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Gio
23 Sep 03,, 10:13
At the same time as a career college was selling fraudulent documents clearing the way for the entry into Canada of Pakistani nationals who are now under investigation in an anti-terrorism probe, the federal government was boasting about how quickly it was processing student visa applications.

In documents obtained by the National Post, government agencies outline a campaign to aggressively attract more foreign students to Canada by opening recruitment centres in the Middle East and reducing processing times for visas still further, citing the economic benefits such students bring.

The documents frighten security specialists.

"I'm concerned for my country's safety and national security. We have put our priorities in the wrong order. The economic benefits should not outweigh national security," said Ross Moore, a former investigator with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's immigration and passport section.

Bob Runciman, Ontario's Minister of Public Safety and Security, said the documents are further evidence the federal government has blinders on when it comes to national security.

Mr. Runciman said the economic damage if the United States closed its border with Canada over security concerns would undo many times over any economic boost from foreign students.

"This reaffirms our view that there needs to be a better job done with respect to security," he said.

"Our American friends simply don't have confidence in our ability or willingness to do an appropriate job and, as a result, we're going to see a continuation of measures that will discourage investment and lose us jobs and have the potential to do significant damage to the Canadian economy."

The two documents are assessments of the Canadian Education Centres Network, an organization for promoting Canadian schools abroad. A Dec. 24, 1999, audit by the Office of the Inspector General is followed by a March 10, 2000, management response to the evaluation.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) "recognizes the importance of foreign students to the academic and business communities as well as to the Canadian economy," the management response said.

"CIC recognizes the need to reduce processing times. As a result, CIC has taken measures to streamline student processing, including the implementation of expedited medical procedures in different key offices in Asia and Latin America.

"The high priority given to students has led to some encouraging processing results overseas. In 1998, over 77% of cases were completed in one month or less," the document says.

The audit says Canada "is intent on capturing a larger and larger share of the [foreign student] market ... Canada can confidently affirm that it is in the public interest to become involved in the marketing of educational services and to assist the sector in its efforts to recruit more foreign students."

The issue of student visas in relation to national security came to prominence in Canada last month when authorities said 31 people being investigated as a possible al-Qaeda sleeper cell had fraudulently obtained student visas to come to Canada or extend their stay here.

Several of the students bought false papers from the Ottawa Business College that said they were students when, in fact, the school had ceased operating, federal authorities allege in documents on the probe, called Project Thread. Starting in 1999, the college sold fraudulent documents allowing 400 foreign nationals into Canada illegally, it is alleged.

Some of those arrested in the probe have been released pending an immigration hearing, others have been deported and yet more ordered to be held in custody until a hearing date.

Susan Scarlet, spokesman for CIC, dismissed security concerns over the continuing push to attract more foreign students. The government is speeding up the technical processing -- medical exams and paperwork -- and not security checks, she said.

"The department is absolutely committed to doing its part to ensure the safety and security of Canada and Canadians. When people are applying to come to Canada as foreign students, you can be very certain we will be assessing those applications very, very carefully," she said.

The abuse of student visas by foreign nationals was a primary focus in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some of the hijackers involved in the attacks, and in the deadly 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, entered the United States on a student visa or applied for one and were awaiting a decision.

http://www.nationalpost.com/home/story.html?id=A0089FC9-BCE1-4AA3-9749-5B5F0BC43A17