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The federal government is proposing new legislation around human smuggling and trafficking, but immigration lawyer Lee Cohen says access to refugee status is a better solution than tougher sentencing.

Human smuggling is not just an international issue but also a local one, a conference in Moncton was told on Wednesday.

RCMP Const. Sebastian Decaens, with the Atlantic Region Immigration and Passports section, said a lot of smuggling begins in the Maritimes.

"When they start luring or grooming the victims it happens in the Maritimes," Decaens said. "And later on they get either to Montreal, Toronto but the source is still here."

Immigration lawyer Lee Cohen said the federal government is proposing new legislation around human smuggling and trafficking, but said access to refugee status is a better solution than tougher sentencing.

Cohen told CBC news he's conflicted over the issue since the smugglers are also performing an act of mercy in certain circumstances.

"As a human rights advocate and as a refugee advocate I find myself a little bit in conflict," said Cohen.

"The resolution for that is not through punitive legislation, the resolution to that is to make it easier for people to get access to Canada to claim refugee status," said Cohen.

Community activists, police officers, policy makers and parents gathered to learn more about human trafficking and human smuggling in the region.

In September 2011, three people were convicted of inducing or encouraging people to enter the United States illegally.

Last month, Savita Singh-Murray of St. Stephen, and her brother-in-law, Mohamed Yusuf, a Toronto resident, were sentenced to two years in prison.

Ravindra Hariprasad, also of Toronto, was handed a one-year sentence in provincial jail.

They were conspiring to set up two smuggling jobs, involving a Guyanese woman and a married couple from Guyana at the Maine-New Brunswick border near St. Stephen, according to police.

More recently, the Canada Border Services Agency investigated a case of possible human smuggling after the SV Tabasco 2 ran into heavy seas, and capsized in March.

Of the nine people aboard, 4 died.