It's a provocative title, but let's be clear about a few points before anyone conflates what I'm trying to say and their own personal views on immigrants. The reality of the Canadian experience - more so than any other similar country - is that Canada is a land of immigrants. Indeed, the number of Canadians born abroad is more than ever, and that proportion is a little more than a fifth of the population. Further, immigrants do not increase crime. A bevy of criminologists have undermined that fallacy. Immigrants not only do not increase crime, it appears they may well suppress it. It is true that the jury is still out on the economic benefit of immigration - or, put another way, the true cost of immigration. Generally speaking, our immigration safeguards are working.
Despite that, Kellie Leitch, a leadership aspirant for the Conservative Party, has raised the question of whether we do enough to screen the immigrants that do come to this country. She notes, correctly, that most are not interviewed by Canadian immigration officers. Despite the letters appearing after her name, she appears to possess a very simplistic notion of the process, but her concerns do appear to be hitting a chord with certain segments of our population. Other than that bromide she has not identified how screening can improve, or how an interview with an immigration officer is a cure-all. She wants to ask prospective immigrants questions like whether men and women are equal. In my mind, an interview based on these types of questions simply separates a good liar from a bad one.
Making fun of Dr. Leitch's proposal and list of questions is easy but it's important to realize that our system is not perfect.
The fact of the matter is that individuals have been able to circumvent the safeguards in our immigration system meant to keep criminals, liars and terrorists out. In 2011, CBSA identified 30 war criminals believed to be still living in Canada and noted that they were able to remove 300 over the years. Even the NDP (hardly the law-and-order type of political party) criticized the vetting and screening process that allowed war criminals into the country in the first place. My own view on immigration policy and the terrorist threat to Canada may well be biased as the child of immigrants, but can be found here, but in a nutshell, it's to keep calm and carry on albeit utilizing a virtuous cycle of continuous assessment and reconstitution as needed of our laws, policies and practices.
The starting point is simply that countries have the right to determine who gets in. In 1969, the iconic Lord Denning, in the British Schmidt case insisted that
'no alien has the right to enter this country [UK] except by leave of the Crown: and the Crown can refuse leave without giving any reason'.
However, both the UK and Canada have come some way from Denning's almost laconic characterization of immigration law. Current immigration law requires the immigration department to consider every [complete] application submitted and to give every refugee claimant that makes it into Canada a hearing. Principles of fairness, with roots in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, require procedural fairness to be meted to most applicants.
Remember, our immigration system depends largely on self-report (e.g. "Have you been detained...", and basically, "Are you a terrorist") and police or security checks from Third World countries where corruption is rife.
There is no doubt that prevention is the best cure. After the fact attempts at deportation cost Canadians millions, and may or may not succeed - and that assumes that we figure this out in the first place. There may well be scope for improvement in our immigration selection, background checks and enforcement. Frankly, additional resources should be allocated to visa offices dealing with countries where we have deficient sureties.
I wrote about one such example of a terrorist getting in and then staying here in an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail almost four years ago.
Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad, a convicted terrorist, had been removed from Canada after spending a quarter century here. When he entered Canada in 1987, he hid the fact that he was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (designated a terrorist organization subsequent to his arrival), and convicted of manslaughter by a Greek court (and sentenced to 17 years) for his role in a brazen attack on an El Al commercial jetliner where an innocent passenger lost his life. On December 26, 1968 25-year-old Mohammad and Naheb Suleiman, his 19 year old partner in terror, stormed an Israeli passenger plane in Greece with Mohammad firing dozens of rounds at it with a submachine gun and Suleiman throwing a half dozen grenades. A bullet ripped through the jetliner and killed Israeli Leon Shirdan, an engineer, husband and father.
Mohammad's past and his lie that allowed him entry to Canada was basically discovered right away and he was ordered deported soon after his arrival. The wheels of justice grind slowly and it seems that the wheels of immigration grind even slower. While he was deemed to be a terrorist – and inadmissible under the previous Immigration Act back in 1987 – Mohammad made a refugee claim (rejected) and with various appeals staved off his removal from this country. Mohammad was represented by the indomitable Barbara Jackman, which may be a big reason he has been able to celebrate 25 birthdays in Canada and is now a grandfather to children born in Canada.
Coincidentally, Israel Leon Shirdan's grandson also lives in this country.
The reasons for these delays, at least in initially, were allegations that he would be at risk upon return. Canada ’s laws restrict refoulement or return of individuals facing personalized risk. Canada is not alone in facing obstacles in removing individuals such as Mohammad. The U.K. struggled to deport Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic cleric, back to his native Jordan, a removal that took more than a decade for that rule of law country. The obstacles that prevent easy deportation are our self-imposed fetters (like the Rule of Law) that correctly restrict arbitrary government decision making.
More recently, Mohammad’s entreaties to remain centred around his poor health. At the end of the day, Mohammad had multiple levels of review with full access to the panoply of rights accorded to him by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and costs to the taxpayer in the millions. Due process, and justice, have been served.
But, due process does not require undue delay. There is no discernible reason why Mohammad’s removal took a quarter-century after the initial determination of inadmissibility. One can surmise, given his unique circumstances, he has had access to immigration tribunals, the Federal Court of Canada, and sought other, legal, recourse to remain in Canada. He was entitled to do so and he cannot be faulted for availing himself of these options. There is no doubt that the system is more to blame for any delay in removal and this may, in part, be attributable to the fact that Mohammad’s file was with individual officers who had little oversight or accountability with respect to individual files such as his.
Jason Kenney, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that lessons were learned and that there would be no repeat of this case again. That may well be true; but that only applies to terrorists that the Government knows about.