Terrorists seek refugee status and dectecting them becomes harder

Peace Arch Park By User:Vmenkov (Own work (Own photo)) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Peace Arch Park by Vmenkov / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 

In a very matter-of-fact way, Canada Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) informs visitors to its website that many terrorist organizations are currently active on Canadian territory. Upon reading such a blunt admission, most Canadians might start scratching their heads in bewilderment. Next, they will look around and begin to wonder. Who is that dark-skinned neighbor down the street who came from Syria a year ago, really? What about that Pakistani guy who works in the supermarket? Geez, the Middle Eastern janitor in my daughter's school looks super weird... And so on. Naturally, such fears would probably be unfounded, but then again, most terrorists blend in perfectly with the masses, living seemingly ordinary lives. Because of its openness, Canada has often been called a “safe haven for terrorists”. The country is attractive for three major reasons: it shares a border with the US, a top target of world terrorism; it has fairly liberal immigration policies that allow for easy entrance and grant permission to stay; it displays traditionally strong respect for human rights and freedoms.

Going back to the cliché that terrorism may have many faces while faceless, terrorist activities are not limited only to blown-up buildings, civilian casualties caused by suicide bombers, or explosions similar to the one at the Boston marathon. Anything from fundraising, lobbying through legal organizations, manipulating and using immigrant communities to provide shelter for terrorist supporters and operatives, could be part of terrorism. Over the years, CSIS reports have indicated that more international terrorist groups operate in Canada than in any other country. Most of them had originated during regional, ethic and nationalist conflicts in Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Lebanon, to name but a few.

Canada is this way By Vidor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sumas Crossing by Vidor / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The big question remains though: how are they granted entry? Or perhaps the more appropriate question would be: how do some of them find a way to enter the country? Considering that the US-Canadian border stretches over 4,000 miles, it's easy to imagine that a number of malevolent individuals would manage to crawl under the wire unnoticed, so to speak. Let's go back to 1999 for a moment. Border security has tightened up significantly since then, but one Algerian terrorist, Ahmed Ressam, was caught trying to cross the border at Port Angeles, Washington, with explosives in his car. He claimed to be part of a Montreal-based terrorist group possibly linked to the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and Al-Qaida. By capturing him, authorities on both sides of the border prevented a millennium terrorist attack at Los Angeles International Airport. The point is, terrorists from 50 different international organizations enter Canada as refugees, according to CSIS. They melt into the ethnic communities, along with close to 300,000 other immigrants admitted each year. Even with questionable backgrounds, thousands of potential terrorists seek asylum and are often granted. Ahmed Ressam came to Canada in 1994 with a fake French passport and was given refugee status.

Canada Customs By Dominic Labbe (Given to me by the photographer) [CC BY-SA 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Canada Customs by Dominic Labbe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 1.0

Canada has compiled a list of terrorist organizations banned or deemed illegal on its territory. The list includes big names such as Al-Qiada with all its branches, Hizballah, the Taliban, and the Tamil Tigers. Many Islamic movements and factions are also listed. But it isn't for the common people to know whether activists from those organizations live next door, or you pass them by on the street daily. At any given moment, ongoing intelligence operations and investigations partner with international anti-terrorism agencies to work to prevent future attacks. On Nov. 8, 2013, two new terrorist entities were blacklisted as potentially dangerous to the safety and security of Canadians - Jabhat Al-Nusra and al-Muwaqi'un Bil Dima. Anything Arabic-sounding and hard to pronounce is suspicious nowadays, but those two were condemned under the Criminal Code for very specific reasons, mainly, proven terrorist activities. Jabhat Al-Nusra has publicly sworn allegiance to Al-Qaida, and has claimed responsibility for about 600 car bombings and suicide attacks that have taken the lives of many Syrian civilians. The group was founded on January 23, 2012, in the midst of the Syrian civil war. It was qualified by observers as “the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force”. The group unites Sunni Islamist mujahideen and wants to overthrow the Assad government. After that, they dream of creating a Pan-Islamic state under Sharia, the moral code and religious law of Islam. The other group, al-Muwaqi'un Bil Dima, is also affiliated to Al-Qaida, professing its ideology and employing the same extreme ways of violence. In January 2013, the group carried out an attack on Tigantourine gas facility in eastern Algeria that claimed the lives of 48 hostages. So such entities are blacklisted after extensive analysis of intelligence and other data. Under the Criminal Code, if a person or a group is listed, they may have their assets seized. Severe punishment is intended also for any accomplices who knowingly take part in, or contribute to, any suspicious activities of a listed group, especially in the facilitation of a terrorist activity.

North America [Public Domain]

North America [Public Domain]

There is no straightforward answer as to what can be done to better filter all candidates wishing to come and live in Canada. The Canadian government has developed their Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada's Counter-terrorism Strategy that still doesn't give clear answers. The Strategy includes four major efforts: prevent, detect, deny and respond.

  • Prevent: trying to understand how terrorists' minds work and what triggers their actions. In other words, what motivates these people to want to kill innocent civilians and destroy the Western way of life?
  • Detect: identifying terrorists, the organizations they belong to and their supporters. An important part of this effort is to figure out their plans through intelligence, investigation, carefully executed operations and analysis. Collaboration with domestic and international partners is vital here.
  • Deny: making sure would-be terrorists are denied the means and opportunities to plan and carry out terrorist activities.
  • Respond: in case of a terrorist attack, to respond in an organized and prompt manner while mitigating its effect. This effort also validates the importance of quickly reverting to normal life by limiting the impact of the terrorist activity.

Keeping Canadian citizens safe is an enormous undertaking that requires the joint efforts of all governmental agencies. As of now, the decision regarding who would be denied admission into the country falls within the jurisdiction of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). An individual may be rendered inadmissible, upon information provided by a security certificate issued in special cases and with classified information. Such security certificates have helped detain suspicious candidates on security grounds, deny them entry, or directly remove them. However, some amendments were introduced in 2008 in order to avoid unfair or stereotypical detention. Special advocates were appointed to defend the individuals listed in the security certificate, as they are allowed access to sensitive information in support of their case.  


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