Immigration board continuing to review cases of Sri Lankan migrants
By Darah Hansen
October 23, 2009
VANCOUVER – A week of marathon immigration detention hearings for 76 men apprehended on a rusty ship off Vancouver Island was expected to conclude Friday night with most ordered to remain behind bars at least until the Canadian government is satisfied they are who they say they are.
The men are reportedly all ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India that is emerging from three decades of civil war between government forces and the defeated Tamil Tigers rebels.
Their unusual arrival on a mysterious migrant ship last Saturday prompted a flood of national attention, with opinions on the high-profile case ranging all over the map.
Federal politicians weighed in early on with tough talk about deporting the would-be refugees.
We obviously dont want to encourage people to get into rickety boats, pay thousands of dollars, cross the oceans and come to Canada illegally, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in an interview Tuesday.
Kenney said he viewed the case as one of human smuggling, something Canada and other countries must try to combat.
Human rights groups and Canadian Tamils, meanwhile, urged compassion for the men and called for a broader public understanding of the complex political situation in Sri Lanka.
These men have fled murder and abduction, which is very rampant in Sri Lanka and they are seeking a refuge where they will be safe and that, to them, is Canada, said Sue Nathan of the Canadian Tamil Congress in a media conference outside the Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices in Vancouver.
As of Friday, only one man was offered release.
The rest are expected to remain locked up in the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for at least another week as lawyers and immigration officials sort through each case.
Government officials say they need time to establish the true identities of the men and determine whether they pose a threat to national security.
In particular, authorities are worried about possible associations to the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LLTE a registered terrorist organization in Canada.
Indeed, information leaked to a national media outlet this week has uncovered that one man is the subject of an Interpol notice issued by Sri Lankan authorities for an unspecified terrorism offence.
Supporters in the case, however, question the source of the information.
In my view, anything that comes from the government of Sri Lanka, at this point, has no credibility, said Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer representing six of the 76 men.
This is a government that has engaged in behaviour that, in my view, is tantamount to crimes against humanity, he said, adding, to his knowledge, the vast majority of the men involved in the case have no ties to the Tigers.
That is just my preliminary information. Obviously, we are going to have to wait and see what what Canada finds out, he said.
Waldman said five of his clients have family in Canada and have been able to provide Canadian authorities with original identification documents.
Hes hopeful that will be enough to allow their release from detention as early as next week.