MV Sun Sea people smuggling decision expected in Supreme Court of Canada
Tamil migrants who were denied refugee status say they assisted people smugglers under duress
The Supreme Court of Canada is set to decide whether three Tamil migrants who arrived off the coast of B.C. aboard the MV Sun Sea in 2010 should be considered inadmissible as refugees for allegedly helping people smugglers.
The three appeals involve unidentified claimants who were among the 492 people aboard the ship, which was intercepted by Canadian authorities off the B.C. coast after a three-month journey from Thailand. The passengers claimed refugee status due to the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil fighters.
One, known as B306, worked as a cook and watch-keeper,
Another, known as J.P., was recruited to navigate the ship after the original Thai crew left the vessel. He and his wife had paid $30,000 each to come to Canada.
Both men were deemed inadmissible for having engaged in people smuggling. J.P.'s wife, G.J., was also excluded on the grounds that she's a family member.
'Organize, induce, aid or abet'
The MV Sun Sea arrived in Canada months after the MV Ocean Lady, which carried 76 people in October 2009. The two events prompted then prime minister Stephen Harper to announce a crackdown on human smuggling.
At issue in all three cases is how strictly the Immigration and Refugee Board should interpret legislation that denies would-be refugees if they "knowingly organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of one or more persons" without documentation.
The cases made their way to Federal Court, where two different judges ruled in favour of the migrants, allowing judicial reviews of the refugee decisions.
Judge Richard Mosley said Canada's commitment to cracking down on people smuggling "may be blurred by an overly expansive interpretation" of the law to encompass "those who did not plan or agree to carry out the scheme and have no prospect of a reward other than a modest improvement in their living conditions en route."
In the case of B306, Judge Jocelyne Gagne said the board's decision was "not informed by the context of complete dependency, vulnerability and power imbalance in which the applicant found himself during the three-month journey to Canada."
But those decisions were overturned at the Federal Court of Appeal, where Justice Robert Mainville noted that B306 had travelled to Thailand before coming to Canada and was clearly motivated by more than duress.
As part of the same series of decisions, the Supreme Court will also rule on the case of a Cuban man who claimed refugee status in Canada after he was convicted in the United States of smuggling people out of Cuba by boat.
The refugee board ruled against him even though there was no evidence he engaged in people smuggling for financial gain. He was also ordered deported.