- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

TORONTO — Canadian authorities are struggling to convince U.S. officials and lawmakers that Canadian immigration and asylum policies are not establishing a breeding ground for terrorists on their side of the longest undefended border in the world.

Criticism and suspicion that began after the September 11 attacks reached a crescendo after the arrests of 17 terror suspects, prompting the government to send a “myth-busting” mission to Washington.

The team of security specialists met with chairmen of Senate and House committees last week to offer assurances about Canadian security measures — and to address misunderstandings such as the long-standing belief that some of the September 11 hijackers entered the United States from Canada.

But after the early June arrests of 17 Canadian Muslims on charges of planning to bomb landmarks, take politicians hostage and behead the prime minister, Canadians are taking a second look at multicultural policies that have long been a source of national pride.

Beginning with the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s, Canada has portrayed itself not as an American-style “melting pot” but as a “mosaic” in which immigrants could maintain their cultural characteristics.

The Toronto area, home to almost half of Canada’s immigrants and many of the suspects in the southern Ontario terrorist plot, is sprinkled with ethnic neighborhoods in which Italian, Portuguese or Hindi is spoken and street signs are written in Chinese characters or Greek letters.

Eastern beats, aromatic spices and elegant saris dominate Little India in Toronto’s east end, where gold jewelry seems to glitter on every corner.

A streetcar ride away, fresh fish, dried mushrooms and bok choy are sold on the sidewalks of any of several Chinatowns. And the west end’s Italian neighborhoods are a sea of green, white and red flags whenever Italy plays in a World Cup soccer match.

Rabbinical courts are permitted to rule on matters of religious jurisdiction in Jewish communities, and Canadian Muslims tried unsuccessfully two years ago to establish similar Shariah courts to settle some family and civil issues.

But even Mr. Trudeau complained before his death in 2000 that the intended celebration of a new Canadian’s integration into society instead had become a celebration of that person’s former homeland, said Martin Collacott, an immigration analyst at the Fraser Institute, a think tank in Vancouver.

He placed much of the blame on political parties, saying they encouraged people to “think of themselves in terms of their ethnic background in order to organize voting blocs. … We almost encourage people to retain ties with their homeland, and this can carry with it old scores and enmities.”

Indeed, a Canadian Sikh was convicted in the 1985 bombing of an Air India flight, killing 329 persons, apparently in retaliation for an assault by Indian forces on the Sikhs’ Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the previous year.

Only after years of pressure from critics, the Canadian government this year designated as a terrorist organization the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group that seeks a separate homeland for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper argued at the opening of a United Nations World Urban Forum in Vancouver on Monday that Canada’s diversity was its greatest defense against terrorism.

Terrorists “hate open, diverse and democratic societies like ours because they want the exact opposite — a society that is closed, homogenous and dogmatic. But their vision will be rejected,” he said.

But deep concerns remain among U.S. legislators, who are well aware that the about 4,000-mile U.S.-Canadian border is impossible to police effectively.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has been particularly critical of Canada since the arrests of the terror suspects.

The Associated Press quoted him as saying that Canada has “a disproportionate number of al Qaeda … because of their very liberal immigration laws [and] because of how political asylum is granted so easily.”

Canada counters that its immigration laws are no less stringent than America’s. Canadian immigration officers last year stopped 5,400 undocumented travelers seeking to enter, according to the Canadian Press wire service.

But Canada accepts more legal immigrants on a per capita basis — 262,000 last year compared with 1.1 million by the United States, whose population is about 10 times larger.

Mr. Collacott, of the Fraser Institute, said Canada accepts greater numbers of skilled immigrants as permanent residents, while the United States is more likely to bring in temporary workers on employment-related visas. The United States sets an annual quota for immigrants, while Canada sets flexible targets.

The greater difference between the countries lies in the handling of asylum seekers, Mr. Collacott said. The United States bars them from working for six months, while Canada allows claimants to receive social benefits if they cannot find work and is less likely to detain them unless they present a serious risk.

Canada has accepted 161,000 asylum seekers since the September 11 attacks.

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