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Trudeau Government Reassures Canadians Who Are Worried Terrorists Will Hide Among Refugees

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by January 1. "Nothing in life is 100% but we’re going to make sure that all of our security protocols and rules are properly followed," a minister said.
Santi Palacios/AP Photos

Since terrorist attacks claimed 129 lives in Paris on Friday, discussion surrounding the newly elected Liberal government's pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by January 1 has shifted from concern over logistics to alarm over security.

At a press conference on Saturday, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose questioned whether or not the government could properly vet the flood of refugees expected to arrive in the coming months, noting that each day, 500 Syrians would have to be screened.


"The goal of supporting refugees from the region of Iraq and Syria is a very important goal for all Canadians. We are very compassionate people," Ambrose told reporters. "But Canadians are asking the question — can we do it this quickly, in a secure way? And I think that's an appropriate question."

A petition calling on the government to suspend its plan, started by a Quebec City resident on Saturday, has been circulating online. By Monday evening, it had collected 63,000 signatures.

"The safety of Canadians and the future generation should be the government's priority," wrote one commenter. "I understand that the refugees need help, but settle the problem at the source instead of overcrowding the country and taking on the risk of welcoming terrorists."

Related: Canada May Use Its Military Jets and Ships to Rescue Syrian Refugees

Resettlement organizations, experts, and public safety minister Ralph Goodale, however, are assuring Canadians that there's no need for alarm, which comes after word spread that one of the attackers travelled to Europe through Greece using a fake Syrian passport, later found lying near his body.

Speaking with Global News, Goodale said none of the victims or attackers in Paris had any ties to Canada, and that the influx of Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Canada isn't directly comparable to over 800,000 who've reached Europe in the past year.

"Ours is a planned process that will be more orderly, more controlled," he said. "Can you guarantee 100% perfection? Is it absolutely foolproof? Nothing in life is 100% but we're going to make sure that all of our security protocols and rules are properly followed."


Details for the resettlement plan are expected to be released in the coming days, but Immigration Minister John McCallum revealed last week that commercial and military planes, as well as ships, are being considered methods of transport refugees, and that military bases might be used for temporary housing.

Currently, the UNHRC determines which candidates are ideal for resettlement—according to former Immigration and Refugee Board Chair Peter Showler, the less than 5 percent who are selected go through further vetting by UN officials.

Related: The GOP Is Completely Freaking Out About Syrian Refugees After the Paris Attacks

Peter Goodspeed of Lifeline Syria, which has been working to recruit, train and assist sponsor groups in the Greater Toronto Area says at this stage the UNHCR "automatically go to the most vulnerable and least likely to create a security problem."

"If you're looking at widows, orphans, older parents, people with Canadian ties already, it's all pretty well reduced risk," says Goodspeed. "Those are the people the UNHCR funnels towards the Canadian diplomats."

Those who make the cut must then undergo more screening—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Canadian Border Services Agency are among the security agencies involved in the process.

"The security screening has to be done thoroughly and carefully, but it's possible to do that in an expeditious and efficient manner," Showler told VICE News in an interview, stressing that Canadians should be careful to not misinterpret what happened in Paris.


"That massive refugee flow has been chaotic, there have been no security screens on it," he said.

He added that officials on the ground will know who who poses a security risk, especially since many of the refugees from Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan fled Syria in the last four years and are already registered with the UNHRC.

"We know where they are and what they've been suffering for the past four years," said Showler.

"I desperately hope the ones who take this quite horrific incident in Paris and try and inflate it into something it's not, I hope they are not successful," says Showler. "I hope that common sense, level-headedness, and generosity will prevail."

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk