Don’t Blame Immigration for Homegrown Terrorist Threat

The arrest earlier this month of 17 suspects alleged to be involved in a terrorist plot in the Toronto area has raised questions in the minds of many people about the wisdom of our current immigration policy. However, as more facts about this case are revealed, it is important to keep in mind that, based on the information that has been reported to date, all of these individuals are either long-term legal residents of Canada or Canadian citizens.

In many ways, this fact makes this case even more disturbing for us as a people and a society. Should the charges against these men prove accurate – of course, like all of those accused of criminal behaviour in Canada these individuals are innocent until proven guilty — we can’t dismiss them as non-Canadian extremists who brought their plans of violence and hatred of Western society from far off, distant lands. Rather, for all intents and purposes, these young men are products of Canadian society. They grew up here, attended Canadian schools and lived and worked in our communities. And, if the charges are true, they may have also learned to hate and plot against us while living in our midst.

Obviously, while they have the legal status of Canadian citizens, based on the charges against them it appears that they may have failed somehow to become part of Canadian society in any meaningful sense. At the core of what it means to be Canadian is to hold sacred values such as tolerance, equality, the rule of law and respect for diversity and the democratic process. Not since the Quebec separatist group the FLQ in the early 1970’s has Canada experienced organized terrorists threats from within. It is simply un-Canadian to engage in violence as a means of political expression, which is to our credit as a people.

However, our values as Canadians don’t exist independently from our population. In order to continue to exist as a peaceful, tolerant and culturally diverse country, each succeeding generation must be instilled with these values and undertake to live them in their daily lives.

For the last several decades, Canada’s immigration policy has been based on the idea that applicants seeking permanent residence not be discriminated against or disadvantaged based on ethnicity or country of origin. Legally speaking, applicants from any country in the world have an equal chance of attaining immigration to Canada since they are assessed based on meritocratic factors such as their skills, education, experience, language ability. The incredible richness of our diversity is a product of that policy.

As Canadians I believe we all benefit from the privilege of living in a country comprised of people who came — or whose ancestors came — from all corners of the globe. Each of our lives is enriched immeasurably by the multiculturalism in our midst. But the last thing we should do is take this privilege for granted. To continue to benefit from our grand experiment in “global living” we need to ensure we all do our part in passing on the values that have made this country what it is.

Part of this duty involves ensuring that we reach out to – and get to know — others who may not be part of our immediate community or ethnic group. Two Toronto-area Muslim Members of Parliament were interviewed earlier this week by The Globe and Mail about the arrest of the terrorist suspects. Speaking to his fellow Muslims, one of them, MP Wajid Khan, said, “There is nothing wrong with being religious, so when you eat Ramadan, invite your neighbours for god’s sake. You can’t say you don’t know people. You know people, you go to work with them. So that has to start. We should have a true multiculturalism.” Mr. Khan also noted that the threat of homegrown terrorism “is a broader problem, it is a Canadian problem. There is no such thing as a Christian [problem], Muslim [problem], or this, that, or the other.”

If Canada has produced terrorists within our midst, it is not something that can be blamed on admitting too many immigrants or accepting immigrants from certain countries or ethnic groups. Rather, it is a failure of Canadian society as a whole to live up to its greatest ideals. And this is something we all have a role in correcting