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Opinion By denying entry to some men, Canada betrays its better instincts

By denying single, heterosexual men access to Canada as government-sponsored refugees, the government obviously wanted to reassure those who fear that Syrian terrorists might find their way among the flow of new arrivals. Not only is this policy blatantly discriminatory, it is totally unrealistic; a foolproof safeguard against the risk of terrorism does not exist.

It is perfectly normal for a government to establish priorities when selecting asylum seekers, and to come to the aid of the most endangered persons living in what has become hell on earth.

For instance, there would be no discrimination in prioritizing the Christian and Yazidi minorities, for the sole reason that they are the most persecuted. The dwindling, ancient Christian population is in danger everywhere in the Middle East and the Yazidis are the first targets of Islamic State. Yazidi men are slaughtered on the spot, and their women enslaved. Gay men who are identified as such are also in danger, in societies that criminalize homosexuality.

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But excluding unattached, presumably heterosexual males is unfair. This is labelling all single Muslim men as potential terrorists. There couldn't be a better way to reinforce a stereotype that is already too widespread. In war-torn areas, young males are among the first victims: they are the ones who get forced to fight; they are the ones who are tortured when captured. And let's not forget, in conservative societies where marriage is the absolute norm, a single male is usually a widower or a youth who's too poor to get married.

The assumption that married men would be somehow less "dangerous" is ridiculous, as shown by the personal history of many Islamist terrorists.

Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked the Super Kosher grocery in Paris, was married and his wife was pregnant at the time of the crime. Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the killers of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, were both married. Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in Toulouse in 2012, had been married. Such was the case of Brahim Abdelslam, one of the authors of the recent attacks in Paris.

True, most terrorists who killed in the name of Allah were men. But women have become radicalized, too. In France, 25 per cent of the young people who left to join IS in Syria were women.

And what about converts? According to L'Express magazine, 23 per cent of IS forces in the Middle East are made of converts. The authors of the two Islamist terrorist attacks that took place in Canada in 2014 were Martin Couture-Rouleau, a French Canadian who converted to a radical brand of Islam, and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the son of a French-Canadian woman and an Arab man who once owned a bar in Montreal and was known to profess no interest in religion.

There is very little chance that terrorists are sitting in camps in Lebanon or Jordan, nicely waiting to be picked up by Canada. On the other hand, there is no imaginable guarantee against the possibility, as tenuous as it is, that one day in the future, a refugee resettled in Canada or one of his descendants would commit a terrorist act.

The only way to drastically limit this possibility would be to receive only women and men over 50 – too old to embrace violence and too old for the labour market. But then, is it in Canada's interest to exclude the young people who are likely to become productive citizens?

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It would be wiser to trust the future. A society that dares not take risks is a dead society.

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