Over the past year, amid Donald Trump's crackdown on refugees and illegal immigrants, Canada has emerged as a willing safe harbor for those whose welcomes (and visas) in the US had expired. This past January, in response to Trump's executive order on immigration, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” adding that “Diversity is our strength."
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Unfortunately, it has also emerged to be Canada's deadly weakness. Recall that on Sunday, in a rare - for Canada - terrorist incident, a Somali man stabbed an Edmonton police constable late Saturday night before trying to ram a truck into a crowd of pedestrians while being chased by police through downtown Edmonton Saturday night. Ultimately, four pedestrians and the officer were injured when the U-Haul truck being driven by the suspect struck them.
A few days later, we now know that if only Canada had a slightly less porous border with the US, the attempted murder could have been avoided because as Reuters reports, the Somali refugee accused of stabbing an Edmonton police constable on the weekend and running down four pedestrians was ordered to be deported from the United States in 2011 by a U.S. immigration judge.
In July 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection transferred the suspected terrorist, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, Calif., according to Jennifer D. Elzea, acting press secretary for the ICE office of public affairs. Two months later, on Sept. 22, 2011, an immigration judge ordered Sharif removed to Somalia. Sharif waived his right to appeal that decision.
However, under the previous administration's lax regime, Sharif was released on Nov. 23, 2011, on an ICE "order of supervision" due to a "lack of likelihood of his removal in the reasonably foreseeable future," Elzea said in a statement. Sharif failed to report to the ICE enforcement and removal operations centre on his scheduled date, Jan. 24, 2012.
"Efforts by ERO San Diego to locate him were not successful," Elzea said, and since Sharif had no known criminal history at the time of his dealings with ICE, he was a low profile target.
Then, some time in 2012, Sharif crossed the border into Canada Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Monday in Ottawa. Goodale said Sharif arrived through a "regular port of entry" and obtained refugee status at the time, adding that - just like in the US - in 2012 immigration officials had no reason to red flag Sharif.
Then, in 2015, a complaint led police to probe Sharif’s alleged extremist ideology, but officers found no grounds for criminal charges after what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police described as an “exhaustive investigation.”
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It's not known at present whether Sharif made an asylum claim while in the United States. If he did, and that claim was rejected, normally Sharif wouldn't be able to make a claim in Canada under the Safe Third Country Rule, said Calgary immigration lawyer Michael Greene quoted by CBC. But Canada has made exceptions for minors or people with family in Canada, Greene said. "An asylum seeker or potential refugee claimant, even if they've been in the U.S., can still in some cases make a refugee claim here," he said.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada confirmed in an email statement Tuesday that Sharif "entered Canada from the United States through a regular Port of Entry in 2012 and was found to be a refugee later that year. "According to U.S. authorities, he was not detained for criminal activity," the spokesperson added.
"In general it is to be noted that only individuals who are inadmissible, including for serious criminality, would be ineligible to make an asylum claim. Being detained for immigration purposes in another country would not prevent someone from being able to make an asylum claim in Canada."
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Fast forward to this week, when Sharif, who faces 11 charges including five counts of attempted murder, made a brief first appearance Tuesday in an Edmonton courtroom wearing an orange jail uniform. At his court appearance, Sharif had bruises on his forehead and cheek that Edmonton police said resulted during two vehicle crashes on Saturday night. A Somali interpreter helped him during the proceedings.
He had a Somali interpreter, although he did not speak. He occasionally looked down or clasped his hands in front of him and still bore facial bruises that police say he sustained while evading capture. A community leader, Mahamad Accord, who did not speak to Sharif but learned about him from the local Somali community, said Sharif was from a Somali ethnic minority and little known in the community.
Sharif’s lawyer, Chady Moustarah, said he had stepped in on short notice to help someone without representation but that the accused would have to find another lawyer going forward. Sharif remains in custody until his next court appearance, scheduled for Nov. 14.
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Will the terrorist incident be a wake up call to Canada? It appears not: Canada's Public Safety Minister Goodale said that events in Edmonton over the weekend in no way indicate that Canada's screening process needs to be enhanced, or that the system failed.