Paranoia in Canada Threatens Safe Haven for Refugees in Need

Ensuring Canadians safety does not have to mean leaving Syrian refugees in the hands of ISIS.
Ensuring Canadians safety does not have to mean leaving Syrian refugees in the hands of ISIS. (UNHCR Canada)

By David Clement

EspañolThe suicide bombings, mass shootings, and hostage-taking situation that gripped Paris on November 13 have caused many in Canada to rethink Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees.

This push for a new, far more restrictive policy has even been echoed by Saskatchewan’s Conservative Premier Brad Wall. Premier Wall called on Prime Minister Trudeau to indefinitely suspend the plan for Syrian refugees until there is a redoubling of security checks, although we aren’t quite sure what he means by that.

So the question remains: are Premier Wall’s security concerns well founded? Or is it just a reactionary and misguided concern based on the tragedies we saw in France?

After we look at the data, it becomes quite clear that Premier Wall’s security concerns are immensely misguided, and ultimately cruel to those who are fleeing the death and destruction caused by ISIS. Premier Wall is wrong for two main reasons:

The first is that the process of actually being admitted as a refugee is incredibly thorough. First, refugees must get triaged by the UN Human Rights Council. This process involves being assessed by UNHCR officers and screened so that officials can learn and validate the stories of refugees.

According to Peter Showler, who chaired the Immigration and Refugee board, approximately 5 percent of refugees make it through UN screening. After passing UN screening, Canadian visa officials then conduct further screening and interviews to validate the consistency of a claimant’s application. Lastly, Canadian security agencies (CBSA, CSIS, and the RCMP), provide an additional security review.

Further adding to the secure nature of the refugee process is the fact that, on average, Canada only approves 41 percent of the applications it receives for refugee status. With all this, Showler has gone so far as to say “it’s actually quite easy to identify 25,000 refugees who fit into these low risk security categories.”

Premier Wall is either unaware of how the refugee process works, or being purposely disingenuous in an attempt to score political points on the heels of France’s tragic terrorist attacks. It should also be noted that nefarious actors would actually find it much easier to enter Canada through a tourist visa, as opposed to subjecting themselves to the immense scrutiny that refugees face.

For example, for a French or Belgian citizen (like the terrorists who acted in Paris), all you need in order to be admitted into Canada is an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) and meet the qualifications for entry into Canada. For those who don’t know what all of this means, it is quite simple:

All you need is to have a valid passport, credit card, and email, be in good health and prove to an immigration officer that you are traveling to Canada for the purpose of being a tourist, which includes having the intent to go home at a defined date.

Now, I am not pointing this out as a justification to further restrict tourism, as our border security does a good job of keeping nefarious actors out. I am simply pointing out that when it comes to levels of scrutiny and oversight, it would be far easier to enter Canada via a tourist visa than it would to come to Canada as a refugee.

The second reason why Premier Wall is wrong in his response is that there is no evidence of refugees in Canada being linked to terrorism. Canada is considered a leader in our admittance of refugees, with us admitting approximately 25,000 per year. It should also be noted that refugees only account for roughly 10 percent of all immigration into Canada, which further highlights how many new Canadians we welcome each year.

As of late, Middle Eastern refugees have significantly increased, as a result of the turmoil and unrest that has plagued the region over the last decade. In 2014 alone, Canada admitted 7,550 refugees from the Middle East, and has had approximately 25,000-30,000 Middle Eastern refugees arrive in Canada since 2004.

The most drastic statistic here is that not one admitted refugee to Canada has been implicated in an act of terror. There have been close to 30 people involved, charged, or arrested for terror-related activities in Canada since the year 2000 and none are admitted refugees. A simple glance at those involved in terror shows this important fact:

• The 2000 “millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam, who was going to attempt to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), had his refugee application (and appeal) denied, and was being pursued by Canadian immigration officials at the time of his arrest.

• In 2006, the infamous “Toronto 18” planned to target Canadian government buildings with car bombs. None of these men were refugees to Canada. In fact, all were either natural-born Canadian citizens, or formalized immigrants with Canadian citizenship.

• Misbahuddin Ahmed, who was charged with terror related activity in 2010 (and later convicted), was a Canadian citizen of Pakistani birth.

• The two terrorists implicated in the 2013 train derailment plot (Chiheb Essighair and Raed Jaser) were not admitted refugees either. Esseghair was a permanent resident completing his PhD at a Canadian university, while Jaser was a denied refugee applicant.

• The two people involved in the plot to bomb British Columbia’s Provincial Legislature in 2013 were both Canadian citizens by birth.

• Lastly, the two most recent terror attacks in Ottawa and Jean-Sur-Richelieu were carried about by Canadian citizens, both born in Quebec.

What this demonstrates is our system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do, admit safe refugees into Canada while flagging and denying those who should not be admitted to this country. It highlights that in the fight against radical Islamism, closing our doors to refugees isn’t a legitimate solution.

Rather than focusing on keeping Syrian refugees out, we should be focusing on how we can facilitate their arrival quicker, so that they can flee the barbaric acts of ISIS. We should continue to rely on our institutions to ensure Canadian safety, while allowing for us to embrace compassion and help those who truly need it the most.

David Clement is an entrepreneur and political consultant based out of Oakville, Ontario. David is also the political analyst for the popular electoral app Follow @ClementLiberty.

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