When evaluating security threats, Canadians would do well to look at the evidence. All of the identified attackers from Paris appear to be Belgian or French nationals, yet no politician has suggested increased screening of European visitors or immigrants to Canada. Studies out of the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and Harvard University link an increase in immigration to a decrease in crime.
Statistics Canada data suggests that the percentage of new immigrants in Toronto and Montreal neighbourhoods is inversely proportional to all types of violent crime.
In Canada, despite the objective lack of connection, politicians began sounding off “security concerns” related to incoming Syrian refugees. Saskatchewan’s Premier Brad Wall called for a delay in resettling Syrian refugees. Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia stated the obvious: that the government needs to ensure that security checks are done on every refugee. These statements demonstrate a clear lack of understanding by government officials of Canada’s process for resettled refugees.
Contrary to the influx of migrants crossing into Europe over the past months, Canada is resettling pre-screened refugees who have been approved for permanent residency by a Canadian visa officer abroad. The process is thorough and involves international and national law enforcement agencies.
Refugees who may be eligible for resettlement are first identified by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), primarily on the basis of their vulnerability. International refugee law is clear that those responsible for serious criminal and terrorist acts will not benefit from refugee protection. Only one to two per cent of individuals registered with the UNHCR get referred into the potential resettlement pool. Anyone with a hint of criminal or terrorism connections is simply not placed into the pool for further assessment.
Next, a UNHCR officer conducts a file analysis. Officers in the Beirut UNHCR office are exceptionally knowledgeable about the events in Syria, the various factions and the timeline of the conflict. This allows for a robust credibility assessment of the facts alleged by the individual. At this point, anyone who the officer identifies as having security or criminal concerns would again be filtered out.
If a file progresses onwards, in general, a UNHCR officer is then tasked with conducting a “refugee status determination.” This includes an interview where the truth of their allegations and their background is fulsomely assessed.
If facts related to criminality or terrorism come to light after the interview, the UNCHR also has a process for cancelling refugee status.
If an individual passes this assessment, the UNHCR can refer the file to a Canadian visa officer who will again interview the person. In each case, the visa officer will assess whether the person meets the definition of a refugee.
The individual is then screened for “admissibility” to Canada. Medical and criminal screening is mandatory. A security review involves, at a minimum, the coordination of Canada Border Services Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Information is often sought from third party states, international organizations and searches conducted in international databases.