Government seeking to overturn Tamil migrant's release order
By Darah Hansen
Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, January 07, 2010
Vancouver — A Sri Lankan man who came to Canada aboard a human-smuggling ship is still fighting for his release more than three weeks after he was ordered freed from immigration lock-up because of a lack of evidence linking him to the Tamil Tigers.
The case went before Vancouver's Federal Court on Thursday after government counsel applied to have the original Dec. 16 release order issued by the Immigration and Refugee Board overturned.
The government suspects the man – whose identity is banned from publication – is a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group the Canadian government considers a terrorist organization.
Government lawyer Banafsheh Sokhansanj said on Thursday the man is thought to have been among those in charge of the cargo ship that arrived off the coast of Vancouver Island on Oct. 17 carrying 76 migrants, all members of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.
Others on board have identified the man as someone who appeared to hold “responsibility” on the ship, noting that he was one of only three men who slept in a locked single cabin on the upper decks, Ms. Sokhansanj said.
The rest of the men endured crowded conditions in the ship's hold during the month-long voyage from Southeast Asia.
The ship – named the Ocean Lady – itself is suspected of having been used by the rebel Tigers as part of its weapons smuggling fleet, and immigration officials say that traces of explosives were found aboard.
Ms. Sokhansanj also questioned the reliability of the man's own testimony when interviewed by authorities following his arrival in Canada.
She said he appeared deliberately vague or inconsistent about important details of his past, including what exactly he'd been doing in the two years following his departure from a Tiger stronghold region of Sri Lanka and his arrival in Canada.
The man's lawyer, Douglas Cannon, said the government is “grasping at straws.”
Mr. Cannon said his client was only able to secure a cabin on the ship because he was the first to get on board, and performed only simple duties during the voyage such as pumping water and carrying supplies to the kitchen.
He said, like many Tamils, his client was forced to flee Sri Lanka because he feared for his life. He came to Canada seeking safety and intends to live with a sister in Toronto upon his release.
Mr. Cannon said he's heard nothing to date about his client's past to link him to the Tigers beyond speculation and he repeatedly reminded Justice David Near – who appeared on Thursday via video-conference – that the IRB had also not been swayed by the government's arguments.
Ottawa has suggested it has new information to back its suspicions regarding both the man involved in Thursday's hearing, as well as 24 other Tamil migrants who remain in immigration detention.
Recently, the government applied to share what it knows with immigration officials at secret meetings to be held later this month or next.
Neither the men involved, nor their lawyers can attend the meeting, which is permissible under a rarely used section of federal immigration law. Instead, the men will be represented by a special advocate, appointed by government.
As of Jan. 7, 40 of the 76 migrants had been ordered released following detention reviews before the IRB in Vancouver.
Cash bonds, ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, are among the terms and conditions of their release.
Most of the men have since relocated to Toronto, home to a large Tamil population.
Canwest News Service