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Ujjal Dosanjh

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Are We Equal to the Challenges of Building a Diverse and Harmonious Canada?

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Two recently leaked draft reports of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), prepared for the White House in relation to the proposed revised travel ban on immigrants from the Muslim countries named in the original ban stayed by the US Courts, reached conclusions that Canada will do well to not ignore.

The first report leaked about two weeks ago had concluded that "the country of citizenship [of an immigrant] is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity," meaning anyone with any citizenship can become a terrorist. One of the two San Barnardino terrorists Syed Rizwan Farooq, the US Army Corps psychiatrist Nidal Hassan who killed his comrades and the Orlando Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were all born and raised in the US. There have been several others.

The more recent second report concluded:"We assess that most foreign born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalised several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns." This conclusion is quite instructive. No amount of vetting and screening may ensure that over the years an immigrant won't radicalise in the host country. The Boston Marathon Bombers stand out as a stark example of this problem and there have been others.

Many Canadians want to believe Canada to be an almost terror free oasis compared to the US. The truth is quite different and too evident to ignore. We had the Toronto 18, a dangerous bunch of immigrants and Canadian born men radicalised in Canada. The Via Rail terrorists Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser were immigrants thought to have been radicalised here and abroad. Air India bombing was a case of home grown/radicalised terror too. The Terrorists Martin Rouleau, Zehaf Bibeau and Aaron Drirver were all born, raised and radicalised in Canada. And there have been many others arrests and prosecutions.

In fact going by numbers, Canada's problem of radicalisation of its citizens and their travel to Syria and Iraq to fight for terror outfits ISIS, Al Qaida and others is more serious than that faced by the US. Let us compare. The US' Muslim population is about 3.3 million. Canada's is about 1.1 million. Both the US and Canada have successfully stopped several of their radicalised citizens from traveling to join terror groups abroad.  Despite that effort, according to the available figures for 2015, Canada had about 165 of its citizens fighting for the terrorists in Syria and Iraq. The US had about 100. Canada with one third of the US' Muslim population had 65% more terrorists fighting in the Middle East.

 Canada needs immigrants and we need to remain an open and welcoming society that thrives on diversity. We mustn't ever succumb to the Trumpian xenophobia and fear mongering. There are racist groups such as Immigration Watch Canada that have been trying to whip up anti immigrant and xenophobic hysteria in different parts of the country. Unfortunately the arguments like the one made by Kellie Leitch for the 'values test' provide such racist groups the oxygen they need to flourish in our midst.

What can Canada do better or different to deal with the serious challenge of radicalisation of Canadians? Of course we must continue to ensure thorough screening and vetting of immigrants and refugees; and constantly review and beef it up. But if the DHS report is true of Canada as much it is for the US, and I believe it is, beyond a certain point any further investment in screening and vetting new immigrants will only produce diminishing returns.

The DHS report also reflects, mutatis mutandis, our Canadian experience of radicalisation of immigrants several years after entry to Canada.  Obviously we must redouble our efforts to prevent self or other forms of radicalisation. To satisfactorily confront and prevent radicalisation, we need to strengthen and improve how we help immigrants integrate into Canadian society. Integration is not assimilation. It means getting to know the Canadian society and its culture including the political culture. It means making a serious attempt to learn at least one official language. It means becoming involved in one's neighbourhood, town, province and country--impossible without learning French or English. The federal government needs to cough up more resources to help with the process of integration.

To ensure that a new immigrant has the skills necessary for understanding and integrating into Canadian society, the government of Canada must finance a mandatory crash course for each new immigrant , after his/her arrival in Canada to learn the language, the culture and history of Canada including the history of the indigenous Canadians. And of course all Canadians need to learn more about each other and the newcomers. Our knowledge and understanding about Canada and all its varied diversity is fundamental to building a better, fairer, more just, harmonious and prosperous Canada, a Canada with a high degree of social solidarity.

I know there are some who believe we have done well in the past without too much government effort in integrating the newcomers. Yes, but then we were not in the internet age. Now we can physically live in one place and mentally and emotionally be in another--never involved in the struggles of here and now but always of the faraway place we left behind. An immigrant would naturally remain connected to the place he/she left behind. But he/she should not remain disconnected from Canada where his/her life actually is. The immigrants can't remain alienated from the mainstream of society and vice versa; and their only connection to the country can't just be the naked Marxian cash nexus.

Another important ingredient for a diverse and successful Canada is the public leadership by our political leaders. No I don't mean the bromides offered by many a politician dressed up in 'ethnic' garbs spouting a few words of Chinese, Punjabi or whatever may be the language of the group they may happen to be speaking to. The politicians need to spell out clearly what Canada's obligations are toward the newcomers and what we expect from them in return. Shared aspirations and clearly understood collective and mutual obligations will make for a better, more progressive and harmonious Canada.

Canada is an oasis of relative peace, harmony and prosperity. To keep it that way in a troubled and tense world is going to need hard work. Are we up to it?


PS: An earlier version of the blog had 180 Canadians fighting for ISIS. The figure should have been 165.





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