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Agency flags Iranians with 'sinister motives'

19 found inadmissible on security grounds

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OTTAWA -- Canada's border agency has flagged the possibility of Iranians with "sinister motives" slipping into the country -- a warning that came in the months leading to the arrest of two men charged with plotting to attack a Via Rail train with help from al-Qaida in Iran.

An intelligence report by the Canada Border Services Agency said 19 Iranian nationals had been found inadmissible to Canada on security grounds since 2008 -- the majority of them refugee claimants lacking proper documentation.

The July 2012 report, Irregular Migration of Iranians to Canada, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"Iran is the No. 1 source country of improperly documented migrants who make refugee claims in Canada," says the report, portions of which remain secret.

"Most of these migrants cite persecution based on religion, political opinion and sexual orientation."

A significant percentage of the arrivals use "facilitators" to enter Canada, adds the report.

"Information provided by the migrants on their smugglers suggests possible links to organized criminal elements both within and outside of Canada."

The border agency cites the June 2012 conviction of a man for smuggling two Iranians to Vancouver from China using phoney Israeli passports.

Many people seeking refuge in Canada use fake documents and rely on middlemen to help them flee persecution in their homelands.

In addition, the number of Iranians making refugee claims in Canada is relatively small -- about 300 a year -- and in 2011 more than 85 per cent were granted asylum, the report says.

However, the manner in which they arrive and the possible links to organized crime "are of concern," the border agency adds.

"While Iranian irregular migrants mainly enter Canada to make refugee claims, it is possible that certain individuals may enter with more sinister motives."

The 19 Iranians denied haven in Canada for security reasons were deemed inadmissible under a provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act covering terrorism, subversion and espionage.

Iranian links to Islamic extremism came to the fore this week with the arrest of two men accused of scheming to derail a passenger train in southern Ontario.

Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, face terrorism-related charges in what the RCMP say was a plot guided by elements of the al-Qaida organization in Iran.

The Mounties have not elaborated on the foreign connection, saying only the support did not come from the Iranian government.

The border services agency report notes recent American concerns about Iranian secret operatives and members of the Hezbollah extremist group, backed by Iran, carrying out attacks in the United States. Testimony in March last year before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security alleged Hezbollah was active in stealing and forging high-quality passports that could allow members to travel freely.

Hezbollah was added to Canada's list of terrorist entities in December 2002. The assets of any listed group may be seized. In addition, it is a crime to knowingly participate in the activities of a designated organization or deal in its property or finances.

In late 2010, it emerged through online document leaker WikiLeaks the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had responded to hints of possible terror operations by "vigorously harassing" known members of Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Canada's immigration policy is being reviewed following revelations one of the men charged in an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail train was ordered deported years ago -- but was never removed because he is a stateless Palestinian.

The federal immigration minister said Friday he wants to know what can be done when Canada wants to deport someone who has no home country.

"(I) am having a briefing with officials to see if there was any way to work to still remove someone like this who allegedly is stateless," Jason Kenney said.

In the briefing, he's likely to learn Canada can and does deport people who are considered stateless. Between 2003 and 2010, 352 of them were removed from Canada, according to government statistics published in a 2012 study commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Sixty-seven others have been removed in the last two years, the Canadian Border Services Agency said Friday.

Being stateless means an individual can't be considered a citizen of any country, a legal limbo that can arise for a variety of reasons. It's considered a situation beyond the individual's control -- and one Jaser has claimed applies in his case.

"I am a Palestinian by blood; that does not give me any rights whatsoever in my place of birth," Jaser told a deportation hearing in 2004.

The case of Palestinians is unique among the estimated millions of stateless people in the world. While there is such a thing as a Palestinian passport, most countries do not recognize Palestine as a state and therefore its people are considered stateless.

Jaser's lawyer claimed he was never deported because the government couldn't figure out where to send him.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A24

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