Tamil migrants running short of cash for legal help
By Douglas Quan
Postmedia News, September 16, 2010
Funding is quickly running out for lawyers who have been representing 492 Tamil migrants who arrived in Canada aboard the MV Sun Sea last month.
The revelation came during a Federal Court hearing into the government's challenge of the release of a handful of migrants earlier this week.
Douglas Cannon, one of the lawyers representing the migrants, gave reporters copies of a letter from the Legal Services Society of B.C. informing duty counsel that money for the case is quickly being depleted.
'The society's immigration funding is limited, and the arrival of the 490 Tamils who are currently detained has placed us in a position where funding their detention reviews . . . will, very shortly, exhaust our current resources allocated to immigration matters,' the letter reads.
Reached by phone, the society's executive director Mark Benton said that the society budgeted $1.5 million for immigration cases this year. But that amount is based on an average of 700 to 800 refugee claims.
'We've got 490 more people than we expected,' he said.
The fact that lawyers are now not only having to represent migrants at detention review hearings but also in Federal Court is adding to the burden, Benton said.
Right now, the society doesn't have enough funds to see them through to March, Benton said. He said the society is in discussions with the federal Department of Justice for additional funding. He said the province has also been notified.
Cannon said that another option they have is to appeal to the Federal Court to issue an order that additional public funds be allocated 'in the interests of justice.'
'We're very close to that point,' he said.
Meanwhile, Federal Court heard lengthy arguments Thursday about the detention of four migrant women three mothers and a single woman whose releases from detention were blocked by the federal government earlier this week.
At the hearing for the three mothers, government lawyer Banafsheh Sokhansanj argued that the releases were premature because 'there remain serious doubts and concerns about their identity.'
Cannon, representing the mothers, said they have been very co-operative and that the Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator who made the decision to release them is an 'expert' at his job, and that the law does not prohibit the release of individuals even if their identities have not been verified.
He also noted that the 76 Tamil migrants who arrived on another ship last year were subsequently all released and that they all have been adhering to the terms and conditions of their releases.
The judge said he would make a decision on the matter either late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
If the judge agrees to extend the stay of releases that could set the stage for another hearing to determine whether the Immigration and Refugee Board erred in its decision by acting beyond its jurisdiction or by making an error in law or fact or both.
On Wednesday, two more migrants a husband and wife were ordered released from detention. The government has moved to block their releases as well.
Earlier this week, a pregnant woman with three children became the first of the 492 Tamil migrants to be released since they arrived on the B.C. coast on Aug. 13. The government has not contested her release.