Past spy chief named special envoy on human smuggling

Posted by admin on Sep 9th, 2010

By: The Canadian Press. Date: Thursday Sep. 9, 2010 2:45 PM PT

The federal government is dispatching a former spy chief to Asia as a special envoy on human smuggling to help prevent more migrant ships from arriving on Canadian shores. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Ward Elcock will visit Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries to improve co-operation and information sharing. Kenney, in the middle of an Asian tour of his own, plans to tack an Australian stop onto his trip to meet officials in Canberra and see an asylum processing centre. The Conservatives are putting together a package for this fall that would aim at putting a stop to — or at least seriously deter — ships full of migrants heading to Canada’s shores.

They hope to have a bill before Parliament by early next month.

In August, the MV Sun Sea showed up off the coast of Vancouver Island with almost 500 Tamil passengers on board, fleeing Sri Lanka via Thailand.

It was the second such ship in less than a year, prompting speculation the Tamil Tigers terrorist group is targeting Canada as a destination.

Now, rumours are rampant that more ships full of Tamils are preparing to depart Thailand for Canada.

The federal Conservatives have said repeatedly they will respond forcefully with legislation and other messages to dissuade smugglers.

“There’s nothing that we can do to eliminate the possibility of human smuggling,” Kenney said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“There are some things we can probably do to decrease its frequency or its likelihood. One of those things is better co-operation with countries in the region.”

The Asian trip by Elcock, who served as CSIS director from 1994 to 2004, is part of that effort, Kenney added.

The minister’s move reflects a growing recognition that stopping migrant ships can’t be done by Canada alone, and any effort Ottawa makes needs to be complemented by measures elsewhere in the world to control human smuggling.

Elcock said Thursday it was “way too early” to discuss the issue, noting his assignment is in the planning stages.

Earlier this week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews launched a public awareness campaign to fight human trafficking.

And several federal departments are hashing out a list of measures they could adopt to turn ships away — including harsher penalties for human smugglers, and devising ways to intercept ships well before they sail into Canadian waters.

The RCMP is carrying out an “intensive and ongoing investigation” into the recent arrival of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady last year, Kenney noted. But he hinted at difficulties confronting police.

“I believe that sometimes in these situations the smugglers, the organizers, use fear as a tactic to intimidate their customers, if you will, into silence, and not fingering the profiteers. That’s an operational challenge for the law-enforcement agencies.”

One insider said authorities believe the Sun Sea ringleaders threw their weapons overboard before approaching the B.C. coast and later tried to blend in with the migrants who almost certainly paid hefty sums for passage to Canada.

Critics say Canada has the tools to deter human smuggling operations — it just needs to use them more effectively. Penalties are already stiff, but Ottawa could apply them more actively to send a message around the world.

“All they have to do is implement what Parliament has given them the power to do,” said NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow.

Ottawa should be working more actively with Sri Lanka to ensure peace and respect for human rights there, she said.

At the same time, the Canada Border Services Agency should modernize its technology and improve its tracking of migrants in Canada so they can be processed quickly, she said.

Plus, Parliament has just passed a bill completely reforming the refugee system so that it works faster. As soon as the government implements the new rules, spurious refugee claimants should get the message and stay away, Chow added.

Sri Lanka has consistently been one of Canada’s top sources for refugee claimants, according to figures from the Immigration and Refugee Board. Sri Lankan claimants also have one of the highest rates of acceptance among people seeking refuge in Canada.

Ottawa could solve many of its problems by designating Sri Lanka a “source country” for refugees, said law professor Sharryn Aiken at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

That way legitimate refugee claimants could deal directly with Canadian officials in Sri Lanka, without having to deal with any shady middlemen or dangerous ships, she said.

“We’re throwing a whole lot of solutions at the wrong place,” she said.

In 2008 and 2009, more than 90 per cent of their claims were accepted, although this rate fell slightly to 85 per cent in the first half of 2010.

In 2008, 1,002 people from Sri Lanka made claims for refugee status in Canada, followed by 827 in 2009. In the first six months of 2010, 355 claims came from Sri Lankans.

Comments are closed.