Not any more

PM vows to halt ‘trend’ of asylum-seekers landing in Canada

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 21:25

MISSISSAUGA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday warned that Ottawa “will not hesitate to strengthen the laws” and tackle the “trend” of migrants landing in Canada on people-smuggling ships, marking his first public words on the issue since the arrival of 490 Tamil asylum-seekers in British Columbia last week.

“Let me be clear: we are a land of refuge, but at the same time I think Canadians are pretty concerned when a whole boat of people comes — not through any normal application process, not through any normal arrival channel — and just simply lands,” Mr. Harper told reporters at an event in Mississauga, Ont., on Tuesday afternoon. “We will not hesitate to strengthen the laws if we have to because ultimately, as a government and as a fundamental exercise of our sovereignty, we are responsible for the security of our borders.”

It was the first time the Prime Minister publicly addressed last week’s arrival of the MV Sun Sea — a 59-metre Thai cargo ship that carried hundreds of Tamil men, women, and children seeking refugee status from Sri Lanka, where a civil war ended last year.

Mr. Harper assured Canadians that authorities will “security screen everybody” amid concerns that the ship may have carried members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist group outlawed in Canada.

The Prime Minister’s remarks echo the tough stance recently taken by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who warned last week that “any individuals who endanger national security or who have engaged in the criminal enterprise of human-smuggling will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Mr. Toews has also said the MV Sun Sea was part of a “broader organized criminal enterprise,” acting as a “test boat” for smugglers eyeing how Canada handles the claims of those aboard the vessel.

As the National Post first reported last weekend, Mr. Toews alleges the ship was a moneymaking venture by elements of the Tamil Tiger organization. He said they charged upward of $50,000 per person and likely paid roughly $1-million for the ship, amounting to a profit of about $20-million. The RCMP is investigating.

Mr. Harper called human-smuggling operations a “significant concern,” and said the government will “take whatever steps are necessary going forward” to ensure Canada’s right to “welcome or not welcome people when they come.”

“The wider issue of human smuggling and migrating people through financial transactions is a growing concern around the world,” the Prime Minister said. “We have certainly seen it in Australia and other countries we are close to, and we’re working with them on ways of dealing with the issue.”

Hours before the Prime Minister made his remarks, a United Nations spokesperson in Geneva commended the “exemplary work of the Canadian Border Services Agency” but warned that the UN’s refugee agency will follow the situation to “help compliance with the relevant provisions for treatment of persons seeking asylum.”

“While refugees and migrants might use the same means of transportation, sometimes illegal, refugees are a distinct group with protection needs,” Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations.

Mr. Mahecic reminded the international community that the UN recently issued revised guidelines to “assist decision-makers in reviewing claims of asylum.”

Indeed earlier this summer, the UN released a report that said: “Given the cessation of hostilities, Sri Lankans originating from the north of the country are no longer in need of international protection under broader refugee criteria or complementary forms of protection solely on the basis of risk of indiscriminate harm.”

The Prime Minister’s comments in Mississauga came after a groundbreaking ceremony at the city’s transit campus, where he and Mayor Hazel McCallion marked the start of construction of the east-west Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit corridor.

At the event, Mr. Harper also quashed rumours that the Tories are angling for a fall election: “We’re not looking for an election, and I will not be calling an election.”

kcarlson@nationalpost.com

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