OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tried Monday to assuage renewed concerns about the security of Canada's asylum system after it emerged the suspect in a weekend attack in Edmonton entered Canada as a refugee in 2012.
Abdulahi Hasan Sharif is facing 11 charges — including five counts of attempted murder — after a city police officer was stabbed and four people were struck by a cube van in what authorities have characterized as an act of terror.
Sharif, a Somali national, became known to police in 2015 after a report was received that he may have been radicalized, but investigators determined at that time that he did not pose a threat.
Nor is there any suggestion the accused was assessed as a public safety risk when he entered Canada at a legal border crossing in 2012, Goodale said Monday.
"There was no deleterious information that was available at that stage," Goodale said.
Goodale said the procedures in place to vet newcomers are extensive, and include criminal background checks both in Canada and abroad, but would not discuss Sharif's case further given the ongoing police investigation.
That Goodale took pains to point out how Sharif entered the country highlights the current tension around Canada's asylum system. Since the start of the year, upwards of 13,000 people have been arrested crossing illegally in Canada in order to seek asylum.
Fears the border crossers aren't being vetted properly is one of the concerns MPs say they keep hearing. Border officials were pressed extensively at a House of Commons immigration committee hearing last week on the security screening procedures in place.
In the early part of the year, the majority of those who entered in Manitoba were Somali nationals.
Edmonton police erroneously said Sunday that Sharif was in the process of applying for refugee status, but Goodale's department quickly clarified that he'd actually been declared a refugee long ago.
A spokesman for the minister was asked whether the current situation at the border was the reason the government sought to correct the record.
"It's a complex situation and we need to be precise with the facts so that Canadians can understand it," Scott Bardsley said in an email.
Among the complexities: how Sharif's immigration status could affect what happens next. Different outcomes can await people with refugee status in Canada and who are later charged with serious crimes, ranging from deportation to a loss of their status as permanent residents.
Opposition MP Michelle Rempel asked Goodale whether Sharif would be deported if he were to be found guilty.
Goodale said it was too early to say.
"Those charges, depending how they are dealt with in the final analysis by the courts, will determine the future prosecution of this case."
The general security of Canada's immigration system is an ongoing concern for many Canadians.
In focus groups held earlier this year by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department, respondents discussing how many immigrants and refugees Canada ought to let in each year raised security as an issue.
"We're accepting all these people but are we making sure they’re safe to come to Canada? It's a concern," one participant told the group.
Immigrants to Canada who were part of the focus groups were more likely to raise security as an issue, the report on the focus groups said.
"Participants did not necessarily have any proof or examples that security measures were being relaxed or inefficient. They simply want reassurances that compromises are not being made to accommodate an immigration policy that is seeing 300,000 new people entering the country each year, including an important contingent of refugees."
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press