Porous borders make mean streets

Martin Loney National Post Monday, January 03, 2000

The ongoing farrago that started with the arrest of suspected Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressam, charged with bringing explosives into Port Angeles, Wa., has again highlighted Canada’s porous borders. Ressam’s arrest was quickly followed by that of Lucia Garofalo, allegedly linked to the same group of Algerian extremists. U.S. authorities claimed Garofalo had assisted other Algerians to enter the United States, including Bouabide Chamchi, who was arrested with her at a Vermont border crossing.

Ressam and his associates would not be the first to find Canada an attractive staging post for cross-border terrorism. In 1997 a Palestinian, Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, was charged and subsequently convicted of involvement in a plan to bomb the New York subway system. Mezer, like Ressam, had made an application for refugee status in Canada. Mezer arrived in Canada in 1993. He was twice returned from the United States after attempting an illegal entry but Canadian authorities took no action to remove him. On the third occasion Canada refused him readmission, whereupon he made a refugee claim in the U.S. Ressam was ordered removed but he remained at liberty while his lawyer sought to overturn the order. Ressam was convicted of theft but still escaped deportation and using a forged baptismal certificate secured a Canadian passport.

What is remarkable about the two cases is that they represent not an unusual instance of police and bureaucratic ineptitude but the standard operation of immigration and refugee policies that have turned Canada into a haven for criminals and terrorists. If there is anything unusual in the case it is that Canadian immigration authorities had made any effort to remove Ressam; most of those whose refugee claims fail simply remain in Canada. In August, for example, it was reported that of 893 Chinese claimants who had been rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board in the last three years only 93 had been removed.

Immigrants convicted of serious crimes remain in the country. In the rare cases in which the Immigration department seeks their removal they risk rebuttal. Guyanese immigrant Sunil Bhagwandass, with a series of convictions for drug trafficking, break and enter and robbery, remains in Canada courtesy of Federal Court Judge Frederick Gibson’s recent ruling. Gibson’s decision attracted widespread condemnation but was consistent with previous rulings. In 1995 Federal Court Judge Barbara Reed overturned a deportation order against Jordanian criminal Nedal Mohammed Ibrahim, who had repaid Canada’s hospitality by robbing gas stations. Ibrahim’s lawyer, David Matas, subsequently appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Commission, with financial support from Canadian taxpayers, to argue that the removal of non-citizens, guilty of serious criminal offences, was a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a signatory.

Criminals seeking entry to Canada need not depend on the refugee route. The immigrant investment program has proved a valuable tool to both native-born and foreign crooks. Among the more fanciful schemes was the successful proposal of Lee Chau-Ping, who arrived as a business immigrant from Hong Kong promising to move to the remote community of La Ronge in northern Saskatchewan and establish a fast-food chicken franchise. Better known as the Ice Queen, Chau-Ping moved to Vancouver from where, in 1996, she disappeared amid reports that her business interests were focussed not on chicken but a highly addictive crystallized meth-amphetamine, ice. Ms. Chau-Ping was also wanted by police in China, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Last year David Webber, currently a senior forensic accountant with the World Bank, reported on a compliance audit of the investor program, undertaken for Immigration Canada, which uncovered widespread fraud. Some 80,000 immigrants had entered under the scheme but Webber reported that the program was “a massive sham. The middlemen made hundreds of millions of dollars.” In the wake of Mr. Webber’s report, Ottawa moved to tighten controls but since Quebec runs its own program the result was simply to divert would-be immigrant “investors” to that route.

The government’s response to the Ressam affair was consistent with past reactions. The prime minister quickly assured Canadians that the country is not a haven for terrorists, citing the advice he had received from the responsible authorities. In contrast the responsible authority, CSIS, in a report Trends in Terrorism published three days before the prime minister’s assurances, noted that many of the worlds leading terrorist groups have a presence in Canada. The groups do indeed find “a source of haven of support” in emigre communities from whom they also vigorously raise funds, often, as in the case of Canada’s 200,000 strong Tamil community, using intimidation and crime. The report confirmed the magnitude of a problem the Canadian government has repeatedly refused to address, from the murderous antics of Sikh extremists to the routine use of Canada’s ineffective refugee determination process to facilitate terrorist activity.

Canadians looking for evidence of the increasingly successful penetration of organized crime into Canada need look no further than the annual CSIS reports. These reports document the rapid growth of Eastern European, Asian and Jamaican-based organized crime groups. The most recent report acknowledges that the information may seem “alarming” and that there has been a significant expansion in the nature and extent of criminal activity in Canada.

The prime minister’s response suggests that all is well with Canada’s immigration and refugee process. The record indicates the need for urgent reform. The Canadian government is failing its most fundamental obligation, the protection of its citizens.