Why Canada should not grant refugee status to Snowden ‘helpers’

We have developed a wonderful system in the West where everyone has the right to a fair trial and to see the evidence collected against them.  Defence lawyers are in many cases tireless defenders of all.  We – well at least most of us that is – have also set in place generous refugee acceptance regimes where some truly deserving people who have suffered horrendously in conflict zones get  a chance to raise their families in secure new homes. I am proud of what my country, Canada, has done in this regard, even if some think we don’t take in enough desperate immigrants (while others think we already take in too many).

These two systems crossed the other day when a lawyer acting for a few families in Hong Kong asked the Canadian government to accept them as refugees because their lives are apparently at risk for having helped self-styled secrets discloser Edward Snowden when he resided there before fleeing to that paragon of freedom and justice – Russia.

I understand that lawyers do what they can to represent their clients, even if they are a little theatrical at times in their characterisation of those clients.  So in this case the attorneys are just carrying out their duties as they should. But this does not mean Canada should race to embrace these families.  Quite on the contrary.

There are several reasons why these families – apparently from the Philippines and Sri Lanka – should NOT be considered as refugee cases by Canada or anyone else for that matter (well maybe Russia is interested) irrespective of their lawyers’ claims that their status in Hong Kong is iffy and they have apparently caught the interest of Sri Lankan operatives’, whatever that means.

Firstly, there are tens of millions of refugees worldwide and Canada cannot take them all. We should focus on those in conflict zones where death is a constant fear and prioritise on that basis.  On that level this case has little merit.

Secondly, these families opted to help a felon – and he is exactly that under US law even if you see him as a hero.  No one forced them to do so that I am aware of .  It is hard to imagine that they were not aware of the risk they ran and hence are not any different than anyone else harbouring a criminal at large.

Thirdly, can you imagine the reaction of the US should the Trudeau government opt to take these people in as persecuted individuals?  I am NOT a fan of the Trump administration and firmly believe we should take strong stands on issues like refugees in opposition to the current US policy, bans and all, but this is not one of them.  It is not in Canada’s interest to stick a thumb in the US’ eye to protect people who aided and abetted someone many (including in this country) see as a traitor who should be shot at dawn.  We need to pick our battles with the Donald in light of the importance of the Canada-US relationship and not put up our hand at every opportunity.

Maybe this plea is a Hail Mary at best and it is possible that the lawyers know that it has next to zero chance of success.  Nevertheless, the Canadian government should come out strongly and publicly that it has no  intention of helping anyone involved with Mr. Snowden whose disclosures have done great damage to our ability to keep ourselves safe.  To do otherwise sends the wrong message.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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