The Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, recently released a report entitled “Canadaâ€™s Inadequate Response to Terrorism: The Need for Policy Reform,” a well-researched overview of Canada’s homeland security and counterterrorism posture. The report focuses in particular on Canada’s immigration and asylum policies, citing numerous examples of the leniency of Canada’s policies, for example the story of Fateh Kamel:
Kamel had been head of a cell in Montreal that was a branch of the Algerian terrorist group GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and had also developed close links with al-Qaeda. He fought in jihadi campaigns in Afghanistan and Bosnia as well as played a central role in a series of terrorist attacks in France in the 1990s, including bombings on the Paris subway. In 1998 he was apprehended in Jordan and sent to France where he was tried for terrorism and sentenced to prison. With Kamelâ€™s departure, Ahmed Ressam took over the Montreal cell and the members considered bombing a Jewish neighbourhood in that city as well as attacking the Montreal Metro before settling on the above mentioned plan to bomb the Los Angeles Airport.
After serving his sentence in France, Kamel returned to Canada at the end of January 2005. He has, however, never been charged as a terrorist in this country and is now able to move about freely in Canada. He has been in the news most recently for filing papers with the federal court claiming that the Canadian government violated his Charter rights when it turned down his recent passport application on security grounds.
Stories such as this one shows why it is completely appropriate for Americans to ask tough questions about Canada’s asylum and immigration policies. I grew up close to the US-Canada border and have always had a very positive attitude toward Canada (except when people from Vancouver would drive south and root for the Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners’ games), but I think Canadians need to show a bit more circumspection on these issues, and realize that they can make rational improvements to security without undermining their core national values. Consistent with recommendations in the report, I’d like to see the United States and Canada move toward a common immigration-related intelligence and detection system in the years ahead.
The report also takes a deep look at activities in Canada to combat terrorist financing, arguing that controls have been excessively lax, and providing evidence that Canada has become a global center for financing terrorist activities in the Middle East and South Asia. And the report criticizes budget cuts that have hurt key agencies such as the RCMP.
It will be interesting to see what influence this report will have on the new Harper government in Canada, which made national security issues a key focus of its campaign. New Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day has already proposed giving firearms to Canadian border guards and has supported adding the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) to Canada’s list of terrorist groups – ideas that are both discussed in this report.