A job for Sgro's successor
            National Post

      Monday, December 20, 2004                             

      Last week, five people were charged in Ottawa with accepting bribes of up to $25,000 from Arab immigrants in exchange for expediting their residency applications. The RCMP, which made the arrests after a two-year investigation, reassured Canadians that "this is not a security threat." We're inclined to trust the Mounties' judgment. But while the migrants allegedly pencil-whipped through the system this time weren't terrorists, the next batch might be. Immigration control is a high stakes game in the post-9/11 world. If any of the five suspects in this scheme is ultimately convicted, they must receive the harshest possible sentence. For the sake of national security, those who might be tempted to let would-be terrorists into the country in return for cash must be sent the strongest possible message.

      One of the accused is Dianne Serre, an operations manager for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC). The involvement of a CIC official in the alleged scam, if proven, would be especially disturbing. From fund-raising to weapons procurement to people-smuggling, terrorists are adept at piggybacking on criminal networks to advance their goals. If there exists a shortcut into Canada, it is only a matter of time before the next Ahmed Ressam tries to exploit it.

      Puzzling, though, has been the reaction of at least one of Canada's official Islamic advocacy groups, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR-CAN sees the bribery scandal as just another plot to oppress Canadians of Arab extraction. The group says it was "alarmed" and "shocked" that a senior CIC official "would allegedly participate in a scheme to shamelessly exploit members of the Muslim and Arab communities. This issue raises renewed concerns regarding the protection of the rights of non-citizens in Canada."

      But of the four other individuals implicated along with Ms. Serre, three are Arab-Canadians, including the alleged ringleader, Issam Dakik. If, as CAIR-CAN insists, the issue raises "renewed concerns," it raises them first and foremost about how Arab-Canadians are abusing Arabs from abroad. The idea that this constitutes evidence of discrimination is absurd.

      As for the the CIC, it clearly has some housecleaning to do. This is not the first such scandal of 2004: Earlier this year, a former Immigration and Refugee Board judge and various others were charged with running a Quebec-based criminal organization that fixed immigration appeal hearings in return for bribes.

      Unfortunately, the current Immigration Minister, Judy Sgro, has herself been besieged with allegations concerning favourable treatment accorded a stripper who worked on her election campaign. Given the airy and contradictory explanations she has provided, it is clear she is the last person Canadians would want to charge with the task of sniffing out quid pro quos in the immigration system. We expect that Paul Martin will have the good sense to replace Ms. Sgro in the new year.

      Mr. Martin should pick her replacement with care. To ensure Canadian security, no less than the fair treatment of all immigration applicants, Ms. Sgro's successor must launch a thorough overhaul of our admission processes to ensure that bribes and political favours play no role in decision-making.

      National Post 2004