Harper mulls law change to block asylum-seekers
By Kathryn Blaze Carlson
August 18, 2010
Ottawa “will not hesitate to strengthen the laws” in order to tackle the “trend” of would-be refugees arriving in Canada via people-smuggling ships, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.
“Let me be clear. We are a land of refuge, but at the same time, I think Canadians are pretty concerned when a whole boat of people comes — not through any normal application process, not through any normal arrival channel — and just simply lands,” Harper said at an event in Mississauga, Ont.
“We will not hesitate to strengthen the laws if we have to because ultimately — as a government, as a fundamental exercise of our sovereignty — we are responsible for the security of our borders.”
It was the first time the prime minister had spoken on the issue of human-smuggling and seaborne asylum-seekers since the arrival in British Columbia last week of the MV Sun Sea — a Thai cargo ship that carried about 492 Tamils from Sri Lanka who are seeking refugee status in Canada.
Authorities are concerned that some of the migrants might be members of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group outlawed in Canada.
Meanwhile, the first migrant to appear before immigration authorities has been ordered to remain in detention until the government can confirm she is who she says she is.
Lawyer Ron Yamauchi for the Canada Border Service Agency said extra enforcement officers have been hired to help with the investigation of the identities of all the migrants.
The woman's lawyer, Eric Purtzki, said she arrived in Canada with an original copy of her national identity card and birth certificate. She has, like all the adult migrants, undergone a short interview with border officials, but that process is not yet complete.
Purtzki said she arrived on the ship with her mother, father and brother. The family has relatives in Toronto.
She is scheduled to return before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada next week when she is expected to make another appeal for release.
Earlier yesterday, IRB officials announced that Canadian media will be allowed into the woman's detention review.
Media access to the reviews for other asylum seekers will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The detention reviews, which are supposed to be held within 48 hours of detention but were delayed in this case due to the high number of arrivals, are typically closed to the public unless a special request is made.
However, Leeann King, an adjudicator with the board, ruled that reviews — which determine whether someone should or should not stay in custody — will remain closed to two Tamil advocacy groups, the Canadian Tamil Congress and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. The Canadian media will be prohibited from publishing the names of those on board.
There were 443 adult Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea, along with 49 children who have been taken in by the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development.
In letters released to the media this week, the Tamil migrants who arrived in British Columbia said they were fleeing mass murders, disappearances and extortion in Sri Lanka. The country has just emerged from a long civil war between its Tamil minority and Sinhalese majority.