No evidence Sri Lankan refugees were terrorists, admits CBSA

Posted by admin on Jul 9th, 2010

By Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun July 9, 2010

VANCOUVER — The Canada Border Services Agency now admits it has no proof that 25 Sri Lankan boat migrants it labelled as terrorists and kept behind bars for months were in fact members of the outlawed Tamil Tigers. Last month, The Vancouver Sun obtained a secret CBSA report that stated there were “reasonable grounds” to believe a third of the 76 migrants who arrived in B.C. on the Ocean Lady migrant ship last October were members of the Tamil Tigers.

The report, written in January, suggested the entire purpose of the journey may have been to help the Tigers establish a new base of operations in Canada.

However, the concerns expressed in the report seemed out of step with how the CBSA handled the migrants’ refugee cases before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

The CBSA did argue for the continued detention of those migrants it suspected for three months of being Tigers, and even made arrangements to present secret evidence to the IRB about why the men posed a danger to the public.

However, when the date for the secret hearings finally arrived in January, the CBSA suddenly withdrew its application and agreed to release all of the migrants under strict release conditions.

Five days before The Vancouver Sun published its story about the secret report, the paper sent the CBSA a list of questions, including why it agreed to release the men if they posed such a danger.

On Thursday, three weeks after receiving The Vancouver Sun’s questions, the CBSA finally responded by e-mail.

“After a number of weeks of continued detention it became clear that unless CBSA was able to provide further specific information concerning inadmissibility with respect to each individual case, the IRB would order release,” CBSA spokeswoman Shakila Manzoor wrote. “With no such information available, CBSA was not in a position to substantiate arguments for continued detention and the IRB began ordering release.”

Vancouver lawyer Doug Cannon, who represents one of the migrants, said the CBSA’s statement suggests the agency unfairly tagged the migrants as terrorists.

“Not only is it indicating they don’t have any proof. It indicates they never had any proof,” he said. “There was never anything substantial to justify the fears that they expressed. . . . It causes one to wonder: Do they really know what they’re doing?”

Cannon said the CBSA made a number of allegations in detention hearings about the migrants which now appear groundless.

“They were clearly identifying these people as members of the Tamil Tiger terrorist organization,” he said. “They identified a group of people and raised a red flag, kept them in custody for several months and then stepped back from that and essentially said: ‘Never mind.'”

All the migrants claimed refugee status but none of them have yet had hearings to determine their status. In its written statement, the CBSA said all 76 migrants were accounted for and abiding by their conditions, which in some cases include curfews.

The Vancouver Sun asked the CBSA on Friday why it made such serious allegations against the migrants if it didn’t have the evidence to prove them.

Manzoor replied by e-mail: “As this case/file is still under investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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