NOII Banner Drop – Canada Jails Refugees! Let them Stay!

Posted by admin on Aug 13th, 2010


Friday August 13, 2010, Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories– No One Is Illegal dropped a large banner which read: “Canada Jails Refugees” above Highway 1 in Vancouver/Burnaby this morning during rush-hour traffic.  The banner drop was in response to the ongoing stigmatization and public hysteria around the MV Sun Sea, carrying 490 Tamil asylum seekers to BC. Now that the ship has been boarded by the Navy, Armed Forces, Canadian Border Services Agency, and RCMP, it is expected that these migrants will be incarcerated in prisons within the week.

Canada’s immigration legislation permits immigration officials to hold the Tamil refugee claimants in a state of indefinite detention without charge based only on a mere suspicion of inadmissibility on so-called security grounds.  This form of arbitrary and indefinite immigration detention has previously been condemned internationally as a breach of fundamental human rights.

Public officials and media outlets have continued to perpetuate false and dehumanizing stereotypes of the asylum-seekers as ‘illegals’, ‘criminals’, and so-called queue jumpers. The label of “security threat is” itself is rooted in racist stereotypes and generalized prejudgments of Tamils as potential terrorists. This deliberately created hysteria appeals to conservative fears of refugees, and anti-immigrant advocates like Paul Fromm and the Aryan Guard have gained ground in protesting for the ship to be sent back.

This public fear-mongering is just another tactic to disguise the racist policies that define the history and ongoing realities of Canada’s immigration system. It fits perfectly into Minister of Censorship and Deportation Jason Kenney’s plan to increase detentions and deportation of refugees and undocumented migrants, while bringing in more temporary exploitable migrant labour. Since the Conservatives came into in power, the number of approved asylum claims has dropped by 56%. Kenney’s 2009 report reveals a decreasing “target” of 11,000 people to be accepted refugees and sponsored family members.

Now Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has declared that Cabinet is drafting new policies to “make this country less welcoming for future shipments of human cargo.”

In the face of escalating attacks against these asylum-seekers, No One is Illegal-Vancouver asserts the basic human right to safety, mobility, and protection. The only crime the migrants have committed is make a long and dangerous journey, transgressing this imposed border. It is well known that Tamils in Sri Lanka are fleeing military atrocities including arbitrary detentions, indiscriminate killings, and mass displacement into refugee camps. We continue to call for the immediate release of all the detainees and demand their collective right to stay in Canada with dignity.

==> NOII Press Release Uphold the Rights of Tamil Migrants aboard MV Sun Sea!


MV Sun Sea not first migrant vessel to reach Canada

The MV Sun Sea is not the first migrant vessel to arrive off Canadian shores. Here are some other notable examples:

– October 2009: One rusty ship with 76 Tamils was found off Vancouver Island. The men were held at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre as their claims were processed. As of last month, all 76 were freed from detention and were abiding by conditions of their release while awaiting hearings for their refugee claims. According to a report in the Vancouver Sun last month, the Canada Border Services Agency suspected 25 of the migrants were tied to the Tamil Tigers but was unable to prove it.

– 1999: Four ships carrying about 600 Chinese passengers arrived in British Columbia during the summer. When most of the occupants of the first vessel disappeared (it is believed most were smuggled into the United States), those from the three remaining vessels were kept in detention facilities in Prince George until their claims were processed. They were held about 18 months and most had their refugee claims denied.

– July 1987: 174 Sikhs came ashore near Charlesville, N.S. They had apparently come to the east coast via Western Europe where they were denied refugee status. Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney recalled Parliament during the summer recess and passed emergency powers giving officials greater power to detain undocumented arrivals. Most of the migrants spent about one month in detention in Halifax before being allowed to move to Toronto or Vancouver with a sponsor.

– August 1986: 155 Tamils were rescued off the coast of Newfoundland. They were found drifting in lifeboats by fishermen after two days at sea with only water and a compass. They were all granted special ministerial permits to remain in Canada while their claims were processed. Within one year, half had settled in Toronto.

– 1939: The St. Louis, a ship carrying 900 European Jews, was turned away by Canada and several other North American countries. The boat eventually sailed back to Hamburg, Germany. It is believed many of the passengers ultimately died in Nazi concentration camps.

– 1914: 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs, aboard the ship Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver harbour in May. The men, women and families intended to challenge racist immigration laws. After a two-month stalemate they were forced back to sea by the Canadian Navy. Only 20 people who could prove they were already Canadian residents were allowed the stay. The Komagata Maru returned to India to be met by the British military and 20 passengers were killed in the ensuing confrontation. Official apologies were issued by the federal and provincial governments in 2008.


Don’t jail the Sun Sea migrants, says advocate
By Ryan Elias August 12, 2010,

The refugee-rights collective No One Is Illegal is decrying the Canadian government’s decision to incarcerate the passengers of the MV Sun Sea when they arrive in B.C. this weekend.

Harsha Walia, a spokesperson for No One Is Illegal, said that the decision to jail the 200 to 500 Tamil migrants on their arrival is a poor response by the federal government.

“A lot of the response to this boat isn’t really rooted in a legal response, it’s rooted in a deliberately created hysteria, in a prejudgment and a stereotype of them as terrorists,” she said.

The government will most likely place children from the boat into foster care while their guardians are in prison, Walia said.

The situation is very similar to one in October of last year, when the MV Ocean Lady brought approximately 75 Tamil migrants to B.C. All were incarcerated, but were released by January.

“[The Canadian Border Services Agency] were not able to substantiate anything that justified their ongoing detention,” Walia said. “And in fact the judge admonished them for relying on [Rohan Gunaratna], a source that was closely connected to the Sri Lankan government.”

But Gunaratna is the sole source being used to characterize the passengers on the Sun Sea as terrorists, Walia said.

“That’s their only evidence right now, relying on this one discredited source,” she said, “And certainly something like a label of terrorism is not something people should be taking lightly, but it seems like all the mainstream media is parroting it.”

Walia said that Tamils in particular are a minority well-recognized as suffering human rights violations under the current Sri Lankan government.

“Canada itself actually has a really high rate of acceptance of Sri Lankans,” she said. “In the past few years, it’s been over 90 per cent. So there’s really no reason to go through the same process that we went through in October.”

Putting hundreds of migrants through the prison system is also very expensive, Walia added.

“What’s frustrating is people are saying they’re a burden on the system. But the reason it’s a burden is because the government is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate them.”

Ultimately, Walia said, jailing the migrants accomplishes little besides stigmatizing refugees. And it’s indicative of a worrying trend in the federal government’s immigration policies, she said.

“The course that Canada is taking is increasingly anti-refugee under [Immigration and Multicultural Minister Jason] Kenney,” she said, “And part of being able to justify having fewer and fewer refugees is starting to label them all potential terrorists.”


Canadian authorities board Tamil ship off B.C. coast

By Christina Spencer and Laura Stone; and Judith Lavoie and Katie DeRosa, Postmedia News and Times Colonist August 13, 2010

Canadian authorities boarded a Tamil migrant ship carrying 490 would-be refugees late Thursday night off the coast of British Columbia, after intercepting the vessel in the afternoon and escorting it toward Victoria.

HMCS Winnipeg made visual contact with the MV Sun Sea late in the morning, a federal official confirmed. In the afternoon, the vessel entered Canada’s territorial waters, inside the 12-nautical mile limit.

The ship is expected to land at CFB Esquimalt, where tents have been set up for their arrival late Thursday night or early this morning.

Echoing tough statements the government has made all week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the new arrivals include suspected people smugglers and terrorists.

“Human-smuggling and human-trafficking are despicable crimes. They are both illegal and dangerous.

“Human-smugglers and human-traffickers are now watching Canada’s response to judge whether or not they can continue to take advantage of us. . . . We will send a message loud and clear to other criminals: ‘If you do this, then you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.’ ”

Toews said while the government wants to protect real refugees, “it is imperative that we prevent supporters and members of a criminal or terrorist organization from abusing Canada’s refugee system.”

Personnel from National Defence, the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency boarded the vessel Thursday night.

“From there, control of the ship will be in Canada’s hands,” said an official with Toews’ office.

There was no sign of resistance by the Sun Sea to directions given by the navy. But the condition of the passengers — believed to include women and children — was not yet known.

The ship appeared off the British Columbia coast earlier this week after a months-long journey under the watchful eye of authorities.

Experts say the migrants are likely fleeing Sri Lanka after the end of a war of independence between the Tamil Tigers army and the Sri Lankan government. The Tamil Tigers are considered a terrorist organization by Canada and its members are banned from entering the country.

Staff at the Victoria General Hospital were busy preparing to treat the migrants, after reports that one person may have died on board.

Some of the would-be refugees, including women and children, may have serious health problems after their three-month voyage, health officials said.

A bulletin to the Hospital Employees Union obtained by the Times Colonist says the hospital expects to operate special units for the migrants for six days. Costs will be paid by the federal government.

The Vancouver Health Authority told the HEU that in addition to registered nurses, a reopened ward on the hospital’s seventh floor will require 10 licensed practical nurses, two laboratory technicians and two care aides on a 24/7 basis as well as two unit clerks for 12 hours a day.

All migrants will be under guard and VIHA protection services staff will assist by guarding entrances and exits.

The coast guard has been tracking the ship’s progress up the West Coast since July.

It was expected the passengers would be processed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials before being taken to two Vancouver-area jails to be housed.

The high commissioner of Sri Lanka said the ship is a human-smuggling operation linked to the Tamil Tigers, and that the captain of the ship, a man named “Vinod,” is a known member of the terrorist group.

“The captain has been a sea Tiger and a smuggler, who was involved in (arms) procurement,” said Chitranganee Wagiswara, the high commissioner, in Ottawa.

Wagiswara said the reports of terrorists aboard the ship came from “intelligence.”

She said the government should turn the ship away, even though other groups have said it contains refugees who are fleeing persecution.

“What we would like Canada to do is not accept these people, these illegal immigrants, because these are criminal elements that are trying to come into the country, and abusing the Canadian system,” she said.

But Tamil advocates in Canada cautioned against making an automatic link between the ethnic group with the terrorist organization.

“The Tamil minority within the island of Sri Lanka has been demonized and criminalized,” said Krisna Saravanamuttu, a spokesman for the National Council of Canadian Tamils.

“What I would encourage our federal government to do, is to treat these individuals with compassion, give them their due process, let (them) go through the system just like any other refugee in this country.”

Both NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the migrants have a legal right to be assessed as refugees.

“Every refugee claimant should be treated the same way, under Canadian law,” Chow said. “They have a right, and we have a right to examine them individually, and that’s what we should do. Whether they arrive by boat, or by plane, they should have the same rights under the refugees law.”

Ignatieff said the migrants “have a right to have individual refugee determination.”

“These people have been on the high seas for I don’t know how long . . . if they’re found to have suspect or difficult pasts then that has to be independently established,” he told the Nunatsiaq News.

“If we find that they are security risks, then they have to be sent home. But in Canada, we do it one by one. And that’s the way we ought to do it with this boat.”

Sharryn Aiken, associate dean of the Queen’s University Faculty of Law and an expert on immigration and refugee law, said that even if members of the Tamil Tigers were aboard the ship, they may not be sent back to Sri Lanka.

“They may not be eligible for refugee protection but they may be eligible to remain in Canada because of a risk of torture upon return to Sri Lanka. And that’s something that we have to balance. We balance the risk to Canada and the risk of return. But certainly Canada has an absolutely clear international legal obligation as well as domestic obligation in the Charter of Rights not to return anyone to where they’re at risk of torture or other serious human rights abuses,” said Aiken.

“The best thing that Canada can do is promote a lasting peace in Sri Lanka, so people will no longer have to flee. And Canada’s record in that regard has been abysmal. We’ve done very little to foster the cause of peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”

The ship is the second in less than a year to arrive with Tamil refugees aboard.

Last October, a smaller cargo ship, the Ocean Lady, was intercepted by HMCS Regina and taken to Victoria, where 76 Tamils disembarked.

Many speculated that some of the men aboard the Ocean Lady were members of the Tamil Tigers, the paramilitary arm of the Tamil independence movement.

The migrants have since been released, pending the refugee claim process, and most are living in Toronto.

So far, none of them have been linked to the Tamil Tigers.
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News


Migrants including children brought by ambulance to Victoria General Hospital

By Ian Shelton, August 13, 2010 2:04 PM

Victoria, B.C. – Ambulances have started delivering migrants from a cargo ship to Victoria General Hospital. It is believed a six-month-old baby and two pregnant women are among those brought by about five ambulances to the hospital’s former emergency department.

Security screening prevented a clear view of how many people were exiting from the ambulances that started arriving late morning. They were helped from the ambulances by medical staff wearing full hazard gear.

The cries of young children could be heard behind the security fence.

“That’s the shame of it,” said one of those watching behind the police tape as screams from what sounded like at least two toddlers built in volume.

A woman was heard comforting the children.

It is believed that after being taken off the ambulances and hustled into the secure area – some on stretchers and others walking – the migrants were taken into tents where they went through decontamination.

Masked and uniformed Canadian Border Services staff took paperwork and clear plastic bags of clothes into the hospital after the arrival of each ambulance.

Officials confirmed that 490 Sri Lankans were on board the ship that arrived in Esquimalt Harbour, near Victoria, at about 6 a.m. amid tight security.

Intercepted Thursday afternoon, the MV Sun Sea was led through the Juan de Fuca Strait by RCMP patrol boats through the night.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters at a 11 a.m. press conference that the ship is part of a larger human-smuggling operation and Canada needs to improve its laws to ensure our refugee system “is not hijacked by criminals and terrorists.

“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,”said Toews.

“As officials move forward with this investigation, the government will consider whether further improvements are needed to disrupt and deter criminal organizations and enterprises such as smuggling. We believe it is essential that our border and law-enforcement agencies have the physical and legal means to prevent illegal immigration and human-smuggling and to identify those individuals coming to Canada who have been involved in terrorist activities or are members of a terrorist group,” he said.

“This particular situation we believe to be part of a larger human-smuggling and human-trafficking enterprise, and we believe that there are others who are watching this particular situation to determine the reaction of Canadian authorities,”said Toews.

As day broke over the harbour, HMCS Winnipeg lay at its mouth with a helicopter circling overhead.

Tugboats guided the MV Sun Sea past Fisgard Lighthouse shortly after 6 a.m. and continued toward the wharf at the Navy diving school where marquee tents glowed through the night.

There, a crowd of personnel in dark blue uniforms and a pair of coach buses waited.

HMCS Winnipeg first contacted the MV Sun Sea Thursday morning as it entered Canada’s 12-nautical-mile territorial waters in the afternoon.

That evening CBSA, RCMP and Canadian Forces personnel boarded the ship, apparently without incident.

It’s expected that those on the ship will be processed and, if well, taken to Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for men and the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women east of Vancouver.

The human drama, not questions of national security or international politics, struck Victoria’s Cathy O’Connor as she sat on a log at Esquimalt Lagoon, watching the migrant ship slip into Esquimalt Harbour. “It’s more than a piece of metal,” she said. “There are 490 lives on board.”

“What a horror show that ship must be,” said Peter Hyslop, looking out over the scene from Stewart Ave. in View Royal.

Hyslop spent years fishing off the B.C. coast and knows something about tight quarters aboard ship. “To live in close quarters with that many people for that long is an extreme challenge.”

Earlier this week, staff at Victoria General Hospital reopened a seventh-floor ward, in anticipation of receiving ailing migrants.

A bulletin to the Hospital Employees Union obtained by the Times Colonist says the hospital expects to operate special units for the migrants for six days. Costs will be paid by the federal government.

The Vancouver Health Authority told the HEU that in addition to registered nurses, a reopened ward on the hospital’s seventh floor will require 10 licensed practical nurses, two laboratory technicians and two care aides on a 24/7 basis as well as two unit clerks for 12 hours a day.

All migrants will be under guard and VIHA protection services staff will assist by guarding entrances and exits.

At Victoria General Hospital, motorists were met this morning by barricades of police tape and black-clad security guards.

Hospital workers milled around the reactivated, former emergency ward.

In a statement released Thursday, Public safety minister Vic Toews said human smuggling would not be tolerated.

“Human smuggling is a despicable crime and any attempted abuses of our nation’s generosity for financial gain are utterly unacceptable,” he said.

He added that even as this situation unfolds Canadian officials were looking for ways to strengthen laws and curb “this unacceptable abuse of international law and Canadian generosity.”

CFB Esquimalt, Canadian Tamil Congress legal counsel Gary Anandasangaree warned against painting with too broad a brush.

“I don’t disagree with the majority of his comments,” Anandasangaree said this morning. “But there a difference between people smugglers and the people who are seeking refugee status. We can’t lump them in together.”

Human smuggling was one way the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, funded their 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government.

The Tigers were crushed in a final May 2009 assault amid accusations of war crimes on both sides.

The International Crisis Group and other observers have said that, 15 months later, the heavily Tamil northern regions are still troubled by arbitrary detention, disappearances and other suspected security force abuses..

The MV Sun Sea is the second Tamil refugee ship to arrive in Canada in the past year.

In October, the Ocean Lady, a rusting cargo ship carrying 76 Tamils, was intercepted by HMCS Regina and docked at Ogden Point, in Victoria.

Despite claims that 25 of those onboard were Tamil Tigers, the CBSA was forced to release the last of them for a lack of evidence.

Most are now living in Toronto.


Understanding the refugee process

Thu Aug 12 2010 Raveena Aulakh Toronto Star reporter–understanding-the-refugee-process

About 30,000 people apply for asylum in Canada every year — that’s roughly 100 every day. Some cross the border via the U.S., some take the sea route. But a majority of asylum-seekers fly into the country.

Half the claims are accepted; others go through the system, sometimes for years, until the claimants are deported or leave voluntarily.

Well-known Toronto immigration lawyers Lorne Waldman and Max Berger answered some questions about the process.

Q. What happens when someone applies for asylum?

A. Usually, it’s very simple: a person applies, shows identification and, after proving he or she is not a security threat, is allowed to leave with the promise to appear for a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Q. How long does the process take?

A. Refugee claimants have to file their “history” to the refugee board within 28 days. The hearings start about nine months later, depending on the backlog. If refugee protection is refused, they can ask for judicial review in federal court. The entire process can take up to three years before they are deported. In 2008-09, the average processing time for a claim was 16.5 months and cost of each claim was about $4,100.

Q. When are claimants detained?

A. Only a small percentage of those seeking asylum are detained. But there are four typical reasons for detention, say lawyers: having no ID, being deemed a security risk, seen as a flight risk, or thought to be a danger to the public.

Q. Will the process be different for the 490 Tamils aboard MV Sun Sea?

A. Not really. But they are likely to be detained for months while their identities are confirmed and border agents satisfy themselves that they aren’t a security threat and were not associated with terrorist activities.

Q. Will the new law change anything?

A. It will fast-track claims. Under new guidelines, claims will be heard within 60 to 90 days and illegitimate claimants will be moved out within two years.

Q. Australia turned MV Sun Sea away. Why couldn’t we?

A. Under international law, Australia, too, cannot turn refugees away from its shore. In the case of MV Sun Sea, the ship with 490 Sri Lankan refugees, Australia directed it to Christmas Island, an offshore immigration detention facility that can hold up to 1,400 people at one time. MV Sun Sea then changed course to Canada.

In the past, Australia has asked other countries, such as Indonesia, to intercept refugee boats before they reach Australian waters. “Australia gets way more boats than other countries,” said Waldman.

Q. Who is not eligible to make a claim?

A. Anyone who has already been granted refugee protection in Canada or another country, had submitted an unsuccessful refugee claim earlier or came to Canada from or through a safe third country where they could have claimed refugee protection. Anyone who poses a security risk, has violated human or international rights, or committed a serious crime or participated in organized crime is also not eligible.

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