Panel Transcript: Canada's Asylum Policy

A Threat to American Security?

By Mark Krikorian, James Bissett, Bill Sheppit, and Peter Morton on August 22, 2002

Related: Canada’s Asylum System: A Threat to American Security?


Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies


James Bissett, former Canadian Ambassador and from 1985 to 1990 Executive Director of Canada's Immigration Service

Bill Sheppit, Immigration Counselor, Canadian Embassy

Peter Morton, Washington Bureau Chief, The National Post

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning.  My name is Mark Krikorian. I'm executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. All our work, including the paper that we're going to be discussing today, is at our website:

Canada's not a place that evokes images of threats to most Americans. In fact, and I mean no disrespect to my guests, Americans don't think about Canada all that much in general except when thinking about hockey or beer sometimes. The frontier between our country has been long known as the world's longest undefended border, with 4,000 miles of Canadian border with the lower 48 states, plus another 1,500 with Alaska. But this, like so much else, began to change on September 11th. Although it turned out that none of the 19 hijackers had entered the US through Canada, other terrorists had. For instance, Ahmed Ressam, who was stopped in 1999 crossing into Washington State, bound to blow up Los Angeles airport with a trunkload of nitroglycerin. 

What's more, Canadians themselves have grown increasingly concerned, even before 9/11, about the proliferation of terrorist groups using Canada as a base and a jumping-off point.  The folders that you picked up on the left side have a copy of the Canadian Security Intelligence Services 1998 report on terrorist groups establishing themselves in Canada.

Although Canada and the US signed a smart border agreement at the end of last year, the basic problem of lax controls over getting into Canada from overseas in the first place remains, and the part of Canada's immigration system where that's most obvious is in its asylum system, and that's the paper that we published not too long ago and we're going to be discussing that issue today.

Canada in a sense has a choice between tightening up its asylum system, and more broadly its controls over access to Canada from overseas, or face significantly increased US border patrols, with all the implications for the movement of commerce and people that that would have.

To discuss the issue today we have a distinguished panel of probably the best people in Washington to talk about this, or the best people around to talk about this issue.  One of them came in from outside Washington, namely our first speaker, Ambassador James Bissett, who flew down from Ottawa, where the weather's not quite as bad as it is here, apparently. He was a Canadian public servant for 37 years in the immigration department and the foreign affairs department, and was in 1985 appointed executive director of the immigration department, and subsequent to that was ambassador to Yugoslavia, and has since retired, but retains an intense interest in this issue, and authored the paper that's in your folders on the right side.

Our first respondent or commenter will be Bill Sheppit, who is the Canadian embassy's counselor on immigration issues and has served as an immigration officer in many parts of the world — Singapore, London, Bangkok, New York, Kingston and Hong Kong. As a representative of the government he will presumably be giving us the official response to Ambassador Bissett's critique of Canadian asylum policy.

Our third panelist will give us an independent kind of outside analysis.  He's Peter Morton, who is Washington bureau chief for the National Post, one of Canada's two national papers, formerly known as the Financial Post, and has been there for five years covering a variety of issues.  Before coming here he was in Ottawa writing for the Financial Post, and before that wrote for the Post in a variety of locations in Asia and Latin America.

We'll start with Ambassador Bissett's comments, then Bill, then Peter, and then we'll take Q&A from the audience.  Joe?

MR. BISSETT: Thank you very much, Mark. I'm really delighted to be here this morning, and before I start I want to thank the Center for Immigration Studies for inviting me. I think they're doing a terrific job in kind of focusing on major issues that tend quite often to be neglected, not only by the public and by the media, but also by the politicians. That is, immigration and refugee issues. 

At least in the United States you have a think tank like the Center for Immigration Studies. In Canada immigration and refugee issues are almost a taboo subject. They've become part of our national heritage and it's kind of sacrilege to talk about immigration or refugee issues, certainly in a negative way. We desperately need, I think, something like the Center for Immigration Studies to focus attention on an issue that really is the determining factor of how our societies will shape up in the future. They're already changing radically, and these movements of people are often extremely important to the receiving countries and they get very little attention. So I really praise the job you're doing, Mark.

Why did I, as a former diplomat, speak out on the refugee issue? Normally diplomats when they retire are supposed to go back home and write their memoirs. I haven't done that. I kept my mouth shut about immigration and refugee issues until September the 11th. I wasn't very happy about the immigration bill that had been introduced in Canada prior to September the 11th because it seemed to me a bill that was simply broadening and widening and making more generous a system that already was the most generous in the world in treating asylum seekers.  But I held my tongue and didn't say anything.

But after September the 11th, I felt obliged to speak out because, as I mentioned before, immigration and refugee issues are not really discussed in Canada, and the general public hasn't got the slightest idea of what's happening in either area. The government knows but the government doesn't want to tell people that 44,000 asylum seekers entered Canada in the year 2001.  That many, many thousands of these came in without documents or altered documents, that once they're in and make a refugee claim, they get free welfare. They get free legal advice when their hearing is held, if they choose to go to it. It may be two years from the date that they enter.  Those are subjects that are not talked about in Canada and are certainly not known by most of the public.

As I said, I kept quiet about those things until September 11th, and then I realized that because I knew about the subject that I should speak out, that I had a duty to do so. And it wasn't too late, because although this very generous bill had passed through the House of Commons, it was still in the Canadian Senate and being discussed. 

So I gathered a group around me, a former assistant clerk for the Privy Council, which is the second highest ranking public servant in Canada, who is retired but who knew a lot about immigration issues, and two former ambassadors.  We went before the Senate committee and said, look, this bill that has been passed is an extremely dangerous bill and it's deeply flawed. In the light of what's happened on September 11th with our neighbor to the south, this bill should be sent back to the House of Commons and strengthened so that people can't simply walk into the country, people that we know nothing about, many of them coming from countries that we know produce terrorists and we should be much tougher than we are on these people.

I thought there was a possibility that — the Senate that exists in Canada, unlike your Senate in the United States — the Canadian Senate hasn't got much power, if any. But the one thing it can do is send legislation back to the House of Commons and say, look, we've given a sober second thought to this legislation and we'd like you to take a look at it because we think it's flawed in the light of what's happened in the United States.

But the Senate gave us about 10 minutes and pressed on and the bill was passed, again without any fanfare, either in the public, in the media, or indeed even in the House of Commons, where the opposition parties had very little to say about it, because in Canada if you say anything about immigration or refugees in a negative sense, you're immediately branded as racist, you're immediately looked upon as a right-wing crackpot, so people are afraid to speak out about the issue. And that includes the opposition parties in Parliament. That's why I spoke out.

 It didn't have any results, of course, except later on 60 Minutes heard about my criticism and asked me to appear on the program. When I did appear on 60 Minutes then there was a good deal of reaction in Canada because Canadians, like most Americans, pay much more attention to what 60 Minutes says than to what their legislative bodies say. Therefore there was more interest. Since then I've been speaking out more vocally on the subject and that's why I'm delighted you've invited me here. 

Canada has the most generous asylum system in the world. Anybody anywhere in the world can come to Canada, with or without documents, by air, by sea, by land, and step on Canadian soil and say, look, I'm a refugee. I'm being persecuted. And we then say, well, fine, come on in. If you don't have documents, we now photograph you and fingerprint you and send you into a downtown hotel, two to a room, color television often. Arrange that you can have welfare people look after you from then on until your refugee board hearing is held, which may be — as I said, now with a tremendous backlog of cases may be two years from the date that you enter.

You're free to go anywhere in Canada. We have no tracking system, we don't know where you are. You are given a list of lawyers that will represent you at your hearing when you appear at it, if you choose to do, at government cost. And if you're found to be a refugee, we give you citizenship in a few years and you can bring all your relatives to Canada. So it's a very attractive system for people. But it's a very dangerous system from a security point of view because even though you have been fingerprinted and photographed and you've been put through the computer at the port of entry, if you're not on the computer, if you use a false name, you're home free. You walk in. 

Many thousands of people do that every year.  Many thousands arrive without documents or with altered documents, and aren’t given a very warm welcome. It's dangerous because we know that a lot of these people have been associated with al Qaeda groups. There is a population of some 40,000 Algerians living in Montreal, and our CSIS, which is the equivalent of your CIA, have identified quite a number of those as members of al Qaeda.

Mark has mentioned Rissan. He's probably the most notorious one that we've identified, who was caught not by Canadian authorities but by alert American Customs officers, entering the United States, planning to blow up the Los Angeles airport. He entered Canada about 1993. He applied to be a refugee but he didn't bother showing up to his refugee hearing. He traveled to Afghanistan, he trained with bin Laden's groups there. He came back and with the help of a group of members of the armed Islamic group of Algerians in Montreal plotted a terrorist attack against the United States.

He had free movement in Canada, back and forth to Afghanistan and back here. He didn't, as I say, even bother to show up for his refugee hearing. But he's not alone. About 20 percent of the people who come in to claim refugee status in Canada don't show up for their hearing. Chinese applicants who come in, the rate of no-show at the refugee board is around 35 percent. They just don't bother showing up. Where have they gone? Most of them, I suspect, have crossed into the United States because that US-Canadian border is very porous, as you know. You can walk across it or drive across it or sail across it at pretty well any point along the border and not necessarily be detected.

The head of our CSIS, Lord Alcott, has announced that there are 50 known terrorist organizations operating in Canada. They range from the Algerian Islamic armed group, the al Qaeda group, Hezbollah, Hamas, you name it, we've got it. The Kurdish Workers Party, the Tamil Tigers. Go down the list. They're all in Canada, they're all operating there. They haven't committed terrorist acts in Canada and probably they won't because they use Canada as a recruiting base, as a logistical base, as a planning base, as a staging ground for other attacks. 

And they raise money. Our Parliament has said that Hamas, good old Hamas, which puts bombs around teenage girls and sends them to blow up elderly men on the eve of Yom Kippur playing dominoes — Hamas has been declared by our government to go freely and collect money as long as they're collecting it for the social services that Hamas does in Palestine. Now of course I think the only person who believes that Hamas wouldn't transfer that money to their terrorist arm is probably our own foreign minister, but I think most other Canadians realize what Hamas will do with that.

But since September the 11th our government has identified six terrorist groups, al Qaeda being one of them, and five others that are associated with al Qaeda. But they've missed out on all the ones that we know about — Hamas, Hezbollah, the Basque terrorist group, the Kurdish party, Tamil terrorists. These terrorist organizations have not yet been identified by the government as terrorist organizations, despite what happened on September 11th.

So Canada is basically soft on terrorism. There's no question about it. We have had a fairly far-reaching security bill, Bill 36, that was introduced in Parliament, and it has passed legislation that the government feels should make all Canadians and Americans secure. But in fact the one glaring weakness in the whole North American security system is the fact that each year Canada lets in 30,000 to 40,000 asylum-seekers, of whom we know absolutely nothing, and gives them free movement in the country. I think that makes us extremely vulnerable, and we should be doing more about it.

Instead of doing more about it after September 11th, despite the fact that we have the most generous asylum system in the world, the government saw fit to pass a bill that made that system even more generous. The bill that was passed and came into effect in June of this year makes it easier for people to come to Canada and apply for refugee status. It broadens the UN definition of refugee. It incorporates the UN convention against torture. It has added another level of appeal at the refugee board, adding to an already kind of Rube Goldberg complicated system of boards and reviews and appeals.  It's added a second level of appeal at the refugee board.  And it has ensured that anyone who even after they've gone to the refugee board and been refused will get a humanitarian review by the Department of Immigration, and in addition to that, as if that wasn't enough, even though the courts have decided you should be removed, there will be an automatic pre-risk removal assessment done by the department. That looks as if it will involve an oral hearing, and probably be subject to court review again.

So we've gone through this system. This was all done after September 11th, despite the fact that there were a lot of people crying out that this was a flawed bill and a bill that threatened the security of North America.  But our government has chosen to kind of close its eyes to this reality. That's why I've spoken out about the issue. We know that there are terrorists in Canada, we know that they've operated out of Canada and are continuing to do so, and yet we've done very little about it.

Why does this happen?  I think it happens because the government doesn't listen to anyone except special interest groups on refugee and immigration issues.  The refugee business has become a multi-million dollar business in Canada. The government spends millions of dollars — giving millions of dollars to non-governmental organizations to church groups and other organizations that look after these asylum-seekers when they come. Somebody has to feed them, clothe them, find them accommodation, arrange for them to get their children into school. That's all done by non-governmental organizations, paid so by the government.

The immigration lawyers and immigration consultants are paid millions of dollars each year to defend these people before the immigration refugee board.  All of these people have representation by lawyers when they go before the immigration refugee board for their hearing, and these lawyers are paid by the government, by the Canadian taxpayer. 

 We're spending millions of dollars on these areas, and when the parliamentary committee meets to talk about changes in refugee or immigration issues, the only people that ever show up there are the non-governmental organizations, the refugee advocacy groups, the lawyers, and the consultants.  The general public are not interested, and the general public don't know that every day hundreds of people are coming into Canada, either across the US border or at our airports.

The only time the public becomes aware that something is happening is when a ship arrives.  We've had four ships last year arrive from China loaded with Chinese. The first ship we allowed a lot of them — we released them and let them go, hoping they would return when they were asked to come before their hearing. Well, they disappeared, so finally we got smart and detained the people on the other three boats and we have removed them and we've not had any other boats. But we're not doing the same thing at the airports. 

Why did the government get tough on the detention of the Chinese boats? It's because it was big news. When a boatload of Chinese arrive at the Vancouver seaport, that's headline news and the media's involved and people get interested in the subject and find out what's happening, and the government then is frightened and reacts and makes sure these people are detained and sent home.  But they don’t detain people coming in at the airports.  Very few are detained.  And they don't detain people coming in across the border from the United States — where most, by the way, of our asylum-seekers enter Canada, from the United States.

If you go to the border port of Quebec, at I’Ecole, every day you will see sometimes 50, 60 asylum seekers walk in. Many of them will be Pakistanis. They will not have any documents.  They will walk in without documents and if you ask them where are you going, they don't know, but they are making a refugee claim so you sit down, interview them, let them fill out a personal information form, photograph and fingerprint them, and send them in to Canada.  From then on you lose track of them.

There are today, I think, about 40,000 warrants for the arrest of failed asylum seekers because if you go before the asylum board and you're turned down, the chances of our removing you are very slim indeed.You're allowed to walk out of the hearing and we ask you to appear, but you don't necessarily have to appear. And then if you don't, over a period of time we issue a warrant for your arrest. And as I say, there are about 40,000 outstanding warrants for the arrest of these people.

The immigration people of course don't have the resources to hunt these people down, and the government isn't particularly interested in so doing. 44,000 entered last year, asylum seekers. I would estimate, and it's hard to get this figure, but we removed probably about 8,000 to 9,000 people out of Canada last year. Some of them were criminals, some of them entered illegally, but probably about 4,000 to 5,000 of them were failed asylum seekers. 

So where have the others gone? We don't know and the government doesn’t seem to particularly care where they've done. I think the system is prone for making North America vulnerable, and until the Canadian government smartens up and does something about it, then I think that will continue.

I don't think the Canadian government will do anything about it unless the United States puts pressure on our government to do something about it. I said that to the Senate in my closing remarks that if you senators are not prepared to do something about it, we're going to be in this very awkward position of waiting until George Bush picks up the phone and tells us to do something about it.  I think that's probably going to happen.

We do know that there's been a deal signed by our deputy prime minister with your government on the possibility of having a more harmonized approach to asylum seekers at the Canadian-US border, and I think that's a step forward and I welcome it. But much more needs to be done. I welcome the opportunity of letting you know my views on this subject, and I hope that you will write about it and talk about it, and that more Canadians learn about it. Thank you.

 MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you. So now Bill Sheppit, the immigration counselor at the Canadian embassy will offer some comments.

MR. SHEPPIT: Thanks, Mark.  Again, I'd like to thank you for inviting me here today as well.  I routinely receive the Center for Immigration Studies' daily press packs and weekly press packs and weekly opinion pieces, and all of that. Despite the fact that there are probably several duplicates in there, I do find it an invaluable source of information.

I'd also like to thank you for giving me a chance to see Joe again. I think the last time I saw him here in Washington was during the Carter administration, when we were both considerably younger, considerably less gray. Neither of us had any more hair than we do now, but I don't think the weather was quite as hot back then.

Before I talk about Canada's immigration system, I think it's important to provide a little background about the Canada-US relationship. A former Canadian prime minister once said that if geography has made us neighbors, history has made us friends. That's truer now than it ever was.  Not only are we friends but we're each other's largest trading partners. Canada is the largest trading partner for 38 states. Since the signing of the free trade agreement and the NAFTA agreement with Canada, the US and Mexico, the amount of commercial trade has doubled over the last 10 years. There's more than $1.3 billion a day in trade going across our borders. The border point between Detroit and Windsor is the largest single commercial traffic in the world on a daily basis. 

Canada is also the United States' most reliable ally.  On September 11th, more than 30,000 people on flights destined to the United States were diverted to Canada. They were lodged with Canadians in their homes, in their rec centers, in schools, and yes, it's Canada, so some of them stayed in hockey rinks as well until they could continue their trip.

The close relationship between our economies was shown by the fact that in the days after 9/11 plants were closed from Kentucky to Wisconsin because of delays on the Detroit-Windsor border. It's clear that keeping the smooth flow of goods and people through our borders is important to both of us. I grew up in Niagara Falls and am more than familiar with the importance of the local binational communities all along the shared border.

Historically we've been a reliable ally of the United States. Canada and the US have jointly protected North American security as part of NORAD since World War II. Canadian troops have fought on the ground in Afghanistan. There were Canadian casualties as the result of an unfortunate friendly fire incident. Canadian ships are still on patrol in the Indian Ocean. They've recently intercepted several members of al Qaeda trying to escape the area. They've also prevented illegal oil shipments.

We do this not only because it's the neighborly thing to do, but because it's the right thing to do.  And 9/11 served to remind us of the values that we all hold dear — our freedom, our families, and the preservation and protection of our democratic way of life. Like the United States, Canada is a nation of immigrants. According to the most recent census data, I think about 11 percent of Americans are foreign-born. The equivalent number in Canada is about 17 percent are foreign-born.

There are really only four major immigrant-receiving countries in the world — Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where they have made a definite policy decision that the acceptance of immigrants is a good thing.

Unlike the United States, we have a cabinet level minister in charge of a government department for citizenship and immigration.  That department deals with the whole continuum of immigration issues, from visitor visas overseas to granting of citizenship for lawful permanent residents.

Unlike the United States, and contrary to what Joe has said, we've engaged over the last several years in a national discussion about what kind of immigrants we want and what benefits we hope to receive from our immigration policy. There were wide-ranging public discussions in 1996. There was a panel that conducted coast-to-coast hearings on immigration matters in '97 and '98, and the outcome was the immigration and refugee protection act that Joe talked about that came into effect on June 28th.

The Canadian government recognizes we must have a better ability to identify and exclude people who pose a risk to Canada and the rest of the world. There' s a heightened awareness of the sophistication and geographic reach of criminal and terrorist activities, and a need to ensure that both our immigration and refugee programs are not seen as gateways to illicit activities in Canada.

The Canadian approach to managing access to Canada has been to facilitate the legitimate freedom of movement while working towards comprehensive domestic and international policies to prevent the kinds of large-scale illegal movements which exploit individuals and erode the integrity of border systems. 

The new immigration act includes a specific offense against human trafficking, provides for very severe penalties, including fines of up to $1 million and life imprisonment, and existing offenses regarding human smuggling have also had their penalties increased. 

Former Ambassador Bissett's paper is a good history lesson. It talks in great detail about the development of the Canadian Immigration Act in 1976, but it's somewhat lacking in detail concerning the most recent discussions and the development of the new policy. But it does, however, accurately reflect the challenges that we all face as a result of the illegal movement of people, both those in need of protection and those who are simply seeking a better life.

I'm a little disappointed that from his paper Joe apparently believes that Canada faces more challenges than other countries, that no other countries, including the United States, face similar problems, that the challenges to the asylum system are somehow isolated from the rest of the continuum of the immigration process, and that there are no other things that can be done to improve our mutual security.

The US experience on the southwest border is a good example of the challenges facing everybody in the face of large-scale illegal movement. It's difficult to do it alone. Joe talked about the arrival of Chinese boats on the Canadian shore about three or four years ago. They arrived in Canada, they arrived in the United States, they arrived in Australia.  We all saw what happened with the Chinese that were smuggled in the back of a truck going to Dover in the UK.  There have been boats going to Italy and the EU is awash in people that are looking for other alternatives.

The lesson is clear.  Everybody is facing the same challenges. None of us can do it alone. We all need to work together.

With that recognition there was a UN protocol developed against trans-national organized crime that was signed on December 2001, ratified in Canada in May 2002.  It provides greater tools for law enforcement cooperation through information-sharing and the criminalization of people smuggling.  Canada also ratified two other protocols against smuggling of immigrants.

Mr. Bissett talked about the fact that anyone arriving in Canada is entitled to make a refugee claim.  That's part of the obligation that states assume when they sign the UN Convention for Refugees.  There are over 140 countries that all provide allowance for people to make their asylum claim.

On a national front, Canada decided about 12 years ago that the best way to control the entry to Canada was to start overseas. We've developed a comprehensive network of about 44 immigration control officers right now that are posted around the world. They liaise with host country officials, verify the validity of documents, visas. They train local air carriers to identify fraudulent documents, and they actually do interceptions at flight gates.

In 2001 they intercepted approximately 60 percent of the people trying to gain illicit entry to Canada. Also in 2001 we imposed a visitor visa requirement on an additional eight countries, two of which were major source countries of unfounded refugee claims. 

 In the new immigration act we've identified a new machine-readable permanent resident card.  We've expanded our existing use of secret evidence so that senior immigration officers can use such evidence in determining a person's admissibility. We have limited appeal rights for terrorists, human rights abusers, and serious criminals to make it easier to remove them from Canada. And at the same time the Canadian Supreme Court has recently ruled that in certain cases a person can be deported from Canada, notwithstanding a request from an international tribunal not to remove them. All of these procedures are significantly different and, I would argue, tighter than the equivalent American procedure.

Clearly 9/11 changed the way everybody in the immigration field does business. The Canadian government immediately announced the provision of an extra $5 billion, which has been used to increase staffing for immigration, Customs, the RCMP. We've increased our use of detention.  We're developing direct online criminality checks with both the RCMP and the FBI, and we're expanding the use of front-end security screening for asylum claimants.

In the CSIS report, which was included in the handout this morning, the CSIS director Ward Elcock, was quoted as saying there are more terrorist groups active in Canada than in any other country, with the possible exception of the United States. And unfortunately those last eight words are often forgotten.

I'm also a little disappointed to see that in the handout package there wasn't included Mr. Alcott's most recently parliamentary testimony from May, in which he clarified, elaborated and provided an update on his view of the security situation facing Canada right now. I've got a few copies of that afterwards, if anybody's interested.

With regard to detention, it's important to realize that Canada has learned from the challenges faced by the United States and Australia with regard to detention. We try to be more strategic. But the grounds for the use of detention in both Canada and the United States are exactly the same. We can detain when there's a danger to the public, or when the person is deemed to be a flight risk.

I think you'll find that the challenges that both Canada and the United States are facing are more a question of capacity than political will or ability. Regardless of how big a detention facility you've got, there seems to be inevitably a demand for more. 

Bilaterally Citizenship and Immigration and INS have been partners for years and years and years, and it was in that context that Joe was down in Washington once upon a time, many times upon a time, long ago. We worked routinely in the field. I worked at the bridge and we constantly dealt with our American counterparts. We have staff in each other's capitals to coordinate and liaise, and we routinely meet at the most senior levels of both departments.

Joe talked about the smart border agreement that was signed. Basically the priority in that agreement is the secure flow of people, the secure flow of goods, secure infrastructure, and information coordination and sharing to achieve those objectives.

Our ability to manage and ensure the secure flow of people begins overseas. Both Canada and the United States are deploying additional immigration control officers overseas. Canada currently has 44.  I think we're both aiming for 100, and deployments are going on this summer. We've increased our visa policy coordination with regards to the issuance of visas, the exemptions of visas, and Joe talked about that we've initialed a safe third country agreement requiring that asylum claimants apply in the country in which they first arrive in North America. There are ongoing consultations with NGOs, with legislators, and with the UNHCR, but I'm optimistic that we'll reach agreement on that soon.

We are implementing a common approach to screening international air passengers before they arrive in either country and to identify those that we're concerned about. We're creating joint passenger analysis units in Vancouver and Miami, starting next month, with US and Canadian officers working side by side to make sure that we identify people that are a risk to either country.

On the border that we share, the land border, the majority of 200 million people traveling are perfectly legitimate. We're deploying a border-wide fast-lane program that we call Nexus to ensure pre-screened low risk travelers can get across easily so that we can focus our resources on the unknown traveler. Nexus lanes have been open in Washington and British Columbia at Blaine, Pacific Highway and Douglas, and at Point Roberts Boundary Bay in July. And we're planning to expand that to all the high volume posts in the next two years. We're also looking at doing the same thing for air travelers. 

Canada and the US are working together to develop common standards for biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, and iris scanning. And at the G-8 summit in Canada in June, we developed agreement amongst the G-8 leaders to expand that internationally

Information sharing is continuing. There was already a great deal of information sharing going back and forth between Canada and the United States. 9/11 has expanded that. We're looking at online real-time sharing of criminal records, fingerprints. We have created 10 integrated border enforcement teams that are dealing with law enforcement officials from numerous jurisdictions, both state, local, federal, provincial across the border. We've set up 10 of these so far and we're aiming at setting up 14 over the next 18 months. They deal with the whole gamut of law enforcement across the border, including immigration.

And finally, both our countries have passed legislation to give us the powers we need to deal with terrorism. Both Canada and the United States have listed over 280 individual organizations linked to global terrorism that allow us to freeze their assets. So there's a lot that we've accomplished, there's a lot that we will accomplish.

I think clearly there's a will on both sides of the border, in Canada and in the United States. We've got political attention to improve the security. We've got the political will, and there's the desire on both sides to do it. We've done a lot, and I think we've got a lot more to go, and I'd be pleased to answer any questions later on. Thank you.


MR. MORTON:  Thanks, Mark, for inviting me. I guess I got both the easiest and most difficult roles, trying to figure out why this government seems so reluctant to make the changes that Jim is recommending, while on the other hand, as Bill points out, appears to be making many, many changes behind the scenes that have done little to reassure Canadians and obviously the US that Canada is effectively taking this terrorist threat — using Canada as a safe haven — seriously. 

There are three things at play, and the first I think Joe pointed to quite well, that the Canadian government is paralyzed by its own immigration system. It has become a massive cottage industry in Canada, largely behind closed doors. The Canadian public is either unwilling or simply doesn't care what happens to these 40,000-plus refugees that come in every year without visas or any documentation.

Critics, of which I think perhaps the National Post is in there, point to the fact that the judges on the refugee boards are not trained, nor are they lawyers. They're predominantly from the visible minority groups or from pro-asylum groups, and as a result there's a perception that it is virtually a slam dunk when you show up to the board that you will stay. I'm not sure that's really true, but that's the perception.

And the other thing is, again as Jim pointed out, the lawyers are getting rich at this. It is legal aid.  They all, given the turn-down in the law business and everything else, this has become huge. In Ontario alone, half of the cases before the appeals court now are refugee cases. That's how this whole thing has bogged down.

The government is sort of reluctant to play with it at the micro level, to get in there and restructure sort of the functioning bits of the immigration system, at least dealing with refugees, because it is a bit of a political hot potato, that if they do — and I'll come back to this a bit later — that they'll get branded themselves as being sort of anti-refugee, anti-immigration, etc.  So I think we just stay away from it.

Secondly, and you wouldn't know it down here, but in Canada, like in many other areas, there's an unwillingness to endorse necessarily an American view of how to deal with absolutely everything, especially in this area of immigration. Canada sees itself, I think more so than the US, as a place where refugees who are running from legitimate political problems in their home countries would want to come. America I think looks at refugees somewhat differently, and for good reason, that people who come to these shores are really more economic refugees. They are trying to improve their lot in life from where they're coming from — principally Latin and South America or elsewhere.

So that's why the two countries sort of look a little bit differently at it.  I think there's an unwillingness in Canada to detain as many people who come to the borders without legitimate reasons or visas, etc., where in the US I think it's done far more predominantly because there is a view that you're not necessarily running away from something in which you face great danger, but you're simply coming here to improve your own personal lot.

For that reason I think Canada has been resisting sort of more aggressive refugee systems such as I think even the Australians have, where detention is a greater part of the whole system.  For those reason, that they don't want to be seen as signing on to the American agenda on this and other issues, and they want to be seen around the world as truly a legitimate place where people with problems at home can come and seek safe haven.

So I think that's at play. I think it's more predominant with this liberal government than it would be with, say, the previous conservative government. It will be interesting to see sort of in the days that follow — I'm sure you're aware — our prime minister is stepping down, so who ultimately replaces him, will he sort of endorse a more aggressive immigration stance.

To be fair, though, they have made some changes. Bill points out that they signed the smart border thing that no longer allows country-shopping, which is 60 percent of the refugees who come to Canada come through the US, and often many of them would sort of make claims in both countries, in the hopes that one or the other would come through. So now you can't do that any longer. You make a claim in one or the other, and if you do both, back you go from whence you came. So that's a change. I think if it's effective it will be a positive one.

The other one, and I'm not sure how well this is going to work, is that they're talking about forcing refugees who come to Canada to sign a three-year contract to go to some of the more remote regions of Canada, like the north, etc. As we know, they principally go to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver because they have their own communities, their families are there, and there are strong networks of support. So I'm not convinced this will be very effective, but it will be certainly interesting to see if they do pull that off.  As Bill points out, they are making some changes. They're trying to do it in sort of a gentle fashion, without sort of annoying both sides of the spectrum on it. 

That really takes me to sort of the final point, and I think a poll we did in June points it out rather well, that the government can't win on immigration and refugees, no matter what it does. I mean, look at the numbers. Fifty-six percent of Canadians think Canada is letting in the right number of immigrants, and about a third believe that we are letting in too many, and 11 percent say too few.

Since September 11th the poll found that the public is increasingly concerned about the perception that the Canadian government cannot effectively deal with screening terrorists out of legitimate refugees, or people who come with visas into the country. So no matter which way they go on it, they're finding that it's simply a no-win situation for them. They can't effectively communicate a message to Canadians that they're doing a good job of catching terrorists when we get the Rissan incidents that sort of flare like that, and appear to point to the fact that terrorist groups are using Canada not, as Jim points out, as a place to wreak havoc but to simply park themselves, and to slip into society that allows them to do so and then do all their planning from there.

We've seen no real evidence other than there are several isolated cases of that, but the perception is there and I think that will remain, especially south of the border. Which really brings me to the true reality. I was up in Canada for about a month just recently. I was born on the border, was brought up on the border, I've crossed the border hundreds and hundreds of times, in various ways. What I found when I went through Burlington, which is a major crossing out of Montreal, one called Thousand Island, which is the major commercial one, and heading southbound — get used to it — there are going to be delays. The US welcomes the moves being made by the Canadian government to coordinate and do this and do that, but the reality is that it is a place where they believe people can slip through.

The delays are over an hour now, they're searching every car, they're demanding documentation from everybody who shows up at the border. I think they feel, and I think they'll probably see, that it is really truly the only effective way the US will have of feeling that their borders are protected, that they're going to have to make the efforts, despite the sort of reassurances from the Canadian government that if you want to keep bad people out of this country you're just going to have to stop them at the borders, whether it's at the airports or the land accesses or the seaports. I think that's going to continue for some time, despite some of the efforts of both governments with smart passes, etc.

I'll wrap it up because I know you'll have questions. The Canadian government, as I say, can't really win politically on this issue. It's a hot button on one side. On the other side the conservative side would say, as Jim points out, that the government is doing very little and Canada is widely perceived as an easy hit for anybody wanting to come in. So for the most part I think they'll stay away from it.  There will be an election in 2004 and I'm betting it won't even be an issue unless we get another incident in which someone from Canada came to the US to do harm. If that happens, I'm afraid even the border will be getting more difficult to cross. I'll leave it there.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Peter. Let me take the moderator's prerogative to ask the first question. It's something that has been touched on a number of times, but what in your various opinions would it really take to get Canada to adopt a more aggressive asylum policy? It seems to me essentially there needs to be some incentive for Canada to do so because Canada is not a target now. 

It would seem to me that one of two things would happen.  One is, terrorists blow up something in Canada for want of being able to get in the United States, which we have no indication of but you never know. The second would be that the economic cost that Peter referred to — in other words, the delays at the border — would reach such a level that Canada at some point would have to cry uncle because even though we are each other's biggest trading partner, our economy is 10 times the size of Canada's, so Canada's trade with us matters a lot more than our trade with Canada. There are large parts of the United States where Canada is not an important economic issue — California, Texas, Florida, Georgia —whereas in Canada there are no significant parts of the country that aren't intimately tied with the United States.

I have wanted to get everybody's feel on what it

AMB. BISSETT: I'll answer first.  I think one or another catastrophic event either in Canada or the States would certainly help that. That's the real concern you have to have about terrorist activity. It's not like criminal activity. You charge the criminal after he's committed the act, after he's murdered somebody or robbed a bank. That's bad enough because someone's been murdered.  But with a terrorist incident, it may involve the lives of thousands of people. So it's not good enough to wait until afterwards and then charge the person with a crime. You have to try to prevent it.  That's my concern about our asylum system.

We have let in, since January 1st of this year, 16,000 asylum seekers. Many thousands of these 16,000 don't have any documents. Around 5,000, maybe 6,000 have come from Algeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, all of these countries that we know produce terrorists. We let them go. They're on the loose. We have no idea where they are. I think that's criminal. It borders on criminal irresponsibility. People who come into your country without documents, particularly from terrorist producing countries, should be detained and they should be detained until you find out who they are and whether you can then safely let them go.  That's a simple thing that can be done.  It's being done in most countries around the world.  It's not being done in Canada.

Catastrophe on the one hand, common sense of the other, I would think might prevail here if enough people speak out.  It doesn't take much to detain people who come in without documents.  If they come into your country without documents, you know they're being smuggled by international criminal organizations who are making millions of dollars. The UN estimates $3 (billion) to $4 billion a year by organized criminal organizations. You can't get on an aircraft today without a document. How do you get on the aircraft? You buy the document, and it looks authentic, it looks good. You get on the aircraft with the document. A courier representing the smuggler picks the document up again.  It's far too valuable to allow you to destroy or rip up. And you arrive without documents and you're in.  In Canada you're in. Everywhere else you're detained until they find out who the hell you are and why did you come without documents, and where did you come from and who are you?

We don't do that. We let them in. And we let a lot of them in. We've got 16,000 so far this year.  We'll probably have close to 40,000 by the end of the year. I think that's, as I said, bordering on criminal irresponsibility.

The other thing, it's cynical. Of these 16,000, they represent citizens of 152 different countries.  They're not all refugee-producing countries. They're coming from Costa Rica, from Hungary, from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica. I mean, this is a farce, and yet we go on pretending these are all possible refugees.We had 135 citizens of the United States apply for refugee status in Canada up until April of this year. Now, come on.

You can have all the operational efficiency you want in a country, but if the policy is that screwed up, it doesn't matter how good your operators are. I would hope that some sort of common sense might prevail here.

In addition to that, these are not refugees. These are people — most of the people coming to Canada for refugee status are Chinese, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Indians. Those four countries are the top providers of our normal immigrants. Most of our immigrants coming to Canada the legal way were all checked for criminality, security and so on, medical, come from those countries. And yet they provide us with the largest number of asylum seekers. It's a farce, and it's a dangerous farce.

So catastrophe on the one hand, yes, maybe a change in government might do something about it.  I think pressure from the United States is probably the most essential thing to bring some sort of tightening up. All the other countries of the Western world — as Bill said, we're not the only ones that have problems but all of the countries of Western Europe and the United States have much tougher policies than we do. Most of the countries of Western Europe impose a safe third country rule, or a safe country of origin.You can't get into Germany if you're coming from one of these countries and apply for refugee status. You're ineligible to apply. You're considered manifestly unfounded and you're removed very quickly.

I used to fly from Moscow to Stuttgart, or to Frankfurt. Two German immigration officers came aboard the plane. If you didn't have a document, you didn't get off the plane. We are letting people in that we shouldn't be letting in, and it's undermining our immigration policy and it's extremely costly. This is one other possible reason the government might want to reform it. It's very hard to know, but it's costing us probably $2 (billion) to $3 billion a year to look after these people. 

Now, do you know what we give to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees as our share of helping that organization look after 25 million real refugees, in sordid refugee camps around the world, and I've been in them?  We give them $20 (million) to $25 million a year. And yet we're spending $2 (billion) to $3 billion looking after asylum seekers. It's a cynical policy and it's costly, and that cost factor, particularly when we've got other problems in Canada, with health care, education — that might also be another reason why we should cry out for reform of this policy and it might come about.  I'm still hoping.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Any quick response from Bill or Peter? Either some threshold of economic cost or physical cost or security consequences?

MR. MORTON: I think it will be economically that the US will have to finally use, if they truly believe that Canada is not going far enough. It really doesn't take much of a slow-down at the border to sort of cripple, especially the Ontario economy on automobiles and auto parts. From what I've seen already, the line of trucks going miles and miles back, should that continue for any great length of time I think we'd see some reforms coming down the pike.

MR. SHEPPIT: If I may, Mark, I can't let go Joe's thesis that because you're a national of a certain country you're a terrorist. He's been in the camps, he's been at the borders. He knows that the vast majority of people seeking asylum in both countries are effectively looking for a better life and are not necessarily terrorists.  The equation of the fact that you're an asylum-seeker, therefore you're a terrorist I think merits comment.

Yes, we need to be careful, yes, we need to share intelligence and information, and yes, we need to do good screening on these people, but I think we need to be careful about equating the two.

AMB. BISSETT: Can I just reply quickly?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Very quickly.

AMB. BISSETT:  I don't want to equate all asylum-seekers with terrorists. Of course the vast majority are not. But I do think after what happened on September 11th, you've got to be a little bit careful about the ones you know those countries do produce terrorists. As I said, we've had 4,000 to 5,000 of these people from terrorist-producing countries enter the country and we don't know where they are or what they're doing. I think that's bordering on, as I said earlier, criminal irresponsibility.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Please identify yourself.

MS. SULLIVAN: I'm Fran Sullivan with the National Organization for Migration.  Are we being a little unfair maybe, focusing on the asylum and refugee system when we're talking about terrorism?  Probably a large part of the people who come as terrorists are actually entering legally as tourists.  It may be something to think about in terms of tracking.  I think Joe mentioned this a little bit, but looking at tracking them while they're in country and what kind of — (off mike).

AMB. BISSETT: I think you're right. The terrorist threat doesn't come only from asylum-seekers. Of course. The terrorist threat comes from people who enter the country legally. We know that the people who assaulted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were all in the United States legally, or they got their visas after the fact.

But I think there has been, and are now being more steps taken to cover those areas.  I'm concerned about the asylum-seekers because that's the one area that is strikingly vulnerable and allows people to enter the country without going through any procedures.  That's what frightens me.  You've got a much better chance if someone applies for a visa.  You can do background checks, you can make inquiries, but with people that arrive that you don't know who they are and they have no documents, that's much more worrisome.

I would agree with you, Fran.  Of course there are all sorts of steps that have to be taken, and Bill has outlined a lot of those that have been taken.  My concern is that the glaring weakness in our system, which threatens and undermines everything else that North America might do, has not been addressed.


Q:  (Off mike)

MR. SHEPPIT: I'm not familiar with the specific reference you're making, but I think clearly the United States on the southwest border has all sorts of monitoring devices to look at the border.  And clearly there are wide parts of the Canada-US border, particularly out West in the interior of British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, where there are no roads, it's exceeding difficult to get across just because of the mountains and in the winter the climate. And the American government may well feel — I know that they've been looking at installing increased sensors to look at traffic between border ports.

Q:  (Off mike)

MR. SHEPPIT: Well, it's my understanding that there have been National Guard troops that have been temporarily supplied on the northern border, until such time as both the INS, the Border Patrol, and the US Customs service can get the increased funding that they've been promised by Congress, and then do the staffing.

MR. MORTON: Julie, as I understood it, if I could bump in here. The National Guard that's been used, both on the northern and the southern border, has mainly been to speed inspections at ports of entry, whereas what you're talking about, I think it was Congressman Tancredo who went up recently to the Canadian border and there they were actually conducting a military exercise of sorts, a border control exercise with the military at points in between the border. In other words, the areas that the Border Patrol was responsible for, as opposed to helping out the inspectors at the normal ports of entry.

That's the kind of use of the military that Julie was asking about, and that potentially may raise concerns because that's never happened before with our Canadian border. I mean, I would ask, Julie, is that potentially an issue, our using troops in areas where the Border Patrol patrols otherwise, because it has been an issue with Mexico, for instance.

MR. SHEPPIT: I'm not familiar with the specific reference that you make, but I think clearly obviously the United States has the authority to decide how they want to enforce their borders, and particularly between ports.  I talked about the cooperation on the IBET (ph) that's been going on, which started in the Pacific Northwest, and that involves a lot of that, dealing with the Border Patrol. There's a great deal of existing cooperation going on in that area already, but I'm not familiar with your specific example.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Yes, sir?

Q: (Off mike) Are you advocating the same policy for Canada, because for one thing the problem of people without proper documentation, or they show their passport, very often genuine refugees — (off mike) — or dissident from North Africa, you cannot get proper documentation from your home authorities. 

AMB. BISSETT: No, I think anyone who arrives in Canada with documents, or with false documents or altered documents, should be detained until we can find out who they are and why they had to come into the country without documents.  It is true, as you say, that there are some -- very rare, quite frankly -- cases where people have to get out of a country and can't get a document.  Those cases do happen, and even in Germany if you arrive and you have a good reason to explain to the officers why you had to get out, then they'll let you in and give you a very careful examination.

But let's take the case of Canada, where we're getting the largest number of people coming from countries where they're easily able to get documents.  Most immigrants from China, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka can go in and get a passport and a document and leave.  There's no prohibition against that.  But the people that are coming in from Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka and India who are asylum seekers are coming in with false documents or without documents.  They've purchased documents often because they can't meet the normal immigration requirements.  They have to then use false documents to come.

I think we have to be much tougher, in other words, on people who come without documents.  I acknowledge that, yes, often people have to get out of their country without documents, but another factor with Canada is that few of these people come directly from the country where they claim to be persecuted.  There are no direct flights from Islamabad to Montreal, or even from most of the countries that provide us with asylum seekers.  They've come through other countries.

If you are a genuine refugee and you're fleeing persecution and you fear torture and death and you get a document that gets you out, say, of Iran and you fly into a country that is safe, a country that is a signatory to the UN convention and is a democratic country that follows the rule of law, logically you would jump off the plane and say, here I am, I want protection, and give them reasons.  But that's not what's happening with these people.  They're staying in Germany, they're passing through other countries, and then they're coming to Canada, not to avoid persecution but because they know as soon as they arrive here they can enter into the country, get free legal advice, they'll have welfare, they will be able to work if they want to, and the chances of ever getting rid of them are zero.  So the smugglers are telling these people, look, we will guarantee you a minimum of two years in Canada by getting you on the plane.

So yes, you have to be careful when you're getting tough with people without documents, but you also have to be sensible, and we're not even being sensible.  We're letting them all in.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  I'd like to ask a follow-up to that question for Bill, and this is something the United States hasn't done either. Has there been discussion in Canada of expanding the safe third country concept beyond the reciprocal agreement with the United States to the various, for want of a better term, the airport countries in Western Europe? The only way you can get into Canada is from Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands or France or Britain. In other words, those countries likewise, it would seem to me, would legitimately be considered safe third countries, as Joe pointed out.

The United States hasn't done this either, but my question is, has there been any discussion in Canada of adding to the list of safe third countries, Western European countries that in sort of ordinary parlance or from common experience would also be considered safe?

MR. SHEPPITNot at this point, no. I mean, we're working with the American government on reaching agreement between ourselves. But at the same time, this is where a number of our control officers are deployed, in ports of embarkation in Europe, where we're looking for people with fraudulent documents, and to a large extent this has been the crux of the discussions hosted by the UN High Commission for Refugees over the years, is how do you deal with the dichotomy in people traveling, where you do have some people who have a legitimate need for protection, and you do have other people who are seeking to abuse the systems of the West, regardless of which country it is. So it's certainly being dealt with on an international basis, but Canada and the US are just working on our own systems right now.

AMB. BISSETT: Can I just add to that, since I'm the culprit. I helped design the 1989 immigration act that's just been changed. We had the experience of asylum-seekers.  It's a phenomenon that started, strangely enough with someone in the 80s. Nobody's ever figured out why it got going, but all of a sudden in the middle of the 80s you get thousands and thousands of people coming from the Third World countries into the developed countries of Western Europe and North America asking for asylum and claiming to be persecuted. It's turned into a massive migration of people.  Everybody has that problem.

We knew it in 1985 and we designed a new refugee law which say the Canadian government would list a number of countries that they considered to be safe for refugees, and anybody who came from those countries would not be eligible to make a refugee claim. In other words we would restrict access because our experience told us that if you have any refugee system that allows everybody to apply, it will soon become overpowered by numbers.  There is no quasi-judicial tribunal system that can deal with high volumes, so we decided, all right, we'll restrict the numbers who can apply by saying if you're coming from Germany or the United States or England or France, you're not eligible to apply.  Go home.

We had that in the immigration act ready to be passed in 1989, and realizing that that was going to restrict the numbers, then we designed a very generous refugee system for those who came in from countries that had a legitimate reason to claim persecution.  We said there would be a non-adversarial system.  Two judges would discuss the case.  If one agreed that the person was a refugee, that was it, they would be in.  There would be leave to appeal to the federal court, and we made a very generous system.

Three days before the enactment of that act, the minister decided not to enact the safe country provisions of the legislation.  Why?  Because she didn't feel that the United States was a safe country for El Salvadorans and Guatemalans.  It was in the 80s, there were trouble in Central America.  Our foreign minister would not allow legislation to be passed that suggested the United States was not safe for a refugee.  I mean, the home of the brave, Statue of Liberty.  It was unheard of that Canada would pass legislation saying the United States was not safe, so there was a conflict and the usual Canadian way was compromise, which was not to do anything, and to pass the legislation but not enact the safe country provisions.

Well, those of us who designed the legislation knew we were doomed, and of course we were doomed and we still are.  We're getting thousands and thousands of people pouring in from the countries that I listed, none of whom are real refugees.  But all of them find it easy to get into Canada that way.  So that was why we have, even today in the legislation, to go back to your question.  We have that in the legislation.  I mean, Canada could have declared unilaterally the United States is a safe country for refugees.  We will not allow anyone coming from the United States to make a refugee claim. 

I've argued that we are a sovereign country. That would have been done.It's in our legislation.  Instead of that, we decided that we'd negotiate. Negotiate what? Whether the United States would agree with that or not? And that's what we've done, and of course we've got ourselves in a hole over that because the US, among other things, are saying, yes, we might sign. And if we do, you're going to have to take the 200 or so people that we have somewhere in the United States each year. 

We should have passed that long ago. All of the European countries have a safe country of origin and a safe third country provision. All of them have, and it's working. The numbers of asylum seekers have slowed down. In Germany in 1993 they had 438,000 asylum-seekers. They had to change the constitution to try and stop it. 

We haven't done that, and we haven't done it for political reasons. I think that one of these days we'll wake up and pass that legislation and come up with a sensible asylum system which will give Americans a little more sense that we're not being used as a staging ground for terrorist acts against their country.

 MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir.

 Q:  (Off mike)

 MR. KRIKORIAN: Could you do a question, because we're only going to do one more question.

Q:  (Off mike)

AMB. BISSETT: Simply because a person can't meet the immigration requirements for Canada doesn't mean that they should buy false documents and fly there and claim to be an asylum seeker.  I'm suggesting to you that very few, if any, of these people who come from those four countries claiming to be persecuted are real refugees.  We're wasting our time with them.

And I would also add, and I'm glad you've identified yourself, that the UNHCR has not taken a leadership role here.  The UNHCR each year cannot look after the people that they're supposed to be looking after.  They can't feed them properly, clothe them properly, and they can't afford them the one thing they should be affording them, which is protection.  And why can't they?  Because all of the Western countries don't give the UNHCR enough money to do it.  You're lucky if you get a billion dollars a year for your total budget to look after 25 million people.

In Europe this year they'll be spending $3 (billion) to $4 billion or more on asylum seekers, as we do.  All of that money is being misdirected in my view because the UNHCR doesn't have enough money to look after the world refugees and doesn't have enough ability then to stand up and take a leadership role and stop this massive illegal migration movement that's been going on since the 1980s.

 MR. KRIKORIAN:  Let's take a last question and wrap it up.

Q:  (Off mike)

AMB. BISSETT:  I haven't done a detailed cost-benefit analysis on it but I'm quite convinced that if, while the initial costs of detaining these people would be high in the first year, every time people start detaining people at the ports of entry, it takes about six months for the word to get out and then the flow stops. That's what happened with our Chinese boats. We haven't had another boat.  When the Australians detained people and put them in detention, they haven't had another boat since then. So if you detain, the costs will be high, but nothing compared to the costs that we're now spending on these people in welfare and social services, in medical costs, and in looking after them.

MR. SHEPPIT:  I beg to differ, that detention is not the be-all and end-all, and certainly it's part of a package of tools that can be used. But certainly the American experience with detention, where they detain a lot of people, and the Australian experience with detention, despite detaining people in the middle of nowhere, there have still been a significant number of boats coming to Australia. I don't think that detention in and of itself is the answer. 

MR. MORTON:  I would just say from a political perspective, I don't think any Canadian government can sell detention very well.  I mean, the moment the walls start going up of a new prison like they have down in Florida kind of thing, I think you would find a cry from Canadians that there had to be another way between full detention and just letting them run about, and I don't think they've found that yet.

AMB. BISSETT:  I don't agree with that. I have the last word here. There was no outcry when — not much.  I mean, there was the outcry from the usual refugee advocacy groups, the lawyers and others, about the detention of the Chinese boats, but the public were quite happy with that, and it worked.  Contrary to what Bill says, I read a speech earlier this week, I just read a minister who said they have not had one boat arrive in Australia since they got really tough on the detention. 

We're not talking about detaining everybody who comes into the country.  We're talking about people who come into the country without documents, or altered documents.  That doesn't mean all 16,000 that came in the beginning of this year would be detained.  But you might have to detain 2,000 or 3,000 of those who come in without documents from countries that you're concerned about.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks to our panelists. I appreciate all of you coming out in August, where we probably have most of the population of Washington, D.C. in this room. For those of you who are more interested in this, please come forward. We can put you on our mailing list or you can assault our various speakers privately if you want some more comments from them.  Thanks a lot.