It is important for Canadians to realize that immigration itself does not produce terrorists, says Dr. Don Devoretz.
As one of the nation’s foremost immigration authorities, the Simon Fraser University prof is quick to concede that the average immigrant to Canada does not do as well as the average multi-generational Canadian. But the disparities aren’t big enough to fuel social disconnection and in some statistical classes, recent immigrants—who go through a weighted point system to enter the country—do even better.
Refugees are another matter. And traditionally, Canada has accepted refugees at a rate that dwarfs other nations. Again, many make worthy contributions. But understanding their connection to terrorism is not hard, he says.
“Refugees tend to come from violent, war-torn countries,” he says. “That seems to be the core of it. And their fanaticism is magnified by their poverty.”
The problem was identified 30 years ago in Germany with the influx of Turkish refugees from Turkey. The Germans hoped they would slowly integrate themselves into the mainstream through marriage or through language, says Devoretz. “Instead they did neither and just stayed. Now, Germany is going to allow them to vote, which maybe will do the job.”
Even refugees tend to do fairly well in Canada, he said, despite the lack of training, language or support—unless they come from a country involved in conflict. Among those who’ve done poorly are refugees from north Africa, particularly Algeria and Morocco, who have struggled with Islamic extremism. “These are often violent people before they get here, so it doesn’t take brain surgery to figure it out,” he says.
Coupled with that are the economic realities facing new Canadians. Charles Campbell has studied immigration for 30 years and is a former deputy chair of the Immigration Appeals Board. His 2000 book Betrayal and Deceit: The Politics of Canadian Immigration highlights a litany of problems with the Canadian system. Some of Campbell’s findings:
Over a 10-year period between 1980 and 1990, the average income of immigrants dropped by nearly $20,000, with numerous age groups regularly falling below the poverty line.
A 1985 report of the immigration commission noted the highest unemployment sub category in the country was family immigrants 35-64 at 16.5 percent. Some 42 percent of landed immigrants were living below the family poverty cutoff line.
Auditor general reports between 1985 and 1997 repeatedly described the system as on the verge of collapse and riddled with loopholes, allowing virtually anyone into Canada.
From 1989 to 1992, Canada’s refugee acceptance rate was between 54% and 75%. The average of the 15 other leading refugee intake nations was 14%.
By the end of 1990, Canada was taking in 70% of the world’s claimants. Illustrating the depth of the issue, during the period 1987 to 1997, some 170,000 Tamils moved here, the largest population outside of Sri Lanka.
A 1991 report showed many politically appointed claim reviewers with the Immigration and Refugee Board didn’t have the skills or background to make determinations.
Additionally, more than half didn’t follow proper procedures and file paperwork to have hearings on schedule.
Refugees were usually admitted despite coming from countries that would not qualify them as refugees and were believed fleeing economic circumstances, not persecution.
A former Yukon deputy minister of justice, Padraig O’Donahue was among the many IRB claim reviewers who said they were routinely pressured to pass people who shouldn’t have qualified. He told the Vancouver Sun in 1994 he doubted he’d ever seen one legitimate refugee.
An entrepreneur sponsorship program touted by both Tory and Liberal federal governments went unchecked, allowing notable criminals—and anyone with the means—to buy Canadian citizenship for between $150,000 and $250,000 of anticipated investments in Canada, most of which never occurred. Further, short-lived amendments that placed entrepreneur holdings in investment funds contained so many loopholes that immigration mills quickly figured out the base requirement could be lowered to $97,000.
“We have this open border without reference to literacy, to training, to skills. Without reference to anything but health and criminality,” says Campbell.
Numerous federal reports, shelved or ignored by successive governments, support his position, which Campbell is careful to qualify has nothing to do with ethnicity. “We let people in from around the world who have no training, no language skills, no skills period, and we expect them to just do well? It’s never made any sense for the country,” he said.
“It’s not an issue of race. It’s about refugees coming from countries where education levels are low, where they have broad social problems, no training and no ability to adjust quickly to life in Canada. It’s just the people that are coming here. It’s a matter of screening. And successive federal governments went out of their way to ensure there basically wasn’t any.
“Why? Because in Canada, the ethnic vote is seen as everything. And there is an entire industry that has sprung up around immigration to Canada that was ready to remind federal politicians of how important it is.”
For its part, the government says it is working hard.
“The government of Canada is committed to ensuring that the country does not become a safe haven for people who have been involved in serious acts like war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism or genocide,” said spokesman Greg Scott.
The problem is, Canada is by law a safe haven to everyone, no matter what they’ve done. A 1985 Supreme Court decision held that under Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone in Canada has the right to a hearing before being deported. That’s led to endemic problems of people simply skipping hearings and staying in Canada illegally, although the federal government is quick to point out that of the 30,000 outstanding immigration warrants, only about 3,500 have criminal convictions, and of those the majority are not for violent crimes.
Coupled with that, mainstream immigrants who properly qualify to come to Canada face a difficult time adjusting, Campbell notes.
“There’s a study out of the University of Calgary that indicates 78% of English Second Language students are high-school dropouts, because they aren’t given sufficient time and support to learn the language. And the figure for the whole of Canada over the last seven years has been that 45% of new immigrants to Canada don’t speak either French or English. So they’re not speaking either in the home, and kids aren’t learning the language quickly enough as a result.”
That in and of itself raises the threat, says former CSIS agent Dave Harris. “If they can’t speak either official language, then they have to turn to people from their own community for help. And sometimes that means turning to individuals who may not have their best interests at heart.”
Refugees have to be given a chance to make it in their own terms, added Amnesty International Secretary-General Alex Neve. “Whether within our own borders or anywhere, it’s when people live a marginalized, dispossessed, impoverished existence, that kind of misery and unhappiness makes them susceptible to extremist views.”
Even if Canadians are willing to accept the economic consequences of an entire new class of low-income Canadians—with the trade-off of offering them a better life here regardless of how little they make—the long-term security implications are obvious, says Campbell.
“Anyone can get in,” he says simply.
A case in point: Ahmed Ressam, who was caught in late 1999 trying to drive bomb materials across the border into Washington State as a prelude to blowing up L.A. International Airport. Ressam was living on welfare in Montreal, as were several of his ‘cell’ mates. He entered the country on a fake passport that was immediately spotted. However, even as an illegal immigrant, he was allowed a hearing. He just didn’t bother showing up.
He was convicted of criminal offences and released no fewer than three times, and ordered deported. And yet under Canada’s rules, a criminal conviction is not grounds to waive a deportation appeal hearing. Typically, it’s merely grounds to ask for a further delay while criminal charges are dealt with.
CSIS was, by the time of his deportation order, already monitoring Ressam due to his associations with men felt to be more of a threat. But the agency never bothered to inform Immigration.
Ressam even managed to visit Afghanistan and train at a terrorist camp, then return to Canada, without being spotted. When he was caught crossing the Washington state border with enough bomb-making equipment to blow up L.A. International, he was only pulled aside because he was travelling alone and sweating profusely from latent malaria.
Canada’s open borders have long been recognized by security experts as a problem. Regular unclassified updates from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service have highlighted the issue, such as in 2000, when the agency stated: “In order to carry out these efforts, terrorists and their supporters use intimidation and other coercive methods in immigrant communities, and they abuse Canada’s immigration, passport, welfare and charity regulations. A multitude of examples illustrates the activities of international terrorists in Canada.”
Former RCMP Commissioner Norm Inkster believes choking off immigration is not the answer. He agrees with Campbell’s assertion that the problem lies in selectivity.
“When we address these issues, we need to keep within the framework that we live in a country that was made and continues to grow based on immigration,” said Inkster.
“We can’t say ‘immigration yes or immigration no’. It has to be immigration, yes.”
But legitimate immigrants and bogus refugees,while afforded the same legal protections, are not the same. Campbell and other critics argue the 1985 Singh decision, which cemented the right to a hearing, was a perfect example of why the notwithstanding clause exists. Without using it, every bad guy on Earth knows Canada is the perfect place to disappear.
“It’s difficult,” says French researcher Olivier Roy.
“When these guys turn radical, they do that in the framework of a small local network of friends.
It’s not a real social movement, and we have trouble connecting people who don’t have any prior connection, which makes them very difficult to track.”
And if they’re difficult to track, they’re difficult to stop.