Refugees and terrorism

The debate on refugees has taken a nasty turn in Canada and the US.  Some US Republican Presidential candidates have repugnantly suggested that the country take in only Christians.  Several governors have refused to take in any refugees from Syria.  In this country, several officials, including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, have called on the Trudeau government to ease up on the drive to bring in 25,000 by year’s end.

The concern, of course, is that terrorists may hide in the stream of millions seeking a new home.  Allegations – not facts – that one did so on the way to the attacks in Paris are only feeding this fear.

Bottom line: is it possible that groups like IS will try to infiltrate legitimate refugee flows?  Absolutely.  Should we be vigilant.  Absolutely.  Should we close the doors to stop terrorism from visiting our shores?  Absolutely not.

I have been saying for weeks that the agencies responsible for refugee screening – largely CSIS and the RCMP – are up to the job.  And now the heads of both organisations – Director Coulombe and Commissioner Paulson – agree with me (thanks gentlemen!).  They say that their staff can do this and do it properly.  I have talked to former colleagues at CSIS and gotten the same answer.  What else do people need to convince them?

Here is how it works.  CSIS and the RCMP have access to a tonne of information, ranging from what they collect themselves to what they get from partners, foreign and domestic.  They go through this info, seek advice and make a decision on each case.  They then provide advice to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on whether or not a given individual SHOULD be admitted (the ultimate call still rests with CIC).  The system works.

Yes, some may get through.  And some have historically (National Security Certificate cases anyone?).  But the threat is minimal.  Since 9/11, the US has resettled 784,000 refugees many of whom came from the Middle East, and NOT A SINGLE ONE has been involved in an act of terrorism south of the 49th.  NOT ONE.  The situation here is similar.

Look, it is impossible to get the threat level to zero.  It is always possible that a terrorist attack can happen in this country.  But look at facts.  The vast majority of Canadian IS- or AQ-inspired terrorists were born here or came here as legitimate immigrants and in every single case their radicalisation process occurred here.  Shutting the gate does not eliminate terrorism.

Yes there are challenges.  Such a large number in a short time frame coming from areas of the world where it is tough to gather info will be difficult.  But doable.

This country was built on immigration and a percentage of those immigrants were refugees.  My maternal grandfather came from western Ukraine a century ago under conditions that today would have made him a refugee (we didn’t use that term back then).  Let’s not turn our backs on the very process that made Canada the great country it is.

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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