Easy come, easy stay What does a self-described terrorist like Ahmed Ressam have to do before we throw him out?

Mark Steyn National Post Thursday, December 23, 1999

There are supposedly 40,632 outstanding deportation orders on Immigration Canada’s books for the last six years. The department is actively pursuing 11,108 of them. Of the remaining 29,524, officials concede that they have no idea where 20,743 of them are.

Correction: Make that 20,742. They now know, assuming they glance at the front pages occasionally, where the 20,743rd is: under U.S. detention in Washington State.

Of the remaining 8,781, 6,824 have been found not to qualify for refugee status and have been cleared for deportation, but allowed to stay in Canada. Given that most of the world qualifies for refugee status in Canada, those few who don’t are presumably such a small, vulnerable minority group that they’re entitled to special dispensation. In other words, non-qualification for refugee status is now a qualification for refugee status.

That leaves 1,957 deportees who are neither underground nor being pursued, and fall into the department’s “miscellaneous” category. What are they up to this holiday season?

Well, perhaps they’re doing what Ahmed Ressam did for a couple of years. After arriving at Mirabel on a false passport in 1994, failing to turn up for his hearing, being deemed to have abandoned his claim, appealing to federal court and losing, Mr. Ressam — if, indeed, that’s his name — was issued a deportation order. In the U.S., a deportation order means “So long, have a nice trip.” But in Canada, as Mr. Ressam was to discover, just because you’ve got a deportation order doesn’t mean you’re going to be deported, any more than, as he was later to discover, getting a Canadian passport depends on being a Canadian. No, in Canada, being given a deportation order means you have to agree to report to immigration officials once a month. In other words, to be in full compliance with an order to leave, all you have to do is stay.

So year in, year out Mr. Ressam fulfilled the terms of his order to push off by continually showing up. Every month, he swung by Immigration Canada. “Hi, Ahmed here. Deportation order number 40,632. Just thought I’d put my head round the door to say I’m still here.”

“Excellent. See you next month.”

However, Mr. Ressam seems to have been a busy fellow and not unreasonably, after two and a half years, he came to the conclusion that having to schlep over to Immigration Canada was cutting into his hectic schedule of establishing false identities, buying nitroglycerine and electronic detonators, etc. So he stopped checking in, and joined the 20,742 other deportees who find Canadian bureaucracy too onerous. Immigration official Huguette Shouldice, speaking before Mr. Ressam and his loaded trunk turned up at U.S. Customs, was relaxed about this category. “We firmly do not believe that this means 20,743 people are here living underground. What we’re saying is a lot of those people would have left the country. But because we don’t have exit controls in Canada, like they do in Cuba or China, we don’t know how many are still here,” she said.

So, as Ms. Shouldice sees it, failing to comply with your deportation order by turning up at Immigration Canada every month for decade after decade most likely means you’ve got sick of waiting for the government to deport you and have decided to engage in an act of auto-deportation.

Ms. Shouldice is correct in saying that her government has not yet got around to enacting Cuban-style travel restrictions. But we know a few places where those 20,743 have likely not decamped to: the United Kingdom, for example. Under British law, Air Canada and other airlines flying into U.K. ports of entry are fined if they knowingly allow passengers without proper travel papers to board their planes. So, at an educated guess, not many of those 20,743 are running whelk stands in London’s East End. Perhaps some of them have returned to Algeria, Iraq, Somalia, wherever. But, realistically, most of them have two choices: Lacking much of the formal documentation so necessary to life in Canada, they can fade into the background, working in some of our less regulated professions — organized crime, prostitution — or they can drive south to U.S. border towns where there’s a reasonable chance all they’ll be asked is where they live and how long they’re planning to be in America. Contrary to the bland assurances of Ms. Shouldice, Jean Chretien and Anne McLellan, Canada’s system of congratulations-you’re-here-to-stay deportation orders actively encourages criminal behaviour and the destabilization of our closest neighbours.

Of course, on the off-chance that Mr. Ressam hadn’t skipped to join a reputable business concern like the Russian Mafia and was instead planning, say, an illegal fishing trip to Nisga’a, Ms. Shouldice and her chums had a nationwide arrest warrant issued in May, 1998. “The warrant is entered into the police computer system,” said Ms. Shouldice, explaining the procedure to The Toronto Sun a month ago. “But only if they are stopped for speeding or jaywalking or shoplifting are they discovered.” So, in September, 1998, Mr. Ressam was arrested — by the Montreal police, not for jaywalking but for stealing laptop computers and cellular phones. He served two weeks in jail and then went on his way. It’s standard procedure in every jurisdiction in North America for the arresting department to check on outstanding warrants. So what happened here? Under some Joe Clarkian “renewed federalism” initiative, have the MUC and Surete du Quebec been issued with “distinct society” computers incompatible with the ROC’s? Shortly after his release, the MUC issued a further arrest warrant in connection with more thefts. But by then he’d successfully used a fake Quebec baptismal certificate to acquire a Canadian passport in another name.

“At no time did we have any information that he was a known member of a terrorist group,” protests Ms. Shouldice. Au contraire, Mr. Ressam seems to have been commendably straightforward. On arrival in Canada, he said he’d spent five months in detention in Algeria having confessed to being an Islamic terrorist. But Immigration Canada was not persuaded by this: According to Ms. Shouldice, many asylum seekers try to pass themselves off as terrorists, the object being to “exaggerate the persecution they fear in their homeland in order to impress Canadian immigration officials.” Read that again slowly: Your chances of being accepted as a refugee in Canada are likely to be improved if you’ve been convicted of terrorist offences.

So, faced with someone trying to enter the country through the mad-bomber quota, Immigration Canada reacted with urbane ennui: not that line again. “My name is Adolf Hitler and I have killed millions of innocent civilians all over Europe.” “Yeah, yeah, you’ll have to do better than that, hotshot.”

Mr. Ressam said he was a convicted terrorist, he failed to appear for his refugee hearing, he broke the terms of his deportation order, he was jailed for theft, and he had outstanding arrest warrants from the MUC and the RCMP. And how did the government react? They gave him a Canadian passport. I have one question for Ms. Shouldice: What do you have to do to piss you guys off? In his cell in Washington, Mr. Ressam must be regretting he didn’t instead just blow up Sussex Drive. “Right, that’s it,” Immigration Canada would tell him. “We’re issuing another deportation order. And this time you have to check in weekly.”

The reality is no one gets turned away. If you can reach a Canadian airport, you’re here for keeps. If you’re coming in at a land border post, don’t even bother slowing down. I was at the Rock Island, Quebec, post in 1995 exchanging pleasantries with the official when a car came roaring through at around 60 miles per hour. The officer jumped aside and sounded a klaxon. But by then the guy was past the Vieilles Douanes restaurant and halfway up the hill. “What’ll you do?” I asked. “Oh, nothing,” she said. “It’s probably nothing serious.” Probably. But then what is serious to Immigration Canada? You’re a refugee claimant? We’ll give you 600 bucks and put you up for a month. Your claim’s false? We’ll give you a deportation order that entitles you to stay. You steal from genuine citizens and lawful immigrants? Don’t bother about it, we’re world-renowned for our “tolerance.”

The only way to fix this system is to break it. So, at this time of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, I say to the rest of the world: Come on down! Vermonters, New Yorkers, Chinese boat people, Algerian bombers, Russian gangsters, Colombian drug barons, Somali warlords, we love you all. We’re scrupulously non-judgmental and we’re conveniently located for many prime U.S. terrorist targets. In the prototype stages of our famous multiculturalism, we were content just to have one or two of everything. But we won’t really be satisfied with our “diversity” until you’re all here. So come tomorrow and be our guests: Temporary admission pending deportation isn’t just for Christmas, it’s a gift that lasts a lifetime! And, if they ask for a guarantor, put Ms. Shouldice down.