As a U.S. Senate committee begins hearings Wednesday on Canada's fast-tracked refugee plan, two senior Liberal cabinet ministers say the Obama administration was "fully informed" of the layers of background checks on Syrian refugees that adhered to the "highest Canadian standards."
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which includes leading Republican Senators John McCain, Rand Paul and Ron Johnson, will hear testimony on the implications of Canada's fast-tracked refugee plan on Wednesday in Washington. It's the first time Congress has taken an in-depth look at Canada's plans to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees.
The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), which represents about 18,000 U.S. border agents and support personnel, plans to tell the committee on Wednesday it's concerned some refugees will try to get into the U.S. through Canada.
"Our concern, because our immigration policies are so similar, is that somebody could use Canada to get to the United States," Shawn Moran, NBPC vice-president, told The Globe and Mail. "We've told our members that they should be on high alert."
Mr. Moran said U.S. border guards are worried Canada may not have done full security checks on incoming refugees from countries such as Syria, where databases may not exist.
"I don't know how far back they can check. Are there records available before a certain time or after a certain time?" he said. "If you're going to check it against Syrian records, my understanding is those have all been destroyed."
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, however, said Canada has assured American counterparts that every step has been taken to prevent any security concerns.
"We have put together a process that involves layers of security screening," Mr. Goodale told reporters. "And we made the extra effort to ensure that the American ambassador to Canada was fully informed, that my counterpart in the U.S. government, the Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, was fully informed."
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum emphasized the Obama administration's satisfaction with Canada's refugee-screening process.
"I think if the U.S. Senate is – wants to engage in these activities, that is their right, of course, but I am happy with the way we have been communicating on this to Canadians and also to members of the U.S. administration," said Mr. McCallum.
The Liberal government has repeatedly stressed the multilayer screening process Syrian refugees undergo before departing for Canada, including the collection of biometrics.
According to Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, Canada and the U.S. are in the best position they've ever been in as partners to share security and intelligence information.
"We know more about who Canada is considering allowing to come into their country, that we are sharing what information we may have concerning individuals," said Ms. Brown, who served as the first Department of Homeland Security attaché at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa from 2008 to 2011.
"I think that … should erase some concern."
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said any concerns that Syrian refugees are a security risk is "ludicrous" and "scaremongering," pointing out that they are subject to deep background checks.
"It's a big concern … in the way that it reinforces this unfair linkage between refugees and security concerns," said Ms. Dench. "There isn't any rational basis most of the time for the connections that are being made."
The U.S. Senate committee is set to hear from a number of witnesses on Wednesday, including Border Patrol agent Dean Mandel, Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann, David Harris, director of the International Intelligence Program at INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc., and Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.