Immigration and national security

Finding the balance between Canada’s immigration needs and its security concerns has been an ongoing challenge – in 2009, both the director of CSIS and the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raised flags in these pages about homegrown terrorism. Over a 30-year career, Scott Newark has acquired extensive expertise as an Alberta Crown Prosecutor, as executive officer of the Canadian Police Association, vice chair and special counsel for the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, and as a security and policy advisor to both the Ontario and federal Ministers of Public Safety.

He recently spoke with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute about the security-immigration nexus. Vanguard is pleased to publish this first in a six-part MLI interview, part of its Straight Talk series. For the complete series of interviews, see

Most Canadians want our society to remain open to immigrants and the contributions they make. But are there questions we need to ask about very high levels of immigration and how we make sure the typical immigrant is able to assimilate into Canadian society instead of living in what amounts to foreign enclaves within Canada, vulnerable to radicalization?

That is certainly something that the current Minster has spent a lot of time on. The ministry has just released several very detailed studies of which factors lead to more successful or less successful integration. It’s a much more evidence-based approach than we had in the past.

Empirically, is relatively successful or unsuccessful integration connected to place of origin, socio-economic status, or something else?

Actually one very major thing turns out to be how well they speak French or English. Another is whether skilled immigrants are able to get the kinds of jobs they’re trained for. And one reason why we really do get the stereotypical problem of engineers driving taxis is that, in Canada’s federal system, much of the trade certification is done on a provincial level. So even if someone gets certified in, say, Quebec, if they move to Manitoba they have to start over again. One other weakness they identified was in the “economic” class of immigrant (the others being “family” class and refugees). They discovered that the bureaucracy was not particularly efficient either at matching skilled workers with trades or matching investors and entrepreneurs with business opportunities.

Is this a problem of not helping people find the right opportunities once they are approved as immigrants, or is the problem that we’re not good at selecting immigrants whose talents match up with our economic needs?

Mostly the latter. That’s why Minister Jason Kenney is now directing his officials, for example, to involve local employers more in identifying and selecting specific immigrants for particular skilled trades that are short of workers. You’re also seeing that out west at the provincial level, with the Premier of Saskatchewan going off to Ireland to promote particular opportunities within his province. Other prairie provinces are developing similar initiatives as part of what are known as “provincial nominee programs,” where basically the provinces screen immigrants and move those with needed skills toward the front for processing by the federal government, which still makes the actual decision. Most provinces have been very successful at that. Ontario has been an unfortunate exception and is doing a very poor job. Getting this right isn’t just important for the Canadian economy, but for integration as well. People who come here for opportunity and find it are much more likely to integrate successfully into our society. I think we are headed in the right direction.

One of the things that could seriously undermine public support for a welcoming immigration policy, especially since 9/11, is some kind of immigrant involvement in terrorism. Other than screening individuals more carefully, are there any big picture things you think we should be doing differently to try to minimize that threat?

As you know, Section 34 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act says you’re not admissible as an immigrant if you’ve engaged in terrorism or pose a danger to the security of Canada. But the challenge we need to face when it comes to immigration and national security goes far beyond someone showing up with the equivalent of an Al-Qaeda membership card or a proven history of association with that kind of group. We need to think hard about what I would call “Islamism,” the political Islam that has absolutely no interest whatsoever in integration; that is intolerant and unyielding and absolutely committed to eradicating Western values.

You’re talking about people who might not throw bombs, but who actively tell fellow immigrants not to become like Canadians because we are infidels?

I think it was Daniel Pipes who said these people hate us not because of what we have done but because of who we are. Sometimes, especially in Canada, we tend not to think of ourselves as having a culture. It is sort of that wonderful western or English arrogance that we have universal human values and that only other people have “different” cultures. The truth is that we actually do have a culture and it’s based on concepts not found or admired everywhere like freedom of speech, individual liberty, rule of law, and gender equality. And we need to get our minds around the fact that there are people who are determined to see these societal concepts eradicated including from within after they’ve immigrated to Canada.

So we’re talking about beliefs rather than actions that would make you inadmissible?

Yes, although it’s more than simply a personal belief system. The concern with this group is not the physical actions of planting bombs or killing people; it is coming to Canada to tell people that homosexuals should be put to death and women are unequal and secular democracy and individual rule of law should be replaced by Sharia law. Those things, in my view, are threats to our basic security in the sense of maintaining the kind of society that we are and the kind of culture we have. I think we need to adjust to the changing aspect of the security threat by revising the law both to deny entry and to revoke acquired citizenship for persons who are actively promoting the eradication of our culture even if it’s cloaked as “religion.”

Are there things you think we should be changing in terms of international agreements and arrangements in order to stop the bad apples from spoiling the immigration barrel?

Yes. It is logical on a variety of fronts. As with the perimeter agreement with the U.S., it makes sense to try and confront a problem before it arrives at our border. It’s important to do a better job through intelligence-led screening of exactly who it is that seeks to enter our country because, to be blunt, it is inordinately difficult to remove someone after they are here. That was one of the biggest lessons of the Sun Sea human smuggling incident. After it happened, the Canadian government set up a special division within the Privy Council Office to seek better co-operation and collaboration with the countries these people were coming from, including Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India, so source countries can stop organized criminal human smuggling before people get on ships and head to our shores. Canada and the U.S. also recently announced an agreement against human trafficking, which matters because it so often involves smuggling people across our mutual border. Two key points need to be made here. First, we need to use all our resources and that includes the Canada Border Services Agency. Second, intelligence-led enforcement is the key. We’re in difficult financial times but cutting the intelligence capacity of groups like the RCMP and CBSA will undermine our entire effort so that’s something to watch out for.

How about with other countries?

We need to do a better job of sharing defined information on both crime and terrorism with other international partners and to promote the use of international UN sanctioned refugee centres for processing refugee claims abroad. Speaking of the UN, I think there’s remarkable hypocrisy in our being unable to send people back to certain countries because we signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture, when those countries signed it too. We should be raising the issue of non-compliance with the convention at the UN and trying to make some of the rules more enforceable or have some consequences for countries who do not comply. We could also sign detailed agreements with specific countries to ensure we could return people who were convicted of crimes or had radical associations to each other’s countries and make sure there would be no potential of mistreatment that prevented deportation.

Overall, improving screening and eliminating unnecessary backlogs would help increase public confidence in our immigration system. As I’ve said before, the key is “intelligence-led enforcement,” which is the cornerstone of the Canada-US Border Agreement and which works internationally as well.

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