An immigration storm

MARC CLARK February 1 1988

An immigration storm

MARC CLARK February 1 1988

An immigration storm


On Dec. 26, 1968, an Air France jet flew from Beirut to Athens carrying two determined young Arab men. Later that day the pair rushed onto the tarmac of Athens airport, firing a submachine-gun and tossing grenades at a Boeing 707 jetliner bearing the pale-blue Star of David of El Al, the Israeli national airline. One passenger, an Israeli man, was killed. The two young Arabs told Greek officials after their capture that they were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group dedicated to creating an independent Palestinian state. They had come to Athens, they said, “to destroy an Israeli plane and kill Jews.” Nineteen years later and half a world away, one of those men—Muhammad Issa Mohammad, now 44—has found himself at the centre of an intense political storm in Canada. Last week Solicitor General James Kelleher confirmed that Mohammad had lived in this country since last February as a landed immigrant with his wife and three children. Kelleher also confirmed that the government had known since May that Mohammad was involved in the Athens attack. The revelation stunned the citizens of Brantford, a city of 75,000 about 125 km southwest of Toronto. In Ottawa, opposition politicians demanded to know how Mohammad had slipped through security screening of immigrants—and why the government had failed to deport him. Gerald Weiner, minister of state for immigration, pledged to “use the full force of the law” to expel Mohammad. Weiner said that the complex deportation process would begin this week—but admitted that it could take years. Then, at week’s end, a group in Lebanon calling itself The Homeland Defence Organization threatened to kidnap Canadian nationals if Ottawa deported Mohammad.

There was more embarrassment for the government, as Parliament began what will probably be its last session before a general election. Kelleher acknowledged that on Feb. 27, 1987, foreign agents tipped off the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that Mohammad was a terrorist and would arrive in Toronto within hours, but officials bungled an attempt to intercept him at the airport. Said New Democrat MP Iain Angus: “We have learned how

easy it is for a convicted terrorist to get into Canada, even when CSIS and Immigration know which flight he’s arriving on.”

In March, 1970, a Greek court sentenced Mohammad to 17 years, five months in prison and his partner to 14 years, three months. But in 1971 Greek officials deported both men to Lebanon in exchange for hostages. Little is


known of Mohammad’s activities from then until his arrival in Canada, except that he and his family spent the previous three years in Spain. There, Mohammad applied to come to Canadaunder a false name, Kelleher said—as a landed immigrant.

For officials at the embassy in Madrid, Mohammad’s application was just one of many. Last year Canada accepted 125,000 landed immigrants. A CSIS liaison officer in Madrid conducted a routine check of Mohammad with Spanish police, who said they knew of no criminal conduct by him. The security officer interviewed Mohammad, then cleared him without notifying his superiors in Ottawa. The rest of Mohammad’s paperwork went smoothly.

On Feb. 27 foreign intelligence agents tipped off CSIS in Ottawa that Mohammad was airborne and on his way to Toronto. That afternoon, two hours before his plane touched down, CSIS warned Immigration officials. But department spokesman Gerry Maffre said that CSIS gave them the wrong name— Mohammad had 22 known aliases—and that the warning failed to get through to new Immigration officers coming on shift. One of those officers stamped Mohammad’s passport and welcomed him to Canada.

CSIS officials interrogated Mohammad the next day, but he insisted that he was not a terrorist. Three days later RCMP officers took his fingerprints and sent them to Interpol. In May, Interpol confirmed his identity. But federal officials waited until Dec. 9 to inform Mohammad that they would begin procedures to deport him and his family. NDP Leader Ed Broadbent said that the seven-month delay was unconscionable. But Weiner replied that the government needed the time to collect court records and other documents from Europe to back its case for deportation. Added Kelleher: “Heinous as this crime is, and as much as we would like to get rid of this gentleman quickly, the due process of law must be followed.”

That process could be a lengthy one. The first step is a hearing this week before an adjudicator appointed by the immigration department. If the adjudicator rules that Mohammad should be deported, he could take his case to the federal Refugee Status Advisory Committee; if he is turned down there, he

could demand a hearing before a threemember panel of the Immigration Appeal Board. And if he loses at that stage, he could appeal to the Federal Court—and finally to the Supreme Court. And by claiming refugee status— a claim available by right to any alien in the country—Mohammad could further delay his departure as the claim is processed. Said Toronto immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman: “It could take years to resolve this.”

But Mohammad may choose not to fight.

When his story became known last week, he and his family disappeared from Brantford, although Kelleher said that CSIS still had him under surveillance. Neighbors said that Mohammad and his family were quiet and unobtrusive. “They played with their kids just like anyone else,” said Steve Fozekas, who lives across the street from Mohammad’s semidetached grey brick bungalow. “He hasn’t held a gun to anyone here.” The Hamilton Spectator had mistakenly identified another Brantford man with a similar name as the convicted terrorist. As a consequence, Mustapha Ali Mohammed was placed on vacation by his employer, a local security firm that hired him as a guard. But Mohammed’s son insisted that the family was not even related to

the terrorist. The Spectator subsequently apologized to the family in a frontpage editorial.

Regardless of what happens to Mohammad, the government has other battles to fight over immigration. In December the Senate called for 13 changes in a controversial government bill that would amend the Immigration Act. Some Conservatives believe that the

stage is set for a repeat of the struggle over Bill C-22, the drug patent law. That bill bounced back and forth between the House of Commons and the Senate for seven months last year before the Senate backed down in November and passed it. Liberal Senator Joan Neiman,

chairman of the committee that examined the immigration bill, said last week that “there’s not going to be any of that kind of jockeying” with this legislation. But an aide to Conservative Senate Leader Lowell Murray warned, “We were told that about C-22.”

The new legislation is already en meshed in the controversy surrounding Mohammad. Weiner said repeatedly last week that the Senate should pass the bill quickly in order to give government "the addi tional power we need to remove terrorists, spies and saboteurs from this country." Those com ments outraged immi gration lawyers. They said that under the new system, the government would have almost as much trouble deporting someone who arrived as a landed immigrant. "That's entirely mislead ing, and they know it," snapped Jackman. "Whether we change the system or not, it will not affect how long Moham mad stays in Canada. The government is tak

ing advantage of this to sell their legislation.” That could be the only political benefit that the government will salvage from an embarrassing incident.