Blair to lead talks on irregular migration, study handgun ban
OTTAWA • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has assigned sweeping responsibilities to Bill Blair, the new minister in charge of border security and organized crime, tasking him with leading the file on irregular migration and examining whether Canada should ban handguns and assault weapons.In a freshly minted mandate letter made public Tuesday, the prime minister asks Blair to lead conversations with the United States on the Safe Third Country Agreement, working closely with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.The agreement stipulates that asylum seekers are required to make their refugee claims in the first “safe” country in which they arrive — meaning those who come into Canada at an official land border crossing are sent back to make their claim in the U.S.The agreement does not cover irregular asylum seekers — those entering Canada at unofficial points, most notably in Quebec.Blair’s work will be supported by the departments of Public Safety, Immigration and Foreign Affairs, the letter says. Blair will report to Public Safety.Trudeau is also ordering Blair to examine a “full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada” while taking care not to impede the lawful use of firearms.Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters in July — following a deadly shooting in Toronto that saw an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl killed and 13 others wounded — that the government is prepared to consider tightening handgun laws.The Canada-U.S. relationship has surfaced in other mandate letters being made public today, including issues around trade and energy.International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr is being tapped to boost trade in key markets “whether or not a trade agreement exists.”His mandate letter tells him to focus on trade with Asia by moving the needle on trade talks with China, India, and regional pacts in the Pacific and South America. Carr is also asked to help with trade talks with the U.S.Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi has been asked to help workers caught up in trade disputes, while simultaneously working with the U.S. and Mexico on “energy security.”Trade among provinces is the focus of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc’s mandate letter. His letter emphasizes working with provinces and territories to eliminate internal trade barriers, but says the work will be done with a “full exercising” of the federal government’s constitutional and legal rights “on the regulation of trade and commerce.”Spending federal money faster is a key focus for new Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who takes over a portfolio where slower than expected federal spending has been a constant thorn for the government.Seniors Minister Filomena Tassi is being told to implement the government’s promise to shift how the government calculates increases in seniors benefits. Her mandate letter has a heavy emphasis on protecting seniors from a litany of issues: fraud, elder abuse, online financial scams, “high-pressure sales tactics,” and “potential harms” when seniors deal with banks and telecommunications companies.Meanwhile Trudeau also announced significant changes to the “structure and mandate” of cabinet committees, which reflects changes in the ministries, but also signals the Liberal government is getting prepared for a crucial year before the next federal election.Treasury Board has now been tasked with new responsibilities, including defence procurement and “modernizing the public service pay system.” A special subcommittee of Treasury Board is told to address the “unacceptable hardships caused by the Phoenix pay system and “implementing a modern, reliable, long-term solution.”Trudeau also announced the creation of a new initiative called the Incident Response Group, an emergency committee that will meet in the event of a national crisis or during incidents elsewhere that have major implications for Canada.
Bill Blair, federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, has been tasked with leading the charge on irregular migration.
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