Boat People Abuse Our Generosity

Boat people abuse our generosity

Tamil case points out need for Canada to reform its immigration policies

By Lorne Gunter
September 12, 2010 7:01 AM

I have before in this space expressed my sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils and their maltreatment at the hands of their country's majority Sinhalese population.

Since independence from Britain more than 60 years ago, Tamils have been deliberately overlooked for civil service jobs and their businesses denied contracts with Sri Lankan government agencies. In the 1980s, it got so bad that Sinhalese Sri Lankans routinely dragged Tamils into the street, burned their homes and businesses, then beat or burned them to death.

“So,” a Tamil reader asked me the other day, “why are you so keen to send the Tamil boat people back home?”

There are a variety of reasons, but primarily I dislike the way boat-people refugees — Tamil or otherwise — abuse Canadians' generosity.

The biggest single problem is the Tamil Tigers, the violent terrorist group that was the de facto government of the Tamil areas of Northeastern Sri Lankan until last year when the Sri Lankan army reclaimed the breakaway regions.

For nearly three decades the Tigers chose civilian targets, sending suicide bombers against men, women and children with indifference. They also used their fellow Tamils as human shields and extortion hostages.

The Tigers financed their killing of tens of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans by coercing money out of Tamils at home and abroad, particularly here in Canada, home to the largest expatriate Tamil community in the world.

Thousands of Tamil Canadians have apparently been forced to pay tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to finance Tiger terror. Tiger operatives here and in Sri Lankan have threatened innocent Tamils with violence or have held their families back home hostage in return for “donations.”

This has bearing on the boat people who arrived in Victoria last month because the Tigers are said to be behind this people smuggling operation and are thought by Canadian and international intelligence agencies to have raised as much as $20 million from fees charged to this one boatload.

That's a good start to rekindling their civil war in Sri Lanka.

Even more disconcerting is the distinct possibility that Tiger leaders have hidden themselves among the legitimate refugees and are seeking to set up a terror-based government-in-waiting in our midst. The likelihood that Canada could become a haven for terrorists is too great to take the risk.

And then there is the aspect of queue-jumping. Because our laws forbid Ottawa to turn anyone away once they reach our soil or territorial waters, claimants who can afford to pay smugglers upwards of $50,000 a piece get a better chance to make their claims than potential refugees.

Legitimate refugees welcome

I am not against taking in those who genuinely need refuge from violence in their home countries, but I resent having to go through years and years of hearings and appeals for people who get here by breaking the rules.

Canada needs to reform its overall immigration and refugee policies.

First, we need far more forward screeners of immigrants and refugees at our embassies, consulates and high commissions around the world. Make an initial decision of who might be eligible far away from where our courts have extended Charter rights to citizens and noncitizens alike.

At the other end of the process, make sure those whose applications have been rejected are swiftly deported. The federal government says it wants to send a strong message to smugglers and bogus refugees; nothing sends a weaker message than letting failed claimants stay here anyway.

Arrest refugee boat captains and impound their ships. Make both stay here until the status of all their passengers has been determined.

Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow for automatic rejection of the refugee claim of any applicant who returns to his home country before his claim has been heard. By returning, he is disproving any claim he has made that his life or safety would be imperilled should he go back.

On the immigration side, we need to loosen up our rules on admitting skilled labourers and professionals and tighten up our rules for bringing extended family into the country under the “family reunification” category. At the very least, we have to offer reduced social services to any immigrant who is neither skilled nor a member of another immigrant's nuclear family.

And if you live here only long enough to earn a Canadian passport, then return to live in your country of origin, you may call on the Canadian government to rescue you only for the same number of years you were resident here. For instance, if you live here three years, then it is Ottawa's obligation to rescue you from troubles in your homeland only for the first three years after you return there.

Canadians are a welcoming people, but many are tired of playing patsy to passport shoppers and refugee actors. We are prepared to let in hundreds of thousands of new Canadians each year, so it doesn't make us bigots if we want to reject the few thousands who seek to abuse our good nature by performing end-runs around the rules.