More Tamils Bound For Canada : Expert

More Tamils bound for Canada: expert

Ottawa said to be stationing intelligence officers abroad to disrupt schemes

CBC News
Last Updated: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 | 9:15 PM PT

Another boatload of Tamil migrants could soon be headed to Canada, but this time the federal government might head them off, CBC News has learned.

Plans are underway in southeast Asia to finance passage for would-be refugees from Sri Lanka in a scheme similar to the one that sent more than 500 Tamils to British Columbia in the last 11 months, according to an expert in Singapore.

“They are continuing to collect money from people,” said Rohan Gunaratana. “Notably in Thailand.”

It's believed the smugglers who transport the Tamils charge at least $40,000 per person, much of it collected from Tamil communities outside Sri Lanka.

Gunaratana has been advising the federal government on weeding out possible members of the banned Tamil Tigers rebel group among recent migrants.

In October 2009, 76 men arrived aboard a freighter that once carried armaments for the Tamil Tigers.

Another 492 people, including women and children, arrived on another vessel, the MV Sun Sea, near Victoria on Aug. 13.

Now with word of another human shipment either in the works or already underway, Canada is trying to intervene long before the ship approaches Canadian waters, Gunaratana said.

“Canada has invested in posting more people. Canada has invested in working more closely with governments in Asia,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “[Canadian government officials] are seeking to map this network and disrupt this network.”

Minister tight-lipped

Federal authorities were reluctant to discuss the matter.

“I don't want to talk too much about an operational issue, which this is,” said Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety.

A high-ranking RCMP officer suggested the government is using the tactic of working on the ground abroad to interrupt illegal operations aimed at Canada.

“Pushing our borders out in order to identify potential activities long before they come to our borders is key to us being successful in what we do,” said RCMP Deputy Commissioner Raf Souccar.

Toews' department has been studying other ways to target human smuggling, such as stiffer criminal penalties and even stopping ships outside Canada's territorial waters.

But University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin Perrin said the key is to invest in better policing in region's where trouble is brewing.

“The United States and Australia station officers abroad,” said Perrin. “They are able gather intelligence and work with local agencies to prevent these very dangerous schemes from happening.”

Immigration reviews continue

Another round of immigration detention reviews resumes Wednesday in Vancouver for those who arrived aboard the Sun Sea in August.

All the adults from the ship have been held while the government tries to verify their identities. The men who arrived in 2009 have been released and their refugee claims will be processed over the next two years.

No criminal charges have been laid against any of crew members who brought the migrants to Canada.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated in May 2009 after a violent, 23-year secessionist insurgency.

In their refugee claims, many Tamils say they had been mistreated and discriminated against by the Sri Lankan government.

With files from the CBC's Chris Brown