RCMP considering human smuggling charges in Sun Sea case

Posted by admin on Oct 8th, 2010

Marten Youssef, Vancouver— Globe and Mail, Last updated Friday, Oct. 08, 2010 5:53PM EDT

The RCMP are preparing to lay criminal charges of human smuggling against a man they say is an owner of the MV Sun Sea, a man representing him says. The man, who came onboard the Tamil migrant vessel with his pregnant wife, was transferred to solitary confinement at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre three weeks ago as part of a human-smuggling investigation, according to his Toronto-based immigration consultant, Nagendra Selliah. Because of a publication ban, the identity of the man cannot be revealed. Mr. Selliah said his client denies being an owner of the vessel. In March, the merchant ship was bought in Thailand for $175,000 by a company whose owner is a Sri Lankan national.

Weeks later, the barely seaworthy boat sailed across the Pacific Ocean with 492 Tamil migrants onboard. Since the vessel’s arrival at CFB Esquimalt on Aug 13, Canadian authorities have scrambled to distinguish human smugglers from asylum seekers.

Phil Ranken, a high-profile criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver, said he will represent the alleged owner in the event criminal charges are filed.

Constable Michael McLaughlin of the RCMP said they have yet to forward any charges to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and declined to either confirm or deny that human-smuggling charges are in the works.

“We are looking into more than one possible charge, I will say that,” Constable McLaughlin said. “I would certainly expect this will be months rather than days for forwarding charges,” he added.

If laid, the human-smuggling charges would be the first levelled in any of the cases of mass-migrant ships that have arrived in B.C. since 1999.

All of the adults from MV Sun Sea were detained by Canada Border Services Agency because their identity could not be established. The men are being housed in specially set up facilities at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, east of Vancouver. Although some were initially segregated for health reasons, it later became apparent that some were segregated under suspicion of being the ship’s crew, according to several of the lawyers who met with the men.

CBSA has declined to comment on their efforts to identify the man described as an owner or the crew.

Mr. Selliah said he met with the man three weeks ago. “RCMP called me and said they are going to press human-smuggling charges against this guy. The client wanted to see me so I flew down,” said Mr. Selliah, who said he met with the client in his cell.

The man, according to Mr. Selliah, has shrapnel embedded in the left side of his head that causes him severe migraines. He said the man was hit by shrapnel during the Sri Lankan civil war.

“Even the small window in his cell has been covered up,” Mr. Selliah said. “It’s pretty dangerous because he has severe headaches and if anything happens to this guy they won’t know until the morning.

B.C. Corrections declined to comment on the conditions of the migrant.

The Immigration and Refugee Board, the quasi-judicial body assessing the legality of the migrants’ detentions, has ordered 22 people released, but so far only 13 have actually left detention – the other nine continue to be held after CBSA filed for judicial reviews in a federal court. Two of the men who were released have joined their families in Toronto and Montreal after each posting a $5,000 bond.

For the rest of the men and women who continue to be detained, the fourth round of hearings will begin on Friday.

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