Whither The Sun Sea Captain?

Whither the Sun Sea captain?

Don Martin
National Post
Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010

The Cabinet minister actually in charge of the controversial file raises a good point: Why hasn't the captain or the crew of the Tamil refugee ship been busted for trafficking in human cargo?

Surfacing for the first time since the MV Sun Sea docked in Victoria three weeks ago, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says it seems a “sensible” result.

However, the fear-mongering face of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who was eager to blast the ship as a terrorist trawler when it docked in August, is mostly silent on the situation now.

Cracking down on human smuggling is the No. 1 issue on voters' minds if office feedback is any indication, Mr. Kenney insists, pooh-poohing the notion of scandals like the long-form census controversy as a figment of unimaginative media minds.

So where's the rap sheet for the guy at the helm of a rust-bucket that charged the equivalent of 20 first-class return air fares for one person's ticket into a ship's cargo hold?

Mr. Kenney defers to the cops. The way the RCMP explains it, the captain and crew are missing. They mingled with the refugee claimants departing the Sun Sea gangway and disappeared under a conspiratorial cone of silence.

How 492 Tamils could have roamed the Pacific for four months until they arrived in Victoria on Aug. 13 without passengers noting the person or persons in charge is one of those head-scratching scenarios mere Canadian pleasure boat users cannot comprehend. But police plead for more time as they sort passengers from crew while gathering data to make any charges stick. It could take a long time.

Says RCMP Constable Michael McLaughlin: “I can't comment yet. The investigation is ongoing and it's nowhere near its conclusion.”

Now, apparently, this is not unusual. The first Tamil ship, Ocean Lady, docked in Victoria last October carrying 76 men and they still haven't charged anybody. But Mr. Kenney insists it's only a matter of time before the bad guys face the music as smugglers who could qualify for a life sentence.

“Anyone who was paid to facilitate this voyage in terms of crew members are likely involved in human smuggling,” Mr. Kenney said in an interview. “But these are complicated situations and a lot of fear is used as a tool…. [The operators] have a way of keeping people quiet.”

OK, here's an easy solution. Offer the first Sun Sea passenger who raises their hand to successfully rat out the captain or senior crew members an express lane to approved Canadian refugee status. My bet is some hapless Sri Lankan will take five seconds to squeal on the guys who forced them below deck for such a length of time.

Sadly, law and due process isn't quite that simple. But there has to be a better way to deal with this problem than waiting for a year or more to identify, never mind convict, the most obvious perpetrators.

“We're looking at the possibility of bringing forward ideas for cracking down on mass human smuggling. We need to send a very clear message to human smugglers that they won't get get away with human crimes in Canada,” says Mr. Kenney, declining to discuss specifics.

But as long the Sea Sun's captain successfully pretends to be just another passenger, Canada's international message is not much of a warning to scare off his cohorts. Without a speedy signal of Canada's intolerance to these cash-grabbing queue-jumpers — the clearest sign being the captain and crew being whacked by serious charges–our shoreline will continue to be seen from afar as a refugee red carpet.