Human smuggling tops PM’s agenda on Japan trip

By DAVID AKIN, Parliamentary Bureau Chief
The Toronto Sun
Last Updated: November 12, 2010 10:53am

TOKYO–Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with the leaders of Malaysia and the Phillipines Saturday.

They are the first of nearly a dozen one-on-one meetings Harper has planned with leaders from south Asian countries this weekend where combating human smuggling will be at the top of his agenda.

“We are going to need – and we do have – greater co-operation internationally, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, where a large portion of this problem begins,” Harper told reporters Friday. “So I’ll have important talks in that regard.”

Harper arrived in Tokyo late Friday night for the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit. Like most summits of world leaders these days, including the just concluded G20 leaders summit in Seoul, Korea, the problems plaguing the global economy will be the main focus of the APEC summit discussion.

But Canada is also keen to find ways it can help and can get assistance from Pacific Rim countries to combat human smuggling.

“The fact of the matter is, many countries who are much closer to the problem have much more severe difficulties than Canada does, but we obviously want to make sure we’re part of a global solution, that we don’t allow further spillover of this problem into our country,” Harper said.

Most ships carrying illegal migrants bound for Canada that originate in south Asian countries pass near or through Phillipine waters. Canada has asked the Phillipines for assistance in intercepting some of these vessels.

The issue forced itself near the top of Canada’s domestic agenda when a boatload of Tamils landed on Canada’s west coast earlier this year claiming refugee status. The government believes many of those aboard that boat, the MV Sun Sea, are not, in fact, refugees, but arrived in Canada as part of a scheme to circumvent the normal immigration process.

The government has legislation before Parliament that will give Ottawa more tools to deal with queue jumping and human smuggling.

“We are going to need stronger and more effective laws in Canada if we’re going to deal with that problem,” Harper said.