For people who claim a refugee status - a guy like this - you would think we
would have a speedy determination on whether he's a real refugee or not. How
long does it take?
The average length of time ... the last I checked,was between nine months and a
year. Some cases obviously could be run through more quickly. Others might take
[longer]. The main reason it is a cumbersome procedure is because the law and
jurisprudence demand certain procedures, certain guarantees. There is an
outstanding backlog of 30,000 cases right now, and the whole system can only
deal with about ... last year it was about 24,000 cases. ...
So obviously, you are always one year behind, on average, and in more difficult
cases where the delaying tactics are used -- which are often the case -- it may
run on for two, three years. So it's quite possible for someone to stay in
Canada on welfare and with shelter provided for at least three years before a
final determination. ...
What does the Ahmed Ressam case tell you about the problems with deportation
Very, very few people who are turned down for the refugee claims are
actually deported. Some may even leave voluntarily, but we have no way of
checking it. We don't control departures. We have no record. Some may actually
be deported, but these are usually cases where there is something about the
person which presents a threat to Canadian security.
Basically, as I understand it, there are not enough personnel or resources
to follow up on rejected refugee claimants and make sure that they leave the
country, whether by the formal process of deportation or at their own time. So
it's very, very easy for people who go through this whole process for a year or
two to simply avoid any consequences at all. ...
When Ahmed Ressam comes in and says, "I was accused of terrorism and arms
trafficking," and he says he was innocent ... shouldn't that ring some alarm
The first assumption in what we consider to be a fair system is that you take
the word of the claimant. If he says, "I was accused of being involved in arms
trafficking," that doesn't carry any weight. What carries weight is his
statement that "I was innocent and they were persecuting me. They tortured me,"
or whatever. The weight of evidence is always his side of it, not what he was
From the point of view of common sense, does this seem like a good system to
It isn't a good system if you look at it from the point of view of detecting
criminals and terrorists and war criminals, because obviously, very, very few
of these people are going to admit to having done these things. On the other
hand, if you give credence to what they have been accused of, in effect, you're
denying their refugee claim before you're giving the person a chance to be
Once in Canada, Mr. Ressam is arrested time after time for crimes - petty
theft, theft over $5,000 in some cases, stealing computers. Would you not
expect this to affect his case?
... I always assumed in my experience that anyone who committed a major
crimes after arriving in Canada could not possibly be a genuine refugee --
otherwise, why would they take the risk? Why would they engage in this sort of
activity? This is not generally accepted by the courts, though. Serious crimes
committed before arriving in Canada can be taken into account when arriving at
a judgement about whether a person is a genuine refugee or not. Crimes
committed in Canada after making your claim are not considered relevant by the
court, unless they are crimes which would involve more than ten years of
imprisonment in Canada. In practical terms, that means murder, essentially.
... Did Ahmed Ressam kind of play Canada as a sucker?
Oh yes, yes. I think there is no doubt about it. He entered under false
pretenses, he lied, he broke the law, he used Canada as a base of operations
against a neighboring country with whom we have no quarrel. If he had not
inadvertently been captured ... he would have killed untold numbers of innocent
civilians in the United States, and Canada would have had blood on its hands.
...We didn't catch him -- the Americans did. I think it's time that all the
agencies, and certainly the government, took this seriously before something
truly tragic happens.
The Minister of Immigration is saying she is dealing with the problems
in the refugee system. She is noticing that there may be some shortcomings, but
the government of Canada is acting forthrightly to close the back door for
false refugee claims, so the front door can be opened wider. What do you think?
I don't see anything in the new legislation which would close the door.
It makes a few minor changes in the people that might be arrested without a warrant.
But I am not sure how strongly that can be enforced against the tremendous opposition
on the part of the immigration groups. On the other hand, it introduces another layer of
appeal into the system which, in my mind, would simply add delay to it. The idea is in
the legislation that this will not permit review by the federal court. I
think this is either disingenuous or naÔve, because under the charter, they have
a right to go to the federal court, and I should think that this legislation would be
thrown out very quickly. And it will certainly be challenged very quickly by immigration lawyers.
So taken all in all, what I see in the legislation is no change at all in the existing system.
To change the existing system requires more than just jiggling a few lines here and a few lines
there. The new act says that anyone trafficking...more than ten persons illegally into Canada
is subject to a fine of $1 million instead of $500,000. To my knowledge, no judge who has
tried a trafficker -- and very few are ever arrested, let alone tried --
has imposed a fine greater than $5,000. So that you raise it to $500,000 to a million, so what?
The $500,000 has never been used, nor has even $10,000. These are differences meant
for cosmetic purposes. This is designed for a political purpose, which is to say,
"Look how tough we are being." In fact, it's not tough at all. ...
former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)|
So at the end of the day, what was the significance of the Ressam case? What
lessons did it have for Canada?
The lessons of Ressam are many, and many of them are quite scary. ... The
passport control and regulation aspect is unbelievable, and the only good thing
to come out of this is the continuing level of cooperation on the part of
security intelligence communities across the border. This is a warning of
things to come, and we should be ready for it. ...
Is Canada generally becoming a safe haven for terrorists?
I think there is a dire risk that is happening. We are already playing a
significant role in international terrorism funding. We have 50 terrorist
organizations of a variety of descriptions here, and a good number of those are
the so-called the world class ones. So I think that we can no longer afford to
be naïve, and we need to see the political will to take some more control
of the situation.
In your testimony in the United States, you talked about both becoming a
safe haven and a number that seem to be funding terrorists operations. What is
the justification for saying those things?
...I think there is the reality and there is the perception
internationally that we in Canada are simply not meeting our obligations on the
level of counterterrorism, in the sense that we are allowing organizations of a
terrorist nature to fund terrorism worldwide; that we are seen as a place to
come for recruiting and indeed for planning and organizing, as the Ressam case
So you put all of this together and you wind up with international
perceptions that we are not doing our bit to curb international terrorism.
What do you make of how easy it was for Ahmed Ressam to get himself a new
I think that's a shocker, by any description -- the idea that you could have
people showing up at a Foreign Affairs office and submitting a passport
application on behalf of somebody else, especially someone with the history of
Ressam. It's quite an astonishing thing, and what's more astonishing is that at
the end of the processing, the same sort of procedure was followed and a
complete passport was then handed over to a "cut out," to somebody representing
Ressam. It's quite amazing, and goes beyond that ... questions to the
documentation that were used to justify the application in the first place. How
you can rely on church certificates that may or may not be possible to review
credibly? It's not of this world.
What do you think has to change here?
Foreign Affairs has got to develop and enforce credible approaches how you
accept, and from whom you accept the passport applications, and to whom you
deliver the passport applications, once they are complete. This is an
invaluable document to international terrorism, and a very valuable one
to Canada and our credibility. So we have got to have requirements that are in
proportion to that value. ...
We need a gigantic cultural shift in this country. We are not used to seeing
ourselves at the front line of any major struggle. But there is a war on. It's
a global, terrorist-based war that we are all going to be facing, and it is
increasingly going to become home here to Canada. We have got to get our laws
and our attitudes into line to meet the threat before it's too late. We may
need to look at legislation changes. But, above all, all of us have got to be
more aware that no matter what kind of emphasis we want to place on
multiculturalism and the benefits of diversity, some of those issues open us to
struggles that are going on around the world, and that we don't want to have to
come home. ...
Why do you think these Algerians, the GIA [the Armed Islamic Group], would
choose Montreal to come and settle themselves?
There are a lot of good reasons why the GIA would want to choose Montreal as
their headquarters for operation. First of all, you have the whole idea of
French culture; their lingua franca is clearly French, coming from Algeria. The
other side of it is you've got quite an Algerian community there. Especially
with the disruptions we have seen in Algeria, it's been a natural place for
them to wind up. So that can add up to a good deal of cover for people who
might want to engage in terrorism and planning and funding.
I suppose the related thing is that with all of those Algerians there you have
a pool of victims, people who can be taken advantage of and intimidated so that
the terrorists themselves can fund their operations and activities. So taken
together, Montreal is the place you probably want to be if you are an Algerian
The Minister of Immigration says the system is going to be changing -- that
if people commit crimes, their refugee application will be suspended until the
resolution of that.
It all depends on what suspended means, doesn't it? If "suspended" means people
are going to be on the loose for that much longer without any serious
documentation clearance or anything else, then that would seem to expand the
threat rather than decrease it.
Do you think that Canada has to change its policy with respect to keeping
people in custody?
As a Canadian, I am uncomfortable with the idea. But I can no longer deny that
that might be the only appropriate solution as we find more and more lethal
people among some of our immigrant stream. In terms of Islamic extremists in
Canada [as] they regard the proximity of Canada to the U.S., it's making Canada
a kind of Islamic extremist aircraft carrier for the launching of major
assaults against the U.S. mainland, and that is something we have got to
Canada's Minister of Immigration|
In the Ahmed Ressam case, what should have happened when Mr. Ressam came
to Canada? He admitted to the immigration official that he had been accused of
terrorist activities in Algeria, that he was accused of arms trafficking,
although he said he was completely innocent. Should Canadian authorities have
investigated this apparent terrorist?
It's very important that we do upfront security screening immediately upon an
application for refugee status. ...So the provision in my new
legislation, which will give us the ability upfront to do that security
screening, is an improvement of over what exists today. ...
Ahmed Ressam shows up in Canada and he presents a false French passport. The
immigration official realizes this picture doesn't fit into this passport, [so
he claims] "Oh, I'm a refugee." But just the fact that he presented a false
passport -- is that a crime?
We know that many people who are genuine refugees fleeing persecution ... have
to resort to the use of false documents. So that, in itself, is not enough for
us to immediately detain that person. We need to be able to have the
information and the proof, because in a democracy like Canada, we don't lock
you up and throw away the key without evidence. Some people say my new
legislation is too tough. I'm saying it's well balanced, because it does
give us the tools when we find someone who we have concerns about, where we
have done the upfront security screening and have evidence, then we can argue
to detain that person.
...Clearly, somebody should have checked if his fingerprints would have
been on file in France, if he had tried to sneak into other countries with
passports and that kind of thing. Somebody should have checked that?
In hindsight, it's a question of lessons learned. But when we know that
we are dealing with individuals who are doing everything that they can to evade
detection, there are challenges. Can I tell you that it will be perfect in the
future even with policy changes? The answer is, of course not. We are living in
a world where we value our freedoms and we want as open a border as possible.
... Yes, we have to update our laws and our policies, do everything that we can
to secure our borders. We remain vigilant and work internationally. But there
is not going to be any guarantees that no one is going to be able to do this.
Doesn't it seem kind of outrageous to you that Ahmed Ressam runs around
Canada for years collecting welfare and committing numerous crimes and [that]
seemed to have no reflection on his refugee claim?
Well, he was denied. He did not succeed in making a refugee claim in Canada;
that claim was denied.
Because he didn't show up for a hearing.
And I was as upset as anyone else with the story as it unfolded. I was pleased
he was caught. But it is important for people to know that he was denied
refugee status in Canada, that he did not convince anyone that he should
receive protection from Canada, and that a warrant was issued for his arrest.
I am told by somebody in the Immigration and Refugee Board that if you
commit crimes like this, that's a separate issue, that it doesn't affect your
Under the new legislation it does and it will. The new legislation gives us the
ability to deny access to the refugee determination system of anyone who is
criminally inadmissable to Canada -- criminal, terrorist, war crimes, crimes
against humanity -- you will not get access to the refugee determination system
under the new legislation. Second, if you have committed a crime in Canada,
your claim is suspended pending the outcome of your trial. ...
American officials in particular look at the details of the Ahmed Ressam
case and his friends who were operating at the same time and say that Canada
was clearly becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
I disagree. I disagree completely. While there are those who would like to make
that assertion, Canada has taken the steps in concert with the United States
and internationally to do everything that we can to be an important partner.
But many people come here from the United States. We have a two-way border
crossing, and we want to have as open a border as possible. But I can tell you
that Canada is not and will not be a safe haven.
Why was Ahmed Ressam not deported?
Bottom line, we couldn't get travel documents. We cannot put somebody on a
plane and and out of the country unless we have travel documents, and that's a
big challenge ... People who come here and who are evading detection don't
cooperate in getting travel documents, so we don't have the identification we
need. It's a big challenge for my department.
Does that mean you tried to get Algeria to take him and they wouldn't take
We have to provide information to a country that says this is a citizen of your
country, we have the evidence and the documentation, and now we request that
you give us approval to have that person travel to your country. It's difficult
when the country says, "We need more information. We don't have all the
information that we require." Travel documents are slow in coming, and we have
a number of countries [where] it takes a lot of time to get travel documents
unless the information and identity documents are clear.
So that's what was done in the Ahmed Ressam case? We tried to get Algeria
to take him back and they wouldn't take him back?
It's my understanding from the department that they had difficulty
obtaining travel documents, and that Mr. Ressam was not cooperating in giving
us the information that we needed to secure those travel documents. He was in a
removal stream. He was hiding out, he was changing addresses, he was making it
Are you distressed by apparently how easy it was for Ahmed Ressam to get
himself a Canadian passport and a new identity?
...We are very aware of how easy it is to get fraudulent documents. ...
Over the last few years, since the Immigration Act was amended to give us the
authority to seize documents, over 4,000 documents were being imported into
this country, helping exactly those people that you are talking about to get a
blank document from overseas. You fill it out, and you can go get a Canadian
document that looks pretty good. That's why we have to remain vigilant.
...Once your legislation passes, are you confident that the next Ahmed
Ressam coming into Canada will be treated in the same way?
I am confident that we will have in place a streamlined procedure that will
give us the chance to identify as soon as we can those people that we either
want to detain or not give access to Canada; and that we will be able, with our
partners, RCMP, CSIS and others, to take action to protect Canada's borders.
But if you're saying, can I guarantee that there will never be anyone to get
into Canada in the future -- of course not.
chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee from 1994 to 2000|
Do you think Canada has become a safe haven for terrorists?
I certainly think that the Canadian immigration laws [are], in some respects,
lax and by the Canadians' own admission allow terrorist organizations to set up
shop in Canada.
...In this case [Ahmed Ressam], you have a situation where the U.S. laws
regarding refugees and other forms of immigration are tougher than the Canadian
laws, which means it is a lot easier for terrorist organizations to establish
themselves ... in Canada than in the United States. And we have the additional
problem of an open border between the two countries. So whoever gets into
Canada can basically get into the United States as well. I think that should be
a source of concern to both Canadians and Americans. ...
If he, being a refugee seeker, had been in the United States [commiting]
crimes regularly, would that have a negative effect on his refugee claim in the
...One assumes that [he] would very shortly be put in jail. And that's the
case. We have a large number of convicted -- what we call "criminal aliens" --
individuals who are not U.S. citizens, who are in fact in jail in the United
States today. ...
When Ahmed Ressam came to Canada, he claimed refugee status, and he admitted
apparently that he had been in jail in Algeria and had been convicted of
weapons offenses and accused of terrorism. Nothing apparently happened. What
should have happened?
... I know what the United States would have done, and that is conduct a
background check to make sure that he was eligible for entering the United
States and that he was not going to be a threat to the American citizens. I am
not sure he would have even gotten in our front door, to tell you the truth.
That Ressam case would have raised red flags to us. At the very least, my guess
is that he would have been detained until his case would have been up for
review, whereas in Canada, he was released and then failed to show up for a
number of hearings that he was told to show up for. So that is one difference
between the Canadian system and the U.S. system. Here, if you are claiming
asylum and seeking asylum and there are concerns, you are detained. In Canada,
you are not.
So in the United States, he would have been in jail -
...Up until 1996, the United States would typically say to someone who was
claiming asylum, "Show up for your hearing three months from now or two months
from now," and it shouldn't have surprised us that only 6 percent on the
average showed up for the hearing. Ninety-four percent disappeared into the
country and never showed up for their hearing at all.
As a result of that, we changed our laws in 1996, and detained all the
individuals who did not have a plausible reason to be granted asylum. And they
are detained until their hearing comes up. That way, we are sure that they
actually will be there at the hearing.
In Canada ... the situation is as it was in the United States before 1996. They
are told to show up for a hearing, and of course, there is no surprise that
this individual did not show up for his hearing.
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