Canada’s new Ambassador Frank McKenna has had his hands full since he arrived in Washington at the beginning of March debunking what he calls the “urban myth” that Canada was the route for the 9/11 hijackers into the United States. Besides chastising the New York Times for repeating this claim in one of its editorials, he blasted Newt Gingrich for ill-considered comments made on a Fox Network talk show. Uncharacteristically, the former Speaker of the House, beat a hasty retreat and humbly retracted his erroneous allegations.
The persistence of the “urban myth” in spite of all the Canadian denials is regarded by officials north of the border as yet more evidence of the irrational nature of Americans’ suspicion that Canada is a terrorist haven. But is the suspicion really so crazy?
While it’s true that the 9/11 Commission found that none of the 19 hijackers entered the United States through Canada, its other findings don’t let Canada off the hook so easily. That’s why you’ll never hear the Canadian Ambassador talking about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian immigrant to Canada, and Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian citizen originally from Tunisia, both of whom the Commission identified as having just missed out on starring roles as hijackers on September 11.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who had come to Canada in 1998, stayed in Montreal’s Assuna Mosque where he sometimes led prayers. After his associate Ahmed Ressam was captured on the eve of the Millennium trying to sneak across the Canadian border with a trunkload of dynamite, Slahi managed to elude Canadian authorities and returned to Germany. According to the 9/11 Commission, Slahi recruited two of the 9/11 pilots (pp.165-6): Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot of UA Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center; and Ziad Jarrah, the pilot of UA 93, which went down in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He also collaborated closely with Mohammed Atta, who he knew from his university days in Germany. Slahi, who is now being held in Guantanamo, may not have been exactly one of the 19 hijackers, but he was the next closest thing.
Abderraouf Jdey, who immigrated to Canada in 1991 and became a citizen in 1995, also lived in Montreal. The 9/11 Commission (p.527) speculates that Jdey was initially part of 9/11 team of hijackers, but that he may have been held back for a second wave of attacks or perhaps he pulled out himself while in Canada in the summer of 2001. Although his martyrdom video was found in the rubble of a Mohammed Atef’s bombed-out house near Kabul, Jdey remains on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List and earlier in April a $5 million reward was offered for information. If he is indeed alive, the Canadian Government has never tried to remove his citizenship, or that of many other Islamic terrorists for that matter, including, by the way, Fateh Kamal, the Montreal cell’s “father” who allegedly recruited Ahmed Ressam and was allowed back in Canada earlier this year after having served a sentence on terrorism-related charges in France.
The key supporting role of Slahi and Jdey in the September 11 terrorists attacks has never been acknowledged by the Canadian Government. The official line is still that Canada is getting a bum rap in the United States for being too soft on potential terrorists. It makes one wonder if anybody in the Canadian Government actually read the 9/11 Commission report.
Has the Canadian Government done enough since September 11 to clamp down on terrorists operating out of Canada? Granted it got off to a good start with the quick passage of Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which introduced hard-hitting new counterterrorism measures, including preventive arrest and investigatory hearings. However, the Act has not been used to prosecute suspected terrorists or supporters as aggressively as the USA PATRIOT Act has. In fact, there has only been one single person charged in Canada so far under the new “terrorist” provisions of the Criminal Code. He is a 24-year-old Pakistani-Canadian named Mohammad Momin Khawaja who was caught for his involvement in an alleged bomb plot in London, apparently largely thanks to British and American police work. And in spite of its disuse the Act is now under attack by those who want to water it down. In contrast, the FBI reports on its website that “nearly 200 suspected terrorist associates have been charged in the U.S.”
The Canadian Government has also not been very active in seeking to deport people with terrorist links. Since September 11, the Canadian Government has only issued three security certificates, under which non-citizens deemed to be a threat to national security can be removed from the country. Of these cases, only two concerned suspects linked to Islamic terrorism. The other was for aging Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel who has already been sent back to Germany.
One of the cases, Mohammed Harkat who is alleged to be a member of a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, has recently been ordered deported to Algeria., but, as usual, his deportation is on hold pending the seemingly interminable legal and procedural wrangling that have bogged down Canadian deportation proceedings since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms became part of the Constitution.
Another, Adil Charkaoui who Ahmed Ressam claims to have met at a camp in Afghanistan, is currently out on bail while the Federal Court considers his case. There are also three pre-September 11 security certificate deportations still pending against other Muslim men. In almost all these cases, a major obstacle preventing or delaying deportation is concern over the risk of torture.
The lack of success of the Canadian Government in identifying and removing perceived threats to national security contrasts sharply with the results of the assertive approach being pursued by the Justice Department in the United States. Under its Preventive Detention Campaign, almost a thousand immigrants have been detained and expeditiously deported.
The Canadian Government has been reluctant to take a hard line against suspected terrorists because of the risk of offending large ethnic communities with potent political clout. Muslim advocacy groups in particular led by the Council on American Islamic Relations Canada have become very powerful and scream bloody murder about any law enforcement or intelligence activities impinging on Muslims.
The case of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar, who was detained in New York City by the United States before being shipped off for questioning to Syria where he was held for over a year and allegedly tortured, has become a cause célèbre in Canada. A worrisome consequence of the resulting, ongoing Arar Inquiry, which incidently is costing more than the 9/11 Commission, is the way it is undermining the ability of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to function effectively against terrorists. Following the start of the inquiry, the Government issued three directives clamping down on RCMP national security probes. There is a real risk that the Arar Inquiry and its fallout will make both agencies gun shy about cooperating with their American counterparts and in investigating Islamic extremists.
The threat to the United States from Canada of Islamic terrorism is very real and can only grow in future years. Statistics Canada estimates that, with Muslim immigration increasing at its current rate, Canada’s Muslim population will more than double to 1.4 million by 2017. Unfortunately, the Canadian Government has neither the will nor the resources to properly screen the burgeoning flow of Muslim immigrants to weed out potential risks to national security and to deal with those who get through. Thus, Americans, including Newt Gingrich, are well advised to take the Ambassador’s reassuring words with a grain of salt.
Note: Patrick Grady, who is from Ottawa, Canada, is the author of Royal Canadian Jihad, a semi-fictional account about Islamic terrorists in Canada.