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Proposed immigration changes 'major step backwards,' says bar association

OTTAWA - The Canadian Bar Association is urging Parliament to discard amendments to immigration legislation, calling them "a major step backwards in the evolution of Canadian immigration law."


OTTAWA - The Canadian Bar Association is urging Parliament to discard amendments to immigration legislation, calling them "a major step backwards in the evolution of Canadian immigration law."

Bill C-50 would return Canada to a time when visas were given out on a discretionary basis, without sufficient objective criteria, the association's Stephen Green said Monday.

"The amendments are not necessary to meet Canada's immigration goals," Green said.

The changes would fast-track highly coveted immigrants - such as doctors and other skilled labourers - while others would be forced to wait in the queue.

They would also allow government to set annual limits on the number of applications processed.

The Opposition Liberals have denounced the proposed measures but have been unwilling to back up their position by defeating the minority Conservatives over them.

Immigration Minister Diane Finley said ministerial instructions on processing applications will be based on input from the provinces, employers, organized labour and stakeholders.

"They will be tabled in Parliament and they will comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prevents discrimination based on race, country of origin and religion," Finley said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

"If nothing is done, it will soon take 10 years for an application to be processed. That's unfair to immigrants and their families who want to come to Canada, and to Canadian employers who want to hire them."

She said the proposed changes are meant to ensure fairness by streamlining the decision-making process while helping newcomers get jobs appropriate to their skills and market needs.

The bar association acknowledged the backlog of immigration applications and labour shortages are critical but it suggested the proposed measures are overkill.

Ottawa already has the authority to dispatch teams to reduce backlogs, to establish priorities, and to streamline processing for temporary foreign workers in critical areas, it said.

The group warns the changes could place legislative power in the minister's hands without parliamentary oversight or stakeholder input.

"The amendments could lead to an erosion of the rule of law - a principle whereby everyone, including governments, are subject to the law, and the law itself must be fair and free from the influence of arbitrary power," it said.

Coming in a wide-ranging budget implementation bill, the proposals contain two key changes:

-The government would produce a list of skills that Canada desperately needs, then fast-track applicants who have those skills.

-The government would limit the number of applications Canada looks at in any given year.

The recent federal budget also included $109 million to help reduce immigration wait times.

The Tories have refused opposition demands to split the amendments from the budget bill, a confidence measure.

Finley said they belong in the budget bill because they're key to the national economy. She said the government's objective is "to help business stay in business."

Some 37,000 lawyers, law teachers and law students belong to the bar association, a non-partisan group aiming to improve the law and the administration of justice.

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