Monday, November 15, 2004

Liberal Accused of 'Greasing Rails' for Stripper

Minister greased rails for stripper, Tories insist
By ALLISON DUNFIELD
Globe and Mail Update

Immigration Minister Judy Sgro was raked over the coals by the Conservatives Monday for allowing a Romanian stripper to be fast-tracked through the immigration system while others wait for months.

The Opposition had to wait a week after a story about the stripper was first published by several media outlets to question the Immigration Minister about the incident because of a week-long Commons break for Remembrance Day. According to reports, Ms. Sgro granted a temporary resident permit to the 25-year-old exotic dancer from Romania three days before the June federal election. The woman had also volunteered in Ms. Sgro's office during her campaign.

”Just three days before the summer election, the minister stepped in to grant a temporary resident permit to a 25-year-old Romanian exotic dancer and campaign volunteer who came to Canada on a temporary work permit. Why did the Minister use her position to help a political supporter jump to the head of the queue?” asked Tory citizenship and immigration critic Diane Ablonczy during Question Period Monday.

Ms. Sgro's parliamentary secretary, Hedy Fry, said that intervening by a Member of Parliament on behalf of a constituent is a common practice but she noted that Dr. Bernard J. Shapiro, the federal ethics counsellor, has been asked by Ms. Sgro to look into the matter. Ms. Sgro was attending a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial immigration ministers in Gatineau Monday.

”Citizenship and immigration can grant it on compassionate grounds. Many members in this house interceded on behalf of many constituents to the minister in this way. It's on a case-by-case basis and merit. In the spirit of transparency, [she] is asking the ethics councillor to look into the matter.”

Ms. Ablonczy said that Ms. Sgro was abusing her political position to help the exotic dancer.

The Tories, citing media reports, also accused Ms. Sgro's office of allowing an Indian deportee facing a Canada-wide arrest deliver pizza to her office and to hang around at her election headquarters during the election campaign.

”Did the minister alert her department and if not why not?”

Ms. Fry said during an election campaign, a campaign office is full of all kinds of people.

”The minister was certainly not aware of this particular case. And she was certainly not aware that this particular person was there. She is very, very careful about the security of this country.”

Ms. Sgro has promised to make sweeping changes to the immigration system.

Prior to her meeting with the ministers, she said in an interview with Parliamentary newspaper The Hill Times that she wants to have a ”profound debate” on the future of Canada and immigration.

In her meeting with her counterparts Monday, she told The Hill Times she wants to look at a five-year strategy to ensure that the country brings in the type of skilled immigrants it needs.

Last week, Ms. Sgro said that Canada's refugee-determination system is subject to blatant abuse by economic migrants and is in need of a major overhaul.

She vowed to implement key reforms, saying that many people who apply are not true refugees, hailing from countries such as stable democracies such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Hungary and Turkey, wanting to have a better life in Canada.

She suggested that another category of immigration might help people who would not qualify as refugees.

This fall, Ms. Sgro also proposed having churches choose a dozen failed refugee claimants to gain a fast-tracked second chance to stay in Canada, a proposal partly aimed at getting churches to be strict about offering sanctuary to people who are refused refugee status. That plan has been criticized by church groups and the NDP.

With a report from Marina Jiménez