Linking immigration infractions with terrorism does all of us a disservice
Thursday, September 04, 2003 11:54 am
Special to Canadian Muslim news media, 9/4/03
By Riad Saloojee
Riad Saloojee is the Executive Director of CAIR-CAN
“We didn’t jump the gun” is the latest government talking point in the case of the 19 men recently detained in Toronto under immigration and terrorism-related suspicion. The RCMP is now indicating that there is no evidence that Canada's national security is at risk. Immigration officials say they are investigating only the possibility of such threats.
The new message comes after two of the men – pharmacist Anwar-ur-Rehman Mohammed and refugee claimant, Saif Ulla Khan – were released after Immigration adjudicators recently found that they posed no threat to security. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli’s has been more pointed in his conclusion that "there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is any terrorist threat anywhere in this country related to this investigation."
Government spokesperson Giovanna Gatti, however, went on the offensive. Although “there is no known threat” only a “reasonable suspicion,” Gatti noted, the case has “taken the spin that it has taken in the media for whatever reason.”
The government’s about-face is a little disingenuous as is pinning the blame on media spin. In fact, Project Thread's four-page backgrounder, submitted by the government in the detention hearings, contains what might be famous last words. Says government lawyer Terry McKay: "I guess the easiest way of putting it is there is a suggestion they might in fact be perhaps a sleeper cell for Al Qaeda."
What’s interesting about Mr. McKay’s statement is not the speculation, but the double speculation: the group “might,” “perhaps,” be a sleeper cell.
While the terrorism link was clearly a hypothetical from the get-go, a more sober take on this whole episode is that this was a raid on an illegal immigration ring. A fake institution of study, false identities, misrepresentation, illegal entry – the whole nine yards.
To compound the issue, the problem appears to be systemic. Canadian officials in Islamabad recently reported that immigration fraud “continues to be pervasive,” in Pakistan with “submission of counterfeit and altered education certificates...as well as fraudulent and fictitious letters of invitation in support of visitor visa applications."
Immigration fraud, though commonplace, is quite serious and must be dealt with using the rule of law. But to link immigration infractions with terrorism prematurely does all of us a disservice. All the more now, when the anxiety of a post-9/11 public is very acute.
Many Canadians feel that a terrorist attack in Canada is not only possible but probable. The state now has an added responsibility of ensuring that the public does not become paralyzed by fear in the process of maintaining adequate security.
In what seems to be a well-founded dragnet against immigration fraud, the government abdicated this responsibility by injecting the debilitating fear of terrorism into the public arena. The details released were selectively used to create a very real parallel with the 9/11 hijackers. The consequence being that the 19 men now may well be the 19 hijackers then.
The problem with fear – worse, a culture of fear – is that often fear of one evil leads us into doing something worse. Fear makes terrible public policy; it “robs the mind,” as Edmund Burke noted, “of all its powers of acting and reasoning.” For one thing, being smeared as a potential terrorist without sufficient evidence violates the rule of law and fundamental Charter rights.
One of the recently freed 19 stated that the experience “was a nightmare. Being called a possible security threat with no evidence was the worst thing I could be accused for…I am really afraid about what effect this is going to have on my life in the future.”
What harm would there have been to be cautious about any premature conclusion of terrorism until after sifting through the evidence netted in the raid? With the individuals held for questioning, the public would be safe. As it happens, the RCMP is still sifting through the evidence of 25 file boxes and 30 computers.