Canada will make its own laws, PM vows
By SHAWN MCCARTHY AND CAMPBELL CLARK, The Globe and Mail
Thursday, September 20, 2001
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Jean Chrétien stressed sovereignty to his MPs yesterday in the face of increased pressure to establish a North American security perimeter.
In a closed caucus meeting, Mr. Chrétien said the government may make changes to immigration and other policies but will not simply harmonize those policies with the Americans, as some Liberals have suggested.
Opposition leaders slammed the government for being too soft. But the Prime Minister said it will maintain what he called a "balanced approach" as it tightens security.
"We are working very hard on those very difficult problems. We are talking with the Americans. We are working with them.
"There is one thing I want to say, that the laws of Canada will be passed by the Parliament of Canada," he said to a standing ovation from his caucus.
Liberal MPs voiced opposition to demands from Washington that Canada harmonize its immigration, refugee and customs systems with those of the United States, saying such a move would hurt Canadian sovereignty.
At the caucus meeting, MPs urged Mr. Chrétien to move cautiously when toughening security at Canada's ports and airports.
"People in the States want to build a wall around North America but that's not realistic," Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish said later.
"We need to protect our sovereignty -- we need to make sure we're still going to be Canadians at the end," she said.
However, other Liberal MPs argue that the federal government should harmonize its rules with the U.S. to ensure that heightened American concerns over security don't translate into logjams at the Canada-U.S. border.
MP Maurizio Bevilacqua said the two countries should develop "common policies and regulations on immigration, customs and security law.
"If we fail to address these issues, there will be severe economic repercussions," he said.
Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day complained that the government has failed to put forward any proposals for addressing terrorist threats.
"It's getting very frustrating," Mr. Day said outside the Commons.
"Canadians want to hear a clear message on areas like antiterrorism legislation. Are we going to get tough? Are we going to raise our standards so other countries can trust us?"
The Alliance has specifically targeted Canada's immigration and refugee laws, which often allow people identified as security threats to remain in the country.
Cabinet ministers involved in border and security issues played down any need for harmonization of policies with the U.S., suggesting that the Americans would be satisfied with better enforcement.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley said Canada will continue to pursue its own policies in areas like immigration and border control, but will want to consider U.S. security concerns. However, he said that to do that, the emphasis will be on security and intelligence, not common policies.
"If we want the border between the United States and Canada be more open than the borders of the United States to the exterior, we must find a way of satisfying the Americans that we are not a source of greater dangers. So, for me, it does not involve the policies being exactly the same," he said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci has said there is a new urgency to a common perimeter, and that it should be a short-term goal. He said that it would be easier to do if the two countries' policies on immigration and refugees were more similar.
Mr. Chrétien will travel to Washington on Monday to confer with U.S. President George W. Bush on the allies' response to last week's terrorist attacks.
He is expected to address not only the military's role, but how the two countries are addressing the gaping security lapse that allowed at least 20 men with links to Osama bin Laden's terror network to live and work in the United States.
In the House of Commons yesterday, Mr. Day and Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark noted that King Abdullah II of Jordan had alerted Western countries, including Canada, to the activity of terrorists with links to Mr. bin Laden within their borders.