Canada’s Role In Thailand Arrests Queried

Canada's role in Thailand arrests queried

CBC News
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | 7:47 PM ET
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Immigration advocates say Canada may have contravened international law if it had any role in the arrest of more than 150 Tamil migrants in Thailand on Monday, even if they were headed for Canada.

Thai immigration officials and police raided 17 apartment buildings in suburban Bangkok, arresting 155 Sri Lankan migrants accused of being in Thailand illegally while awaiting transport elsewhere.

The migrants appeared in a Bangkok criminal court Tuesday, where they were charged with being in the country illegally, Bangkok-based journalist Michael McAuliffe reported.

Many of the migrants are believed to have entered Thailand on two-week tourist visas that have since expired, and many are believed to be Tamils, McAuliffe said. It is believed they were using Thailand as a transit point before shipping off to a third country, possibly Canada, he said.

But because the Tamils arrested in Thailand now face deportation to Sri Lanka, Canada may be responsible if they face persecution, said immigration lawyer Richard Kurland in Vancouver.

“A minister can't wash his hands and walk away from the fact that Canada assisted in the interdiction of these would-be refugee claimants,” Kurland said. “Morally, Canada must now monitor what happens next to these people because we're doing indirectly what we can't do directly.”

Beyond a moral obligation, Canada is bound by the terms of the UN's convention on refugees, which Thailand has not signed, said Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.

Refugee status undetermined

Waldman said he supports Canada working overseas to prevent people from making a perilous ocean voyage. In recent weeks, Waldman said some of his clients have reported being approached to pay for the passage of loved ones aboard another ship.

But, given that 85 per cent of Tamil refugees are accepted into Canada, their fears of persecution as a minority in Sri Lanka are well-founded, said Waldman.

“It doesn't matter where we are in the world, the fact that CSIS agents are aiding and abetting in the detention of Tamil refugee claimants in Thailand, who are summarily being deported back to Sri Lanka without any determination of whether they are genuine refugees, that, in my view, is a clear violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Those arrested in Bangkok were intent on boarding another ship for Canada, Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert who has advised the Canadian government on the Tamil Tigers, told CBC News in a phone interview.

The Tamil Tigers are a Sri Lankan secessionist rebel group that is banned in Canada.

Canada was involved in the rounding up of the would-be refugees, Gunaratna said.

The National News Bureau of Thailand also reported a number of the individuals arrested were suspected of being members of the Tamil Tigers.

“This is [Canada Border Services Agency], RCMP, CSIS and other Canadian government agencies working on the ground,” he said.

The Canadian Tamil Congress is concerned about the possibility of Canada's involvement in the raids, spokesman David Poopalapillai said Tuesday.

“Canada cannot negate its international obligations and have countries such as Thailand do its dirty work,” Poopalapillai said in Vancouver.

Minister distances Canada

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggested Tuesday that Canada was not responsible for the Bangkok roundup.
“Thailand makes its own decisions. It's an independent nation, it enforces its own laws,” Toews said.

In August, 492 Tamil migrants arrived in British Columbia aboard a Thai-registered ship.

“Ever since, Canadian and Thai authorities have been co-operating more closely, trying to track would-be migrants and prevent other ships from leaving Thailand bound for Canada,” McAuliffe said.

Police and immigration officials launched the raids after they were tipped off about the migrants, but there is no indication who provided the information, the National News Bureau reported.

The Canadian Embassy in Bangkok said it's aware of the police operation and is working with countries in the region being used as migrant transit points. Embassy officials wouldn't comment on whether Canadians played a role in planning the raid, McAuliffe reported.

Thai officials are interrogating the individuals who were arrested to try to learn what their plans were.