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PM, Bush eye continental fortress

OTTAWA, Ont. -- When Jean Chretien sits down in the Oval Office next week, part of the talk will focus on a North A...

OTTAWA, Ont. — When Jean Chretien sits down in the Oval Office next week, part of the talk will focus on a North American perimeter to shield the continent, while unclogging the Can-Am border.

“Nothing will kill our economy quicker — against the backdrop of increased demand for security in the United States — than having our businesses and goods and services finding it more difficult to get into the United States, and frankly that has already happened,” says one senior minister. He points to shutdowns due to parts shortages at auto plants in Southern Ontario.

The senior Cabinet minister, who spoke to the National Post on condition of anonymity, warned failure to quickly harmonize Canada’s immigration, customs and security laws — including deportation procedures for refugee claimants with proven terrorist links — could bring serious economic repercussions.

When the federal Cabinet met for the first time since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington he adds senior ministers urged the PM to act quickly to close legal loopholes that have allowed terrorists to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

Paul Cellucci, the new U.S. Ambassador to Canada, says Washington sees a new urgency to create a continental fortress against terrorism. The U.S. is promoting special entry points for overseas travellers to North America that would be jointly run by Canada and its own people.

“I don’t want to make it more difficult to go across the U.S. border. I don’t think that is good for anyone, so the best way to do it is to have this perimeter concept,” says Cellucci. “Obviously in both the United States and in Canada we have to look at security much more seriously than when we did just last week. The more common the immigration and refugee laws are, the easier it will be to have this perimeter that will protect both countries.”

Cellucci adds there is no U.S. interest in opting for a European-style economic and political union, but Americans want to ease the flow of people and business while improving U.S. security from foreign attack.

Chretien insists Canada will review its immigration and security laws, including two bills currently before Parliament.

“Many departments are involved. Some legislation is in front of the House of Commons at this time,” he explains. “We’re working on immigration at this time, customs, the question of people who collect money to help terrorist groups. There are legislations that have been around for a long time, but all this requires a more global appreciation of the situation and maybe that will require changes.”

“We need help from Canada and I’m sure the President wants to talk directly to the Prime Minister about what kind of help we need,” adds Cellucci.

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