraud.

In any event, no hardly means no. Refugee appeals take years, costing taxpayers much treasure in welfare and legal bills. Mohammed Issa Mohammed cost Canadian taxpayers $3 million in legal costs alone. He entered Canada on a visa and was ordered deported after being identified as a terrorist. He claimed refugee status and launched 40 appeals over 15 years, while being supported, with his family, by welfare and other social payments.

Consider Ahmed Ressam. He claimed refugee status in Canada in 1994, failed to show up for his hearing, and thus was ordered deported. He remained in Canada, acquired a criminal record, associated with terrorists, visited Afghanistan for training, returned to Canada, fraudulently acquired a Canadian passport, and began assembling explosives. A wary US customs agent arrested him trying to enter the United States in 1999 with a carload of explosives bound for the Los Angeles airport.

Ressam is hardly unique. Citizenship Canada can't find 27,000 fake refugees who have been ordered deported.

Canada's new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act makes things worse by broadening the definition of refugee and adding new appeal layers. James Bissett, former head of Canada's immigration service, says the Act "seems designed to ensure that the bad guys can never be sent home. Does any one still wonder why our allies doubt Canada's seriousness in the fight against terrorism?"

Some Canadians remain unconcerned about our security problems. Terrorists target the United States not Canada, they argue. Yet, it's as morally wrong to stand aside for a terrorist attack as it would be to stand aside for murder. Terrorism is mass murder.

Canadian self-interest is also involved. If terrorists with Canadian connections attack the United States, the United States would shut down the border and cut off trade until it felt secure again. This would devastate Canada's economy, a third of which depends on US trade.

Prospects for reform seem dismal. Special interests have captured the immigration/refugee agenda. My colleague at the Fraser Institute, former Ambassador Martin Collacott, says, "It is increasingly doubtful whether our elected officials can regain control of the system." Even if they wanted to, Collacott adds, "a great man 'large and liberal' judicial decisions in favor of refugee claimants have set precedents that now render it very difficult for the government to act in the national interest."

I favour immigration. The wave of immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, often from then-despised ethnic groups, benefited Canada greatly. Yet, Canada's current immigration system is deeply flawed. Instead of denial, Canada needs a vigorous debate.

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