Canada's immigration and refugee system is under increased attack from human smugglers and new rules are needed to deal with the "growing concern," says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

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Toews said Wednesday in Vancouver that the Canadian government has information that criminal smuggling networks are adapting by "broadening" with new bases and points of departure since the highly publicized arrival of hundreds of Tamil migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea from Thailand last August.

The minister would not elaborate during an "update" session with reporters in Vancouver, but again urged opposition parties to support Bill C-49 — the Conservative government's proposed legislation aimed at punishing anyone who smuggles illegal migrants to Canada.

"We think not only will it deter individuals, but in fact it will make it easier to prosecute human smugglers," he said. 

The minister also refused to comment on media reports that another vessel suspected of carrying Tamil migrants was bound for Canada.

The Conservative government tabled its smuggling legislation in October, two months after the MV Sun Sea ship with 492 Tamil migrants docked in B.C. All three opposition parties have lined up against the controversial bill, saying it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But Toews insisted there is nothing in the proposed legislation that interferes with the rights of legitimate refugees to make claims to come to Canada, even if they arrive through "irregular mechanisms."

RCMP probes alleged Tamil Tiger ties  

Meanwhile, the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency continue to investigate whether some of the migrants on the Sun Sea or another vessel, the Ocean Lady, which arrived in B.C. in October 2009, have links to militant groups or criminal networks, he said.

The Conservative government has said it believes some of the migrants are members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers, which has been outlawed in Canada as a terrorist group since 2006.

Toews expressed concern that refugees will no longer be welcomed to Canada as more illegal migrants enter the country, citing recent polling that suggests a "hardening of attitude" among Canadians in the wake of the ships' arrival.  

But when pressed by a reporter, Toews denied he contributed to Canadians' perceptions of the migrants by saying the government believes suspected Tamil Tigers and human smugglers were hiding among the hundreds of asylum seekers.

This week, a Federal Court overturned two Immigration and Refugee Board release orders for two of the migrants who arrived on the Sun Sea, and ordered them held in custody over suspected ties to the Tamil Tigers.