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Canada seeks answers to immigration-fraud issues in Europe

A bus carrying families of Roma community arriving at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport.

Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

Canada is turning to Europe for partners in a widening fight against human trafficking and bogus asylum seekers.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney met over the weekend in Paris with counterparts from European nations that are also choice destinations, leaving with commitments to projects that could include a joint campaign to persuade unqualified migrants that they aren't welcome. It was the first stop on a tour that includes talks with officials in India, China and the Philippines on ways to combat immigration fraud.

In Ottawa, meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet is expected to meet next week to review what legal options are available to block future voyages by ships packed with Tamil refugee claimants from Sri Lanka.

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"To maintain public support for and the integrity of a well-governed immigration system, you need some basic rules and they need to be enforced, obviously in a humane way, that's what we seek to do in Canada," Mr. Kenney said in an interview from Munich while on his way to India.

Canada in 2008 was the third-most popular destination for asylum seekers, behind the United States and France, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Mr. Kenney met with his French counterpart, Eric Besson, and officials from several European Union governments to discuss "best practices" and explore ways to work together to thwart false asylum claims and prevent human trafficking, he said. One example: a joint publicity campaign to counter misconceptions spread by smugglers about the reception that awaits illegal migrants.

"We discussed how we could jointly inform people who are prospective victims of human smuggling that the information they get from the smugglers isn't always true," he added. "Often they're told they're coming to a new country which gives them a new house and the streets are paved with gold. We think one way of dis-incentivizing people-smuggling is to tell the truth about the legal systems and how they'll be dealt with."

Mr. Kenney's meetings follow on the Harper government's changes to refugee laws, which aim to ensure failed claimants have access to an appeal but are subject to swift removal if their review fails. Those changes were designed to cut down on false claims from nations on a "safe countries" list, such as Mexico, Hungary and the United States.

"There was some discussion about certain issues on which, theoretically, we might find more co-operation in the future, such as returning illegal immigrants and failed claimants, and sharing information on the designation of safe countries," Mr. Kenney said.

Mr. Kenney is not the only federal minister active on the immigration file. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is expected to make an announcement Tuesday on the topic of human trafficking, according to a report by The Canadian Press. The cabinet is also expected to meet next week to consider legal options for combatting rogue migrant vessels.

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The Paris meetings - and Canada's participation - were not without controversy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been under fire for weeks for his move to repatriate 700 Roma migrants to their homelands, such as Bulgaria and Romania, an initiative Mr. Sarkozy and his immigration minister, Mr. Besson, have said was needed to maintain public security.

Many have agreed to leave voluntarily in exchange for cash, and under European Union law, EU citizens can only live in France for three months without a work or study visa. Still, critics - including senior Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh - argue the actions fall afoul of an EU law that forbids mass expulsions based on ethnicity.

Mr. Dosanjh, currently in India, was not available for comment Monday. But according to Braeden Caley, an assistant, Mr. Dosanjh worries that unless Mr. Kenney insists that the expulsions stop, "Canada's reputation as an open, compassionate country will be significantly damaged."

On the French controversy, Mr. Kenney said: "Minister Besson of France emphasized that France is open to immigration - it has to be legal immigration, but that's essentially our view." He dismissed as "extreme" a suggestion made last week by Mr. Dosanjh that by attending the meeting, the minister was aligning Canada with the French policy.

"I'm not … going to follow the call of the Liberal Party of Canada and start boycotting liberal-democratic allies of the European Union because we may have questions about one particular policy," he said.

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
Economics/business writer

Jeremy has covered Canadian and international economics at The Globe and Mail since late 2009. More

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