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Canadian governments fail to consider security when shaping policy

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Release Date: June 29, 2007

Toronto, ON - Canadian governments of all stripes have failed to comprehend the link between immigration policy and security, attendees at The Fraser Institute's first conference on immigration, border controls and terrorism heard Thursday in Toronto.

"Our political leaders just don't buy into it. That's why Canadians are so ambivalent about border security. Our political leaders don't take it seriously," said James Bissett, former executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service and a former Canadian ambassador in Europe and the Caribbean.

Speaking as part of a panel discussing security concerns in immigration and refugee policies, Bissett said all of Canada's major political parties have come to view immigration purely as a numbers game where the aim is to increase the number of immigrants because they are potential voters.

"With the advent and institutionalization of multiculturalism in the 1970s, it quickly became evident to politicians that they could use taxpayers' money to bribe the immigrant communities for votes by sponsoring various festivals and immigrant cultural organizations," he said.

"This revolutionized Canadian politics because now Canadian political leaders felt they could maneuver and get block voting from the ethnic communities."

The result, he added, is that most immigrants now coming to Canada do so within the family class and very few have the skills the country needs, regardless of the economic conditions.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of Washington DC's Centre for Immigration Studies, told the conference that current levels of mass immigration are incompatible with the goals and characteristics of modern society.

He suggested that due to modern technology, the idea of a "home front" during a war is no longer just a metaphor, and it's very likely many countries would try to exploit the US's huge immigrant population in the event of a conflict.

"That's the brass ring for terrorists - mass civilian casualties in the homeland of the enemy."

Despite the ramped-up security measures implemented by the US in the wake of 9/11, the American government does not have the resources to check and screen all immigrants.

Krikorian said there's a backlog of 100,000 would-be immigrants waiting for fingerprint checks; a backlog of 300,000 waiting for name checks; and the US government estimates that 20 - 30 per cent of all immigrant applications are fraudulent.

Bissett also hit out at Canada's failure to properly screen new immigrants, particularly those claiming asylum. Only 10 per cent of all immigrants are screened for security issues and virtually no one claiming asylum is screened for health, security or criminality, he said, adding that while refugees are determined by a United Nations definition, anyone who sets foot on Canadian soil can claim to be a refugee simply by suggesting they fear persecution in their home land.

"Very few people claiming refugee status are ever detained. Since 9/11, they have been photographed and fingerprinted. But then they're released and there's no tracking system. We often don't know who they are or where they go."

As an example, he referred to the case of convicted terrorist Ahmad Ressam, who before being caught in a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, was a failed refugee claimant living in Montreal who was able to travel to Afghanistan to receive training at a terrorist camp on how to build a bomb.

He estimated there's anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 people with failed refugee claims still living in Canada. These people have been ordered to leave but the government has taken no action because it has no idea where they are.

"We can't keep anybody out and we can't kick out the bad guys," he said.