Four Sri Lankan nationals have been arrested in Toronto in connection with a human-smuggling operation involving the freighter Ocean Lady, which brought 76 Sri Lankan refugee claimants to B.C. in 2009.

The men are the first to face charges after Canadian security officials seized the freighter off the coast of British Columbia on Oct. 17, 2009.

The four are alleged to have been involved with organizing the overall venture and of being active leaders on the vessel. They have been charged via direct indictment under human-smuggling legislation, specifically for the offence of organizing entry into Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.


RCMP made arrests in the human smuggling case involving The Ocean Lady Tuesday. ((The Canadian Press))

Vignarajah Thevarajah, 33, Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, 33, Hamalraj Handasamy, 39, and Jeyachandran Kanagarajah, 32, have been remanded in custody as the investigation continues. At a later date they will be transported back to Vancouver to appear before a judge.

The men were living in the Toronto-area, when arrested.

Police said they had an opportunity to interview a number of the people onboard which helped them in making the arrests.

"We had an opportunity to interview a number of potential witnesses and suspects in this investigation and the evidence that we gleaned from those interviews, it was able to assist us in laying charges," RCMP spokesman Tom Jones said at a press conference.

He added that officials had enough evidence to skip a preliminary trial and proceed to a direct indictment.

Most of the immigrants had paid thousands of dollars to the smugglers, and boarded in either Indonesia or Thailand.

All 76 men aboard were taken into custody, and they immediately filed  refugee claims.

After an investigation into possible links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, a group classified as a terrorist organization by Canada, all of the migrants were released.

Anyone convicted of helping more than 10 undocumented migrants into Canada can face up to life in prison.

Outside the House of Commons Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney touted the government's proposed legislation on human smuggling that was introduced in the last Parliament.

Toews said the incidents involving the Ocean Lady and other ships have demonstrated the need for stronger legislation.

"We welcome the news today of the arrest that was reported by the RCMP regarding the ocean lady. We want to reiterate our government's position. It's clear human smuggling is a despicable crime, not only does it take advantage financially of under-privileged and desperate people but it also puts people's lives at risk," he said.