Canada

Suspected migrant ship a concern: Toews

Ottawa is concerned about a ship reported to be carrying 200 Sri Lankans, including Tamil Tigers, to Canada's West Coast, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says.

Ottawa is concerned about a ship reported to be carrying 200 Sri Lankans, including Tamil Tigers, to Canada's West Coast, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday.

Toews said the government is monitoring the Thai cargo ship, but would not provide specifics.

"I can assure you that we are concerned about who is on that ship and why they might be coming to Canada," he said after a luncheon speech Monday in Toronto.

He said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam — the military arm of the Tamil separatist movement and a banned terrorist organization in Canada — are behind operations that smuggle people into Canada.

A Sri Lankan newspaper reported last month that the MV Sun Sea was heading to British Columbia. 

However, the Canadian Tamil Congress says Ottawa should reserve judgment until the ship arrives.

"We don't condone these ship voyages. It's very risky, it's deadly," said David Poopalapillai, a congress spokesman. "But we understand, at the same time, why these people are coming. Desperate times push people to desperate measures."

Poopalapillai said the government is in danger of "painting everybody with the same brush," based on biased information from the Sri Lankan government.

The government should let Canadian law evaluate whether the people on the ship should be considered legal refugees, he said.

"If you find any people inadmissible after putting them through due process, then yes, go after them."

On Monday, Toews said that while the government is committed to protecting genuine refugees, it will thwart those who try to abuse Canada's immigration policies.

Among many concerns for potential terrorist threats in Canada, Toews singled out "marine human smuggling" as a particular focus of the government.

"I think it's important to send a message that Canada should not be viewed as easy entry into North America and that we are very concerned about security issues," he said after the speech.

Last October, a ship carrying 76 Sri Lankan migrants was intercepted in Canadian waters off the B.C. coast after crossing the Pacific from Sri Lanka.

The group on board the Ocean Lady claimed to be fleeing persecution after the country's bloody 26-year civil war.

There were concerns some had links to the Tamil Tigers, but an Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman has said all 76 of the Sri Lankan migrants from that ship have been released and their refugee claims will be processed over the next 19 months or so.

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