Cursed with a reptilian acronym, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service - CSIS - gives many democratically minded Canadians the creeps. Usually, it makes headlines when someone (recently, Maher Arar) objects to its activities. Yet the implication of a recent report is our domestic spy agency is quietly and methodically doing a job that needs to be done.
That job, in the post-Cold-War era, is counterterrorism. In view of the news yesterday Ottawa was a potential target in 1999 for Arab terrorists operating from South America, we would be wise not to forget our vulnerability to attacks. And to be thankful at least some would-be immigrants and refugees with established connections to subversive groups are stopped at the border.
Current figures are classified, but numbers from April 2002 to March 2003 reveal CSIS kept 203 applicants out of the country. That is a remarkably small proportion of the 23,500 who were screened initially as coming from risky areas and even of the 6,500 deemed worth a closer look. There is no evidence of anti-immigration bias here. It suggests rather the obvious - the overwhelming majority of applicants from terror-stricken countries come to escape violence, not perpetrate it.
Still, it takes only a small proportion of 203 determined individuals to engineer a terror attack. It also takes an agency like CSIS to protect us.