Since his appointment as Canadian ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna has spent many hours trying to assure Americans that none of the September 11 hijackers came from Canada.  This is, of course, true, but it would be wrong to assume that Canada’s “War on Terror” has been error-free.  In fact, some of the mistakes that have been made are such that they present a serious threat not only to Canada but to the United States.

In early April 2005, when appearing before Canada’s Senate Committee on National Security and Defense, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness—the equivalent of the U.S. secretary of homeland security—stressed that, since September 11, the government had set aside nine billion dollars in new funding to secure the safety of Canadians.

In meetings with senior U.S. Cabinet members, Canadian ministers pointed to the passage of an omnibus security bill (similar to the USA PATRIOT Act).  They referred to the allotment of additional funding for security purposes.  They pointed to a number of task forces and framework agreements that have been established and to organizational restructuring of the bureaucracy.  Unfortunately, in terms of practical steps to improve security, little has been done.

It is, of course, in Canada’s interest to keep assuring our American neighbors that we take the War on Terror seriously.  Over 90 percent of Canadian exports go to the United States.  In the hours immediately after the September 11 attacks began, the border was closed to Canadian traffic.  That brief interruption of the two-billion-dollar-per-day trade between the two countries sent a shock wave through Canadian business circles.  It was suddenly made clear that the boast of the longest undefended border in the world was no longer valid.  While Canadian concerns centered on economics and the rapid movement of goods and services across the border, U.S. concerns were now focused on the security of the border with Canada.

One might have thought that President Bush’s declaration that security trumps trade would have registered with the Canadian government.  Yet, when we examine Canada’s reaction to the events of September 11 (and go beyond the rhetoric), we find a curious reluctance and hesitancy to take the terrorist threat seriously.

Even before that date, Canada was being criticized for not pulling her weight in defense spending and for allowing her military to be reduced to an embarrassing level.  For example, Canada ranks ahead of only Iceland and Luxembourg when it comes to NATO spending.

A further cause for concern was Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien’s statement that the dreadful attacks were the natural consequence of the disparity between the United States and the “have not” nations of the world—a message that was not well received by the relatives of the victims or the U.S. government.

The sweeping security legislation passed shortly after September 11 was deceptive because its effectiveness relied on the government’s willingness to identify and list organizations considered to be “terrorist.”  Only then could measures be taken against them.

Curiously, the government waited for months before listing such obvious terrorist organizations as Hamas, Hezbollah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and the Armed Islamic Front as “terrorist.”  These organizations were finally listed after the Canadian government received pressure from the media, concerned citizens, and Jewish organizations.  The Sikh terrorist organization Babar Khalsa, held responsible for the death of 329 Canadians in the bombing of an Air India jet in 1985, was only listed as a terrorist organization in June 2003.  There are large concentrations of Sikhs in British Columbia and Ontario, and the government did not wish to alienate Sikh voters by labeling one of their organizations terrorist.  It was only after the Canadian Security Service publicly identified it as such that the government added it to the list.

Even today, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—perhaps the most deadly terrorist organization in the world—have not been placed on Canada’s terrorist list.  The Tigers have not been listed because there are more than 250,000 Tamils living in Toronto and the surrounding suburbs.

Canada’s sizeable Muslim population is rapidly growing.  The numbers doubled from a quarter of a million in 1990 to over half a million ten years later.  Muslims now outnumber Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mormons, and Jews and are gaining on the Lutherans.  By 2017, the Muslim population is expected to double to over 1.25 million.

As with other migrant groups, Muslims tend to reside in urban centers, and this concentration of numbers gives them enhanced political power.  Muslims, Sikhs, and Tamils are strong supporters of the current liberal government.  In any democracy, it is always difficult to get party politicians to act in the national interest when, by doing so, they alienate special interests who have the power to turn elections.  Canada is no exception.

Such reluctance to take action is even more difficult to understand since, as early as the summer of 1998, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency reported to the Canadian Parliament that there were at least 50 terrorist organizations operating in Canada.  The report also warned that a terrorist attack in North America was inevitable.

The most serious threat to North American security comes from Canada’s lax asylum system.  For years, Canada has had the most open and generous asylum system in the world.  Until it is changed, everything that Canada or the United States might do to counteract terrorism will be undermined.

Any person who arrives in Canada and claims to be persecuted is permitted entry.  The numbers are significant—approximately 30-40,000 each year.  Since 1989, it is estimated that a half-million people have entered Canada in this fashion.  Many arrive without documents, or with false ones, having been smuggled aboard aircraft by organized criminal gangs.

None of these people who claim to be persecuted has been screened for criminality, security, or health, yet few are detained even when their identity is unknown.  They are released after being told to appear for a refugee hearing that may not take place for 18 months or more.  With no tracking system in place, they are free to move about anywhere in Canada.  Approximately 25 percent do not bother turning up for their refugee hearing.

Two years ago, the auditor general reported that there were 36,000 outstanding warrants for the arrest of failed asylum seekers.  It is estimated that the figure would now be close to 50,000.

Immigration and law-enforcement agencies do not have the resources to hunt these people down, and little or nothing is being done to correct the situation.

Many thousands of asylum seekers come from terrorist-producing countries, but, upon arrival at our entry points, they are simply photographed, fingerprinted, and then released.

In the early 90’s, Canada received a wave of asylum seekers from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.  The majority of these, because of their francophone background, settled in Montreal.  A number of these so-called refugees were active members of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

On December 14, 1999, one of them, Ahmed Ressam, was apprehended crossing into Washington state from British Columbia with his car trunk loaded with explosives to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport.  He had entered Canada as an asylum seeker from Algeria.  He did not bother to show up for his refugee hearing but instead traveled back and forth to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan.

Ressam is but one of many known terrorists who have entered Canada in this manner.  There are now seven known terrorists in custody in Canada, and six of them entered as asylum seekers.  They are under orders of deportation, but it is unlikely that those orders will be executed.

Lawyers argue that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be violated if these terrorists were to be removed and that, furthermore, all might be at risk of torture if they were returned.  Since Canada is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, it is unlikely they will be deported.

In April 2005, Fateh Kamel was released from a French prison.  He returned to Canada after serving a portion of his sentence there for terrorist activities.  Kamel had already obtained Canadian citizenship, so he entered as a returning Canadian.  He has boasted that “killing is easy for me” and has been identified as one of the leading members of the GIA.

Canadian citizenship can be obtained after three years of permanent residence; consequently, many thousands of those who arrived in the 90’s are now protected by citizenship status.  The only way that citizenship can be revoked is if it can be proved that the individual obtained it by fraudulent means.

The Khadar family from Pakistan also recently obtained Canadian citizenship.  The father, an associate of Osama bin Laden, was killed during a skirmish with security forces on the Pakistan/Afghan border.  One of his sons is a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.  He was wounded and captured in Afghanistan after killing a U.S. soldier.  Another son was released from Guantanamo and is now back in Canada but has freely admitted being a member of Al Qaeda.  He has not been charged under the new security legislation.

In fact, since its passage, there has only been one person charged under Canada’s new terrorist legislation: a 24-year-old Pakistani-Canadian who was involved in a plot to detonate a bomb in London.  He was apprehended by British authorities.  Nonetheless, despite its lack of use, this legislation is being attacked by Canadian rights activists who are demanding that it be watered down or withdrawn.

A federal judge recently ordered the release on bail of another Moroccan terrorist who was being held in jail awaiting deportation.  He has complained to the court that his bail conditions, which require him to wear an ankle bracelet, are too severe and restrict his freedom of movement.

Canada now finds herself in a position where she cannot stop anybody from entering the country if he claims asylum, and she cannot remove or even detain known Al Qaeda terrorists.  This is not a good situation to be in when your country has been put on Al Qaeda’s hit list and your security service warns that it is not a question of if we will experience a terrorist attack but of when.

Despite all the evidence that Islamic terrorists are firmly installed in Canada, the government seems determined to undermine the safety and security of Canadians.  On December 29, 2004, the government passed regulations requiring Canadian border officers to admit anyone who seeks entry at the land border with the United States who has been charged or convicted of an offense that might entail the death penalty.  This regulation was not presented to the Canadian parliament but was passed quietly by order-council procedure without publicity.  There are many in Canada who would applaud this politically correct gesture of exporting “Canadian values,” but it is not helpful in the effort to fight terrorism.  Instead, it is laying out a welcome mat for murderers and terrorists.

The government, however, continues to insist that it has taken the War on Terror seriously, despite a report in early April 2005 by the Canadian auditor general that enumerated a long list of critical security gaps ranging from the vulnerability of Canadian passports to poorly trained personnel assigned to respond to a terrorist attack.

That same week, evidence presented to the Senate Committee on Security revealed that there are 62 border posts that are not linked into the main watch-list computer system.  The Senate also heard that 225 cross-border roads leading to and from the United States remain unguarded.

Canadian border guards are not armed and must rely on RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) backup if facing a dangerous situation.  Recently, the RCMP have withdrawn their services in the province of Quebec, and, in many other areas of Canada, police detachments are unable to respond in less than an hour should a border emergency occur.  Last year, there were over 100 incidents of automobiles from the United States crashing through border posts without examination.  So much for a secure border!

It is evident that the protection and safety of Canadians does not rank among the top issues of Canadian public policy.  National security ranks far below the issue of “gay marriage,” more liberal narcotic laws, and the legalization of prostitution.

Unless there is a terrorist attack in Canada with great loss of life, or until the U.S. government gets really tough along the border, it is unlikely that much will change.