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New minister says he's open to changing immigration bill
By SANDRA CORDON
OTTAWA (CP) - Canada's rookie Immigration Minister Denis Coderre says he's open to suggestions for changing the country's new regulations on immigration. Coderre says he expects to get an earful on the issue from Liberal caucus members when they meet this weekend before Parliament resumes Monday.
And he says he also wants to hear from outside government on the changes announced last month which would make it tougher to gain immigrant status.
"I have an open mind. . .Everything is not settled at all," Coderre said in an interview Thursday.
"There are a lot of debates attached to this."
The former minister of amateur sport took over the Immigration portfolio in a cabinet shuffle Jan. 15.
Tough new entry standards were announced last month in an effort to try to control the numbers of applications.
A new point system puts more emphasis on education, language skills, work experience and ties to Canada, such as having family or a job offer.
The new rules also eliminate the existing practice of awarding applicants points for certain occupations.
Coderre refused to give his opinion on the controversy surrounding the new regulations, including plans to apply them retroactively.
But the issue will be key in this session of Parliament, said Montreal-area Liberal MP Nick Discepola.
"Denis is a political animal. He's going to have to be careful," said Discepola.
"He'll probably be prudent, take his time and consult."
Critics have complained that hundreds of thousands of immigration applicants could find themselves disqualified.
That includes many who are already in the system but will have the new rules applied retroactively once the regulations are passed in June.
Many backbench Liberal MPs - especially from multicultural Toronto - say at the very least, more than $100 million in applications fees paid under the old system should be refunded to those who were disqualified.
The refund is only part of the issue, said Toronto Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett.
"The point system is way too strict and doesn't reflect the way people are trained in some countries, particularly Eastern Europe."
Under Canada's laws, refugees face a separate screening system and aren't affected by the point system.
But heightened security concerns post-Sept. 11 have led to some calls for tighter controls on refugee applicants.
Australia, for example, is implementing camps to hold illegal refugee claimants while they're being assessed.
That doesn't sit well with Coderre.
"I'm not really for that one. It's very sensitive for me, the notion of detention."
Better resources to quickly assess refugee claimants is his preferred solution, he said.
Yet just last month, the Commons Immigration and Citizenship committee suggested Ottawa should cast a wider net to catch refugee frauds and, if necessary, build longer-term jails to hold them.
Coderre said he also expects a lot of debate within the Liberal caucus surrounding Canada's new closeness with the United States on security-related policies.
Some MPs have complained recently the country's sovereignty may be at risk if Canada falls too much into the U.S. orbit.
Coderre said that shouldn't be an issue.
"We have our laws, we have our ways to do things. . .but listen, I'm Canadian."
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