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Abusing our welcome
Sound Off
The Ottawa Citizen

Immigration "experts" have rushed to denounce a U.S. congressional report that says Canada's immigration and legal systems make it easier for our country to be a staging base for terrorism. Such knee-jerk defensiveness is irresponsible, however, as it fails to acknowledge the very real problems identified in the U.S. report.

The 251-page document, entitled Nations Hospitable to Organized Crime & Terrorism, was completed in October by the U.S. Library of Congress and released earlier this month (see excerpts on the next page). It considers everything from border security and drug interdiction to political culture and immigration law in assessing various countries' responses to terrorism. Ten pages are devoted to Canada, and rather than being misguided, as critics charge, the report acknowledges Canada's "well-deserved reputation" for promoting human rights. However, it quite reasonably observes that this reputation -- "a generous social-welfare system, lax immigration laws, infrequent prosecutions, light sentencing" -- is taken advantage of when Canada becomes "a favoured destination" for terrorists and organized crime groups.

Not surprisingly, the critics see things differently. Queen's University law professor Sharryn Aiken complained that such claims "fuel racism and fuel xenophobia." Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, denounced the report as "virtually totalitarian." Meanwhile, Margaret Beare, director of the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption at York University, noted that refugees and illegal immigrants are the least likely to engage in criminal activity because they don't want to risk deportation. Such comments, while obviously heartfelt and sincere, are nonetheless dangerous, because they fail to recognize that some people are, indeed, taking advantage of Canada's generosity and creating a security threat.

As the U.S. report notes, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board had a backlog of 53,000 cases last year, while the auditor general said the federal government had lost track of 36,000 people who had been ordered deported. Does anyone genuinely believe that none of these missing deportees could be potential terrorists? Certainly not the RCMP, whose intelligence assessment last year effectively summarized the U.S. concerns, saying that "terrorists and organized crime groups may exploit flaws in migration controls to blend into and recruit from immigrant communities and also to move associates into Canada."

Some might argue that new anti-terrorism laws and changes to the immigration system mean Canada is no longer a terrorist haven. That's hard to believe, however, given that the federal government admitted last year it has problems deporting dozens of landed immigrants the Federal Court of Canada designated as a danger to society.

Concern about illegal immigrants is not confined to Canada. Parliamentarians in the Netherlands, one of Europe's most multicultural nations, have just approved a plan to deport 26,000 failed asylum seekers. Whether our own Parliament wants to adopt a similar policy is open to debate, but at the very least, critics of such a plan should remember why the U.S. has some legitimate concerns about Canada, instead of dismissing those concerns out of hand.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

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