Canada may have to cut corners on security screening to meet Syrian refugees target

By REUTERS
November 19, 2015 00:15
1 minute read.

 
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OTTAWA/WASHINGTON - Canada's government will inevitably have to cut some corners on security screening to achieve its ambitious goal of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year-end, said current and former security sources.

The plan by newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeks to complete in six weeks a process that can take up to two years in the United States, where last Friday's attacks in Paris have sparked a political backlash against plans to allow in 10,000 Syrians over the coming year.

In Canada, which shares about 5,500 miles (8,850 km) of relatively porous border with the United States, Friday's attacks have prompted calls for Trudeau to push back the Jan. 1 deadline to ensure all the refugees are properly screened.

Trudeau has vowed to stick to the plan, reiterating the security of Canadians would be paramount when dealing with the refugees.

The Canadian plan will entail background checks that include biometric and fingerprint checks, as well as health assessments. Some screening will have to be done after the refugees arrive in Canada given the short time frame.

That could create vulnerabilities, said one recently retired Canadian intelligence official, since a refugee could already be in the country by the time any red flags are raised by the screening.

"You can't say that when you cut some corners and speed up the system that it's completely risk-free," said the former official, who has knowledge of the immigration system.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told a briefing on Wednesday that he expected the vast majority of the work to be done before refugees arrived in Canada, and he said the intention was for all the database work to be finished.

The ex-official said it was unclear if the refugees would immediately be free to settle in Canada or would be detained in some way pending further screening.

A current Canadian intelligence official said there was "a clear risk" given the pace at which security screeners would have to work to interview, select and process such a high volume of applicants.

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