Not any more

Tamil ship due to hit Canada today

In Canada on August 12, 2010 at 07:06

A ship believed to be carrying up to 500 Tamil migrants has arrived in Canada’s "exclusive economic zone" and could enter territorial waters as early as Thursday, when it is expected to be intercepted by authorities amid concerns there may be Tamil Tigers on board.

The MV Sun Sea — a 59-metre Thai cargo ship that Canada and the United States have been monitoring throughout the summer and which may be carrying members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist group outlawed in Canada — was on Wednesday night being tracked by a Canadian navy warship, officials said.

The ship arrived within the 200-nautical-mile zone that extends beyond Canada’s territorial waters in the wake of unconfirmed reports that one voyager had died en route.

A government official said authorities are "expecting [the MV Sun Sea] in the Straits of Juan de Fuca early Friday morning." It is anticipated the Canadian Border Services Agency will at some point board the ship before it is directed to Victoria harbour.

Security experts in the United States are also keeping a watchful eye: James Clad, the former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia, told The Washington Post he thought the MV Sun Sea was part of a bid by the Tamil Tigers to "create a network again and play the trans national terrorist game."

"I’m not an advocate for sending people back to their deaths, but that is just not happening in Sri Lanka," he said. "I’ve helped a lot of migrants before, but I know a scam when I see one."

Also anticipating the ship’s arrival, although with an entirely different view, is a Tamil migrant who journeyed to Canada in much the same way as those aboard the MV Sun Sea. The man, who can’t be identified because his immigration proceedings are ongoing, said Tamils are "fleeing because we can’t survive" and that "the Canadian government looked into evidence and then freed us."

He came to this country aboard the Ocean Lady, a rusty coastal freighter that carried him and 75 other men through several "treacherous storms" until they reached Canada on the morning of Oct. 17, 2009.

"When I close my eyes, I can picture what they went through," the man said in Tamil, through an interpreter in an interview with the National Post in the Greater Toronto Area last evening.

"When they reach shore, I will thank God for their safe arrival."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said it "would not comment on operational details" of the vessel.

The ship’s arrival off the coast of British Columbia comes amid reports that human smugglers are monitoring how Canada deals with the prospective asylum seekers.

Peter St. John, associate professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba who specializes in intelligence and terrorism, said human smuggling by ship is a method that is "going to be used again, and again, and again," because "Canada is simply an easy place to get into."

Indeed earlier this week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews singled out marine human smuggling as an "emerging" concern and said the government is particularly worried about who is aboard the MV Sun Sea.

"I can assure you that we are concerned about who is on that ship and why they might be coming to Canada," Mr. Toews said at the Economic Club of Toronto on Monday. "There is reason to believe that a listed terrorist entity, the LTTE, may be involved in organizing and carrying out this activity."

The Asian Tribune reported on Wednesday that an alleged LTTE militant who is "regrouping" Tamil Tigers was arrested by Kerala state police in India earlier this week. The online newspaper reported that the man has "confessed to massive trafficking of LTTE cadre to various parts of the world."

Despite speculation that the ship will be taken to the Ogden Point terminal in Victoria — where the Ocean Lady was docked until April — a spokesperson for the Greater Vancouver Harbour Authority said the border services agency "has not been in touch" to secure one of the port’s three deep-water mooring berths.

Two correctional facilities in northeast Metro Vancouver — the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women and the Fraser centre — are preparing to house "somewhere in the order of 80 females and 100 males," John Leeburn, a spokesperson for the District of Maple Ridge, said earlier this week.

The district was told the prospective asylum seekers would likely be housed at the two facilities for somewhere between two and four months, Mr. Leeburn said. There are also reports that children are aboard the vessel, but it was unclear where they would be housed.

The Canadian Tamil Congress is urging the government to consider the migrants’ expected refugee claims on a case-by-case basis.

"We, as a compassionate country, should reserve judgment on these people until we know more," said David Poopalapillai, spokesperson for the congress.

The congress argues that the situation in Sri Lanka, where a civil war ended last year between government forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers rebels, is so dire that people are willing to risk their lives by fleeing via the sea to Canada.

Douglas Cannon, a Vancouver lawyer who represents some of the migrants who arrived last fall, said those who were aboard the Ocean Lady have legitimate refugee claims — which, he said, may also prove true of the MV Sun Sea.

"The camps are very, very difficult places," he said, referring to the camps used by the Sri Lankan government to detain Tamils displaced by the fighting between the army and the Tamil Tigers.

The ship’s arrival in Canada’s sea zone coincided with the launch of a government-appointed panel in Colombo probing Sri Lanka’s civil war. Human rights bodies on Wednesday were quick to reject the panel, publicly condemning the Sri Lankan government for snubbing a separate United Nations-led probe.

National Post

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