WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Jean Chretien took his turn meeting with George W. Bush as so many world leaders have already done, it wasn’t military support on the table.
The two men agree, Canada needs to follow the U.S. lead and give authorities more power to crack down on terrorist organizations north of the 49th parallel. A new legislative package that will soon see the House of Commons could include amendments to the Criminal Code as well as to federal financial services regulations and other key statutes, government sources indicate.
Some legislative amendments would give more power to FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada. Its sole job is to detect, and help put an end to, money laundering.
Chretien also suggests that new immigration legislation might be needed to tighten border controls.
The 90-minute powwow was the first time the two leaders had met since the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Bush did not request Canadian military contributions to the U.S.-led offensive in the Middle East, but Canada is expected to collect intelligence, provide diplomatic support and track bin Laden’s money trail.
The Bush administration has voiced several concerns over Canada’s comparatively loose immigration policies and wants law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border to do a better job of tracking terrorists.
A confidential White House report, obtained by CTV News, says Canada is being used as a gateway for organized crime groups — and possibly terrorists — to infiltrate the U.S.
Elinor Caplan, the Minister of Immigration, told CTV reporters the Liberal government has since drafted a change to its immigration policies, but those changes have yet to be implemented.
“When we learned about that report one year ago, we took significant action both in Bill C-11 as well as operationally to ensure that whenever we have evidence we move quickly,” says Caplan. “We take action to detain criminals who pose a risk — any security risk.”
Until the bill becomes law, the holes in the system could also help terrorists enter the U.S., says the International Crime Threat Assessment report.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the Prime Minister and the Canadian people will work hard to make sure that Canada is secure from any terrorist attack that takes place, just like I can assure the Prime Minister we are doing the same,” says Bush. “We both have mutual responsibility in our hemisphere to find and disrupt terrorist organizations.”
However, as recently as Sunday, Canadian officials were still balking at the idea of switching to U.S.-style immigration laws.
“I don’t think Canadians are prepared to say that Washington can dictate our policies for who comes into Canada but I think we share with them concerns that they would have about people who can wreak havoc,” says John Manley, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Bush announced the freezing of bin Laden’s assets and 26 other terrorist-linked groups in the U.S. His sweeping executive order also freezes the assets of any foreign bank operating in his country that does not hand over information or seize accounts of the individuals and organizations.
“We’re putting banks and financial institutions around the world on notice,” he says. “Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations. Today, we’re asking the world to stop payment.”
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