Canadian Border Open to Terrorists: Terrorists Have Exploited Canada's Lax Immigration Laws to Plan and Execute Attacks against the United States. Is the Canadian Government Taking Corrective Action? (SPECIAL REPORT: U.S.-Canada Relations)
Timmerman, Kenneth R., Insight on the News
The United States has a problem with terrorists who have found safe haven to the north. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the Canadian government is seeking to enact a new antiterror bill that would enhance police powers, define acts of terrorism, crack down on money-laundering and allow preventive detention of individuals suspected of belonging to a terrorist network.
The new legislation is referred to in Canada as Bill C-36. But to terrorism experts it is better known as the Ahmed Ressam Act of 2001, after an Algerian-born disciple of Osama bin Laden who eluded Canadian authorities for more than five years and was caught, only by chance, just two weeks before a planned attack intended to kill hundreds of Americans.
Ressam, trained in bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, has become known in the United States as the "Millennium Bomber." But to government officials in Ottawa he is worse than just a terrorist: He has become the face of Canada's failure to confront terrorism.
"The issues surrounding [Ressam's] ability to operate in Canada have been addressed," Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley boasted to New York City's Foreign Policy Association on Nov. 5. "Do we believe that terrorist sympathizers have operated on Canadian soil? Unfortunately, yes, this is probably the ugly truth -- as it is in the United States, Germany, Britain and many other countries around the globe."
The French judge who pursued Ressam across the Atlantic to his safe haven in Canada warned that the bin Laden-trained terrorist was extremely dangerous and bent on mayhem. But the Canadian government didn't seem to care. It refused to act on a Rogatory Letter -- a formal, 40-page arrest warrant sent by the French judge on April 7, 1999 -- that spelled out his violent crimes in minute detail.
Sensing that Ressam was preparing to act, the French judge and the head of the French counterespionage service paid a high-profile visit to Ottawa in October 1999. Yet Canadian authorities refused to arrest the suspect. "The Canadians have been less than forthcoming," French terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere told INSIGHT laconically in a recent interview in Paris.
Canada has a problem and the government in Ottawa knows it. Lax immigration and political-asylum laws have made America's neighbor to the north a safe haven of choice for international terrorists of bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. But while the government now seeks to close some of the legal loopholes, it may be too late.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) claimed in a report released in May 2000 that it was watching some 50 terrorist organizations and 350 "individual targets," but that liberal policies governing foreigners claiming political asylum prevent them from cracking down. In that report, CSIS Director Ward Elcock noted: "With perhaps the single exception of the United States, there are more international terrorist groups active here than in any other country in the world."
Although none of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks came through Canada, there is mounting evidence that bin Laden has established a spider's web of support networks to America's north. These networks raise money, acquire valid travel documents for would-be terrorists, provide backup for operational cells and, in the case of Ressam, serve as the staging ground for attacks on the United States. Until now terrorists have been able to come and go in Canada as they please.
Rene Mercier, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the equivalent of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, says Canada now posts immigration-control officers overseas "to check out foreign sources of forged documents" used to apply for immigration visas. "Since 1995," he tells INSIGHT, "we have denied entry to 35,000 people who have shown up at ports and airports with improper documents. …