Evidence of meeting #25 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was muslim.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:45 p.m.

Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

Andrew Brouwer

Excellent. Thank you very much.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

Mr. Bissett.

4:45 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak to you.

I'm not a member of the Fraser Institute, but more relevantly, I was the head of the Canadian Immigration Service from 1985 to 1990. So I'm going to talk about—

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

So I was half right.

4:45 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

Yes, you had that right.

I'm going to talk about a controversial subject today. I'm going to concentrate on security in relation to Muslim immigration. I think it's an important subject, and it's one that very few people want to talk about, but because of my age, I think I can get away with saying things that other people might be frightened to say. It's an important subject, and it's one that I think the committee should certainly examine very carefully.

Before I do that, let me say that I'm prepared afterwards to answer questions on any of the immigration subjects you're dealing with. I'd be happy to do so.

The basic problem of security screening, in my own view—quite apart from Muslim immigration—is that the volume of immigrants who are coming to Canada, and the large number more recently of temporary foreign workers and of foreign students, and the volume of asylum seekers who are coming into the country make it almost impossible for visa officers abroad or CSIS security officers to do an adequate job. They just can't do it. They spend all their time issuing visas, to the point, as you probably already know, that very few of our immigrants today are even interviewed or seen by a visa officer, quite apart from a security officer.

That's the basic problem. Security abroad of people coming to Canada is essentially non-existent. That is the most serious threat, in the broader term. We have, for example, 25,000 to 35,000 asylum seekers coming in from any country in the world. None of them is screened for criminality, security, or health before they arrive.

Very few immigrants are even looked at, and none of the temporary workers go through security or criminal checks. They just come into the country. There's no tracking of them; we don't keep track of them. The thing is a bit of a mess, quite frankly.

But let me get back to the one subject that I think is the most serious security issue for Canada, and that is Muslim immigration.

From 1990 to 2009, we admitted more than 530,000 Muslim immigrants coming direct from Muslim countries, not counting the many thousand who come from England, from France, and from the United States. We know that large numbers of these are coming from countries that produce terrorism—from Pakistan, from Algeria, from Saudi Arabia, from Morocco, from Iran. I have some figures here.

From Iran, for example, we had 40,586 immigrants during that period, 2000 to 2009; we had 118,000 and more from Pakistan; we had 40,000 and some from Morocco; 30,000 and some from Algeria. Very few of these people are screened for security, because the resources don't exist. You have already been told, I think, from a colleague of mine that one in ten applicants from Pakistan may get a security screening.

The other problem is that screenings in most of these countries are totally useless, because they get the information from the local authorities. In many of these countries, you can buy a criminal clearance or a security clearance for a significant bribe. I know many of those cases from my own experience.

The only effective measure, in a sense, of having security screening at all today is that the immigrants themselves don't know that they're not being screened, and therefore it acts as a form of deterrence. That's about how effective it is. It would be foolish—and I'm not foolish enough—to suggest that the Muslims who are coming here, or even the greater number of them, pose any kind of security risk. We know they don't.

On the other hand, it would be foolish and naive to think that many of those who are coming are not possible terrorists, or at least are susceptible and naive enough to buy into the extreme types of Islam that they are being taught in some of the mosques in Canada.

We've had the experience of Europe. There isn't a European country that has experienced fairly large-scale migration from Muslim countries that doesn't have very serious problems both from a security point of view and from an integration point of view.

From the security point of view, the bombings in London, the bombings in Madrid, the murder of van Gogh in the Netherlands, the outrage because of the Danish cartoons.... All of those European countries have had terrorist experiences.

Integration is a serious problem in France, in Germany, in London. There are many sections of England where Muslim immigrants are practising sharia law and have constituted Muslim enclaves with very little hope of ever integrating. This is true in Denmark. It's true in Sweden. It's a serious problem in the Netherlands and in Germany. These countries have already begun to take measures to try to integrate their people.

Canada has not been immune. We've had the Toronto 18 plotting to behead the Prime Minister and blow up the CN Tower. We've had Momin Khawaja, who participated in the bombing plot in London and is serving life imprisonment. We have had Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian asylum seeker who attempted to try to blow up the Los Angeles airport. He came into Montreal as an asylum seeker. He didn't bother even appearing before the IRB. He was travelling back and forth from Afghanistan.

We've had that kind of problem here, and we're dealing with it, I think, fairly effectively. But the real problem is that we should be screening people before they get here. I think the government's step of forcing people who apply for citizenship to read the new pamphlet that's out that suggests some of the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship is a step in the right direction. But we should be doing that before people come to Canada, not after they get here.

People coming from these particularly Muslim countries, what I would apply to all countries, should be interviewed personally by a visa officer, as they used to be. If the visa officer thought there was anything suspicious, he referred it to the security officer at the post, who did a much more thorough examination. That's gone by the board now. We're not even seeing people.

As I mentioned once before, if you are in Bangladesh and you want to come to Canada, you fill out the forms, attach your certificates, your trades, your qualifications, which then go to London. A junior officer screens those papers, and if all is in order stamps and mails the visa back to Dakar, where you will pick it up and fly to Montreal or Toronto. You don't see anybody. This is an outrage, in my view.

That's my major point. We are lucky, in that the Muslim communities in Canada are a very diverse group. They represent almost every shade and variety of Islam. They tend to be better educated than the Muslims who have gone to Europe. They have better employment chances than the European Muslims have, but we needn't be complacent.

In 2006 an Environics poll showed that of the Muslims polled in Canada, 12% firmly supported and believed that the Toronto 18 were doing the right thing. Of the roughly 700,000 Muslims in Canada at that point, 12% represented over 80,000 Muslims in Canada who fully approved of the Toronto 18 plot. I think that's cause for concern. The media played down that 12% and some of the Muslim organizations in Canada dismissed it. But it's serious. In my view, the committee should take a look at this.

I think all immigrants, not necessarily elderly people or young children, but all of the male members and spouses of Muslim immigrants coming from countries where we know they produce terrorists, should be interviewed and seen. That should carry on to other countries as well.

The more critical issue here is that we shouldn't pretend we have a war against terror. It's not a war against terror. It's a war primarily against Muslim terror, and more effort should be made by the government to integrate the immigrants who are here, particularly the young ones.

My own Muslim friends, I know very well, are very concerned about the number of young Muslims in Canada being influenced by extreme Islamists in some of the mosques in Canada. We have young Somali Canadians going off to support al-Shabab in Somalia. We have these young boys in Toronto who are willing to plot against it. The committee should do something about that if they can.

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Bissett.

We always enjoy your presentations. Your speaking without notes is always impressive.

Mr. Merrifield, a fresh voice. You have seven minutes, sir.

March 6th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Thank you very much.

I appreciate your comments to the committee with regard to Muslim immigration, and your concern with regard to that. There really is a battle in the Islamic religion between the extremists and the moderates. It's a battle to discern who's a moderate and who's an extremist, and the threat that creates to the population of Canada.

I don't argue with that, but you made some interesting comments with regard to the number of immigrants who are coming in, the foreign worker program and so on, and that they're not being checked thoroughly enough or having a one-on-one and that should cause us a bit of concern.

You also wrote a paper that asks if Canada poses a security threat to the United States. Your thoughts there were that the United States had to tighten the 49th parallel because they didn't think we could prevent terrorists from coming into Canada and we provided an opportunity for them to be siphoned across the 49th. I think this is true.

Chertoff was the head of the Department of Homeland Security initially after 9/11. I've been in meetings where he almost indicated we had a terrorist under every tree in Canada. That's a bit of an extreme comment, but nonetheless he said hundreds of them are coming across. I challenged him. I asked him where they are because he didn't catch them at the border. If he said there are hundreds and he knew there are hundreds, where are they? Then he had to backtrack.

My question comes down to the issue of Canadian security and how you compare that to the United States' security. Every time there's another threat, whether it's the shoe bomber, the diaper bomber, the cartridge bomber, added layers of security have been put on, in the United States and Canada and internationally.

All these bombers attacked America, not Canada. If they were successful, the last two would have landed in Canada. But it goes to what was said earlier about the advanced list, and making sure we know who gets on a plane coming to Canada prior to their landing and trying to come in, or into America.

But specifically, in your estimation, what would America have over Canada with regard to security, as far as these people coming into their country?

4:55 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

First, Canada has done a great deal on the security side since 9/11. I've got a long list of things that we've done here. We responded quickly and very well. Three months after 9/11, Parliament passed an omnibus terrorist bill. Not everybody agreed with it, but we were shown to be taking action. We did a lot of other things, but at the heart of the matter, the U.S. Congress thinks we haven't done enough. They see us as the weak link in North American security and they see it primarily because of our refugee and immigration policies. Hillary Clinton has said more than once that the 19 terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center came from Canada. CBS announced on the day of the bombing of the trade center that they came into Vermont from Quebec.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

And they were wrong.

5 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

They're wrong, and everybody's been attempting to tell them they're wrong, but even fairly recently they've repeated it. So that started them off, and they still have that view.

They've created a monstrosity in the Department of Homeland Security, with a budget of $70 billion or $80 billion. They fortified the border. It's no longer the undefended border. It's essentially militarized, and it's primarily because of the—

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Yes. Before my time has gone, though, I've been in Washington working very closely with the U.S. Congress and Senate on these issues. You're absolutely right on their perception. They're wrong, 100% wrong.

My question was more of a technical one, because they're wrong on this as well, in my estimation, that we are more vulnerable or we are weaker on our immigration system than they are on theirs with regard to foreigners coming into their country.

5 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

No, we're not. We're much better in many ways than they are on the immigration side. We are more vulnerable on the asylum-seeker side, where we let in 37,000 asylum-seekers in 2008, as I said. They just walk into the country without any kind of screening. They're in the country for two or three years before they even get to the IRB, and when they get to the IRB, if they're found not to be genuine, very few of them are ever sent home.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

So your recommendation is to tighten up the refugee system.

5 p.m.

As an Individual

James Bissett

Definitely.

They're also better than we are on the technical side, in some respects. They're ahead of us a little in the micro-biometrics. They screen their immigrants--not the illegal ones who cross the southern border, but the ones who apply from abroad. They get better screening.

Our own security forces rely a great deal on the U.S. security information. If we screen we usually try to get information from the U.S. on the country concerned. They know much more about what's going on there than we do, because our CSIS officers are not allowed to conduct operations abroad, as you know.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

The foreign worker program is not going away. Especially in the west, our number one problem is a lack of labour, so we're going to need foreign workers.

In light of what you just said, should we be looking more to the United States for foreign workers than to other international countries?