Canada’s government will inevitably have to cut some corners on security screening to achieve its ambitious goal of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year-end, said current and former security sources. The plan by newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeks to complete in six weeks a process that can take up to two years in the United States, where last Friday’s attacks in Paris have sparked a political backlash against US plans to allow in 10,000 Syrians over the coming year.
In Canada, which shares about 5,500 miles (8,850 km) of relatively porous border with the United States, Friday’s attacks have prompted calls for Trudeau to push back the Jan. 1 deadline to ensure all the refugees are properly screened.
Trudeau has vowed to stick to the plan, reiterating the security of Canadians would be paramount when dealing with the refugees. The Canadian plan will entail background checks that include biometric and fingerprint checks, as well as health assessments. Some screening will have to be done after the refugees arrive in Canada given the short time frame.
Canada will primarily focus on families with children under the age of 18 who have been in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, said an intelligence source and a non-government source familiar with deliberations. The first step in the Canadian plan is to select refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), then conduct checks against Interpol, Canadian security and immigration as well as foreign allies’ watchlists before issuing permanent or temporary residence permits.
Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, asked in Manila whether Washington had expressed security concerns about the plan, said: “Everything that we have heard is that our initiative is welcome and everyone wants to cooperate with this – the United States, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.”