As details emerge about a foiled terrorist plot in Kingston, allegedly involving a Syrian refugee, the incident is already being used as fodder for anti-refugee rhetoric on the right.
It’s “clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined,” said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in a statement on Friday afternoon, shortly after the RCMP provided an update on two terrorism-related arrests in Kingston on Thursday.
A youth, whose name can’t be disclosed, has been charged with facilitating terrorist activity and counselling someone to use an explosive or other lethal device to cause death or serious bodily injury.
The other person arrested, identified by media as 20-year-old Hussam Eddin Alzahabi, was released without charge on Friday evening. Alzahabi’s family, originally from Syria, came to Canada in 2017 as privately sponsored refugees, according to bulletin posted on the website of one of the churches that helped sponsor them. Alzahabi told CityNews his arrest was a "misunderstanding."
“We’ve recently learned of several examples of dangerous individuals entering the country due in part to lax screening procedures,” Scheer continued, before citing a 2017 CBSA audit that found 39 Syrian refugees who should’ve undergone comprehensive security screenings, but didn’t.
“This is completely unacceptable and must be immediately remedied,” Scheer continued. “Conservatives will continue fighting against Justin Trudeau’s attempts to weaken Canada’s national security laws and implement real policies to ensure that Canada’s streets and communities are safe.”
But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale urged people not to jump to conclusions based on early reports. He said Scheer is talking as if he knows the outcome of a police investigation.
"The important thing here is for all Canadians to know that their police and security agencies are effective... They are doing their jobs," Goodale said.
Experts believe radicalization has largely been a homegrown problem in Canada and that terrorist acts are rarely ever carried out by refugees. A vast majority of known jihadis in Canada have been citizens, born in Canada or who arrived here as children.
Right-wing commentators also immediately seized on the refugee status of Alzahabi—who has not been charged.
White nationalist commentator Faith Goldy took to periscope on Friday afternoon to mock the description of the other suspect as a "Kingston youth” and challenge the narrative that privately sponsored refugees are “the good guys.”
"Of course, this is more fear-mongering, because we're always told that the privately sponsored ones, they're the good guys," Goldy said sarcastically.
"These are basically your ideal Syrians," she said.
Ezra Levant, head of the far-right Rebel Media, criticized the CBC for publishing an article titled “Trudeau warns fear-mongering over immigration will be part of election campaign.”
“Imagine publishing this headline, credulously, with no counterpoint or fact check or even self-awareness, on the day when one of Trudeau's Syrians was arrested and charged with building IEDs,” Levant posted on Twitter, referencing an improvised explosive device.
In a speech in New Brunswick on Thursday, Trudeau said, “When we're faced with anxieties, it's very easy to have those fears drummed up and exacerbated — getting people to point fingers and lay blame," adding that there are people who are trying to spread fear about immigration in Canada.
"But the kind of fear-mongering, the kind of intolerance, the kind of misinformation going on across the country and around the world is something all of us have a responsibility to engage with a positive and a thoughtful way," he said.
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