Keeping An Eye On Who Gets In

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Appeared in the National Post, 06 June 2006
Canadians can take pride in the performance of our security and intelligence agencies, which tracked and apprehended 17 individuals charged with planning acts of terrorism in southern Ontario. Their work reflects not only a high level of competence, but an impressive degree of co-ordination -- something that was not in evidence, for example, during the wasted months that preceded the 1985 Air-India bombing.

By the same token, we should be under no illusions with respect to the size of the task that remains. Not only must we be vigilant about the potential threat from home-grown extremists; we must also do a better job of guarding our borders against penetration from abroad.

In fact, we should be highly concerned by the revelations earlier last week concerning the inadequate measures being taken to ensure terrorist suspects and their supporters don’t get into Canada. Jack Hooper, the deputy director of operations for CSIS, revealed that his organization has been able to vet only 10% of the 20,000 immigrants who have come from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region since 2001.

While this is a disturbing figure, it should not come as a great surprise. Back in the first three months of 2003, when the United States was cracking down on persons from terrorist-producing countries who were in that country illegally, we allowed 2,600 Pakistani nationals to come to our border and make refugee claims in Canada. And we did this without having a clear picture of whether or not they constituted a threat to our security.

We need to know a good deal more about what is going on in the Muslim community. The same goes for other communities -- notably those of the Sikhs and Sri Lankan Tamils -- where extremists have enjoyed freedom of movement for decades.

Our politically driven mass immigration programs have resulted in the rapid expansion of immigrant communities without our being able to effectively monitor elements within them that may constitute a threat to national security. Canada’s Muslim community, notably, increased from 100,000 to 600,000 between 1981 and 2001, and is likely to continue to grow rapidly as the government struggles with a backlog of three-quarters of a million applications from around the world.

As outlined in my recent Fraser Institute paper on the subject, we need both to implement better control over who gets into our country in the first place, and to more carefully monitor what is going on among home-grown extremists.

While we need to ensure that all Canadian Muslims do not suffer for the alleged misdeeds of a very few, we must also find out how we can get the best possible co-operation from that community in identifying problems and problematic individuals before they develop to the stage they allegedly did in this case.

It is also important that we have no illusions about the impact that this past weekend’s events will have on the United States’ confidence in our ability to address potential security threats. Washington will no doubt be impressed by the highly effective manner in which CSIS and the RCMP have dealt with this case; at the same time, the United States will be less than reassured that we are doing an adequate job of screening the large numbers of newcomers entering the country.

As noted by Robert Leiken, a prominent U.S. expert on terrorism, while the border with Mexico poses major problems in terms of the entry of illegals, the Canadian border is more attractive for entry by extremists because of the large Muslim presence. Under the circumstances, we can probably expect the United States to continue efforts to tighten up controls along our mutual border. Until we fix our immigration and refugee system, they will have good reason to do so.

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