Tories, Liberals strike bill deal

OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he has hatched a deal with his Liberal critic to push ahead his refugee reform package.

OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he has hatched a deal with his Liberal critic to push ahead his refugee reform package.

In comments laden with rare compliments for his political opponent, Kenney said he is accepting all the changes put forward by Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua, in the hopes of having the refugee reform bill passed by this summer.

“My advice to the opposition would be to claim victory, and let’s get this done,” Kenney said. “It’s urgent that we get workable reforms to the asylum system. That means a package that can get consensus in a minority parliament. For that reason, I’ve indicated my openness to a collaborative approach.”

The $600-million bill aims to deter fraudsters from filing refugee claims and playing the system before they are sent home. It also tries to speed up the approval system for legitimate claimants.

What’s controversial is the way the bill proposes to reduce the lags by sorting out people according to their country of origin.

The legislation would have the government develop a list of countries deemed safe. Since officials anticipate that almost all of the claimants from those countries will eventually be rejected, those claimants will go through an expedited process.

The safe-country-of-origin plan is mainly meant to deter imposters from coming to Canada, since it wouldn’t be worth their while.

But critics of the bill say it creates two classes of refugees, and risks discriminating against some legitimate claimants simply because they may come from democratic countries.

The amendments agreed to by Kenney this week would circumscribe the minister’s power to make safe-country designations. But the existence of the process is still a key stumbling block for many refugee advocates, the NDP and even some Liberals.

“I still need to be convinced about the safe country of origin,” said Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who also sits on the immigration committee.

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