By Priscilla McLean, CNN
Canada’s Conservative Party is asking the country’s government to investigate whether foreign-born individuals were granted refugee status because they had ties to terrorist groups — a claim that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada vigorously denies.
“There is, in our estimation, evidence that certain people came to Canada with ties to a number of terrorist groups. Some of those ties are quite significant,” former Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper said on Canada’s Metro Morning radio show on Friday.
A spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said no one identified by Harper had been granted refugee status in Canada, because “there is no correlation between refugee status and terrorism.”
“Canada’s policy is clear. Anyone who wishes to come to Canada with the intent of engaging in terrorist activities will not be permitted to do so,” John Babcock told CNN by email.
Babcock also said that each individual case is considered “on its own merits.”
Harper’s remarks on Canada’s handling of refugee claims came as an Afghan national awaits deportation after applying for refugee status in the Canadian province of British Columbia in 2009, according to CBC News. Canada does not deport asylum seekers to Afghanistan without judicial approval.
Imran Khawaja’s family left Afghanistan after it was overrun by Taliban militants during the country’s civil war in the 1980s.
After the Taliban was ousted in 2001, Khawaja fled to Pakistan with his wife and three children, according to CBC News.
Babcock said that Khawaja was not granted refugee status in Canada because he had no relatives in the country and was not in fear of the Taliban.
“Notwithstanding Mr. Khawaja’s status as a refugee claimant, the Department of Justice has been pursuing all possible options to deport him to his country of origin,” Babcock said.
In his remarks, Harper also said that Khawaja’s Afghan refugee claim was confirmed as fraudulent, but that a US Department of Homeland Security warrant was then issued for him after an arrest.
“The judge ordered his deportation. They deported him and he went to Afghanistan. And that is not good. That is what we have to stop. We have to identify these individuals and bring them to Canada,” Harper said.
Harper’s Conservative Party has taken to social media to suggest other conditions may exist at play in the Khawaja case.
On Friday, Twitter user @sk7nathane shared an excerpt from Harper’s radio remarks, on which the Conservative Party also commented.
“Of course there are people that illegally make claims to stay in Canada as refugees but they need to have hard proof that they cannot return home because of that,” the post read.
The @sk7nathane Twitter account has since been removed.
CNN has reached out to Harper’s office to ask if he would share further information on the allegation.
The idea that Canada has protected terrorists “has been raised elsewhere but I think Mr. Harper is making that more public today,” said Mark Townsend, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer and news anchor with Global News.
“I would hesitate to say that it has been borne out” in multiple cases, Townsend said. “I think there are certainly individuals on our radar. It is not a done deal that they are being protected.”
Khawaja faces deportation proceedings in British Columbia because of the case law on this, Townsend said. But, he would like to know if there are other cases.
CNN’s Ismail Ahmad and Michelle Morgan contributed to this report.