Support Statements for Tamil Migrants on MV Sun Sea

Posted by admin on Aug 19th, 2010


The Canadian Tamil Congress is deeply concerned about the Canadian government’s recent and ongoing rhetoric on the migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea which is inciting distrust and anger towards them. It is inappropriate for the government to speculate or draw conclusions on the innocence or guilt of the MV Sun Sea’s passengers before much needed inquiries have been completed. The Canadian Tamil Congress believes that the discussion about human trafficking and Canada’s immigration policies is necessary. However, it should be conducted in a manner that does not compromise the RCMP and CSIS to carry out a separate and independent investigation.

The Canadian Border Services Agency, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police all have important roles in determining the stories, experiences, and substantive facts surrounding the arrival of the 493 Tamil men, women, children, and seniors at western coast of Vancouver Island. The elements of the investigation of the MV Sun Sea are entirely within the scope of the RCMP and CSIS, and should not be politicized.

As Canadians we pride ourselves in the independence of our judicial system. Any premature comments and speculations by public officials will only undermine the investigative mechanisms Canada has in place. If there were individuals aboard the MV Sun Sea who acted in violation of Canadian laws, law enforcement and the judicial system have the jurisdiction and powers to investigate. Such inquiries are the only way to address and respect the best interest of Canadians, and allow for a fair and legal process for the already troubled lives of the asylum-seekers.

The Minister has recently insinuated that Canadians of Tamil descent are financially supporting the voyage of Tamil migrants to Canada. In the absence of complete inquiries, the government should avoid making
speculative comments that are causing significant anxiety and distrust among Canadians.

The backlash that these comments have spurned against Tamil Canadians who have built their homes, lives, and relationships in this country is also evidence of how these statements can tarnish the much recognized multicultural and compassionate fabric of our nation.

The Canadian Tamil Congress is calling on the government to be more judicious in its approach to dealing with such a sensitive matter.


Shameful Behaviour – the Canadian State and Tamil Refugees
by: Rachel Avery and Dan Kellar, AW@L – Kitchener

Once again, the approach of a ship carrying refugees has been met by racist hostility and unfounded accusations of terrorism. The arrival of the MV Sun Sea to the shores of Vancouver Island has seen an outpouring of explicitly racist, anti-immigrant discourse throughout Canada. In a country which would like to consider itself a champion of humanitarianism, it should be shocking that the government’s racist treatment of these refugees has been largely met with support and further racism rather than with disgust and protest. The actions of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and the Canada Border Services Agency in response to this situation are abhorrent; these policies must be challenged along with the racism that supports them.

The MV Sun Sea, carrying almost 500 Tamil refugees, reached the harbour of Esquimalt, British Columbia last Friday. Tamils have faced mass atrocities perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government throughout the bloody 26-year “civil war” between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil population, which, despite its official end last year, did not resolve tensions between the two groups. Many Tamils have fled their homes to escape persecution, and in the past 2 years Canada has accepted more than 90 percent of refugee claimants from Sri Lanka. Last year, the Ocean Lady landed in Canada with 76 Tamils on board, causing a similar panic to that occurring around the MV Sun Sea. The Canadian Government saw fit to detain the passengers of the Ocean Lady based on unfounded suspicions. In spite of Ottawa trying to use Section 86 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which allows for secret evidence in closed hearings, all the men were eventually released when the Canada Border Services Agency was forced to admit they had no evidence of any terrorist connections. The targeting of those on the MV Sun Sea is similarly unfounded and unjust.

Before these refugees had even reached our shores, they were already being described in racist and hysterical terms. The pernicious and prominent use of the term “illegal” and the malicious labelling of refugees as “criminals” and “terrorists” should be sickening. This is the epitome of racial prejudice; these 490 asylum-seekers have been presumed to be potential terrorists and subsequently jailed because of their country of origin, viewed as guilty by the government and many Canadians before their arrival. While the government and the media talk about a need to deter “criminals” from viewing this land as a safe haven, they continue to make and support increasingly exclusionary policies that serve to criminalise those seeking humanitarian refuge and freedom. The language of describing migrants as “human cargo” is similarly vile; it is a dehumanizing narrative which frames migration in fundamentally exploitative terms.

People in this country seem to have lost the awareness that a refugee is a person fleeing political or personal persecution. The people who risked their lives to travel to Canada on the MV Sun Sea are people who fled their homes to save their lives. Canada’s response has been to jail them. Canadians should be outraged. This unfortunately does not seem to be the case. Instead, the few social justice advocates who have the compassion to stand for migrant justice for all are themselves being targeted in the public sphere, and face of accusations of being “terrorist sympathizers”.

Broader social justice movements need to rally behind those who are already standing up, and behind the 490 people who are being condemned to detention for no reasons other than racism and hysteria. For some, there is no choice around whether or not to stand up for migrant justice—it is experienced as a responsibility, a sense that must spread throughout and beyond social justice movements. This is a time for unflinching solidarity and compassion. This is a time to fight back against racism and colonial attitudes of entitlement and superiority.

This national turn against refugees is not an isolated incident. It is part of an ongoing attack on migrants that has seen American-style immigration raids on the streets of Toronto; it has seen the notion of “reasonable accommodation”, and accompanying xenophobia and simplistic caricatures of culture, creep into the formal public discourse; it has seen new waves of hate crimes perpetrated against migrant communities at their places of worship and in their own neighbourhoods; it has seen the targeting of migrant justice advocates; and it has seen a shocking increase of openly racist discourse in our media.

Considering our history, though, this should not come as a surprise; indeed, it all fits neatly into Canada’s long history of racism and colonialism. It fits in so well that the broader public and even liberal discourse right now sounds inseparable from that being put forward by the Aryan Guard in Calgary and known Neo-Nazi organizer Paul Fromm in Victoria. While people should not be surprised that this is the case, they should be angry—and they should mobilise. Such racism is unacceptable; it should have no safe haven in our communities. We must consistently confront these racist and colonial discourses and those who preach and practise such hate in our communities.

This issue is one of racism, and also one of colonialism; it is not insignificant that the point of arrival for the MV Sun Sea is on the coast of so-called British Columbia. The coast and mountains are almost entirely unceded Indigenous territory for which no treaties exist. That the political context which Tamils are fleeing from is similarly a conflict over sovereignty and territory is an important part of this story; so is the recognition that all people on this land who are not part of Indigenous nations are here because of histories of migration and a history of colonialism. To quote a prominent migrant justice organization, “no one is illegal, Canada is illegal.”

The Tamil people who were aboard the MV Sun Sea are members of a population that has had their territory stolen and their sovereignty denied. Since the end of the “civil war” in Sri Lanka, there has been an ever-shrinking amount of humanitarian safe space for the persecuted Tamil minority. These 490 people boarded ships headed for Canada seeking asylum in what is alleged to be a safe haven country with an official doctrine of so-called multiculturalism, a country that is also the home of the largest Tamil diasporic population. Instead of safety, these people are being put into prisons in a country which is essentially saying to them that they are unwanted and unacceptable. It should be clear that this practice and these policies of official racism are what are unacceptable. It is the responsibility of all people, especially those in social justice movements, to make sure that there is safe space in this country for these people and for all people who come here as refugees, and that we also continue to make safe spaces for all people who are targeted on a daily basis because their very existence challenges the dominant norms of our colonial supremacist culture.

With respect to the people who arrived on Canada’s shores aboard the MV Sun Sea, the call from people across this land should be: Let Them Stay, Let Them be Free.


South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy: “Canada Must Respect the Human Rights of Refugees”

Four hundred and ninetytwo Tamil men, women, and children, including some pregnant women have arrived in Vancouver, BC, after several months on the sea aboard the modified cargo ship, Sun Sea. They are being held in custody while the Immigration and Refugee Board hears their claims for refugee status.

Processing of claims for refugee status should be a routine matter, performed according to international law governing refugees and currently established law and practice in Canada. But the arrival of Tamil refugees on the Sun Sea has been surrounded by fear-mongering and racism by the Government of Canada through its spokesman, Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews. The Government of Canada has chosen to frame the arrival of these unfortunate people to our shores in desperate quest of safety as “terrorist” and “criminal”, the two words most likely to resonate with a public fed daily on fear from these sources. The refugees being Tamil are assumed to be terrorists, and the people who enabled them to come are assumed criminals, “people smugglers,” who have profited enormously from this trade. Adding more fuel to the fear and hate he has generated, Minister Toews has cast this as a “test case,” since he sees hordes of refugees waiting to invade our shores depending on the outcome of these hearings. The responsibility of the Immigration and Refugee Board to act in a manner that is according to the law, fair, and humane is made heavier by the smog of fear and racism produced by the Government of Canada.

The blindness of the Government of Canada to the conditions in Sri Lanka that have driven the Tamil refugees to embark on the Sun Sea merely adds to its deplorable record in recognizing the suffering of people under oppressive regimes except when it suits its interest to do so.

For twenty five years Sri Lanka had been in the grip of a civil war that produced one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world and sent many thousands abroad in search of refuge. These conditions did not disappear magically with the military victory of the Sri Lankan Government over the LTTE in May, 2009, when, denying the appeals of the UN and the international community for restraint the Government bombed civilian populations and launched rocket attacks on hospitals and denied access to relief agencies and journalists. Sri Lankan journalists daring to report on the situation were driven into exile or murdered. More than 7.000 innocent civilians died; at least 13000 were seriously injured; around 12,000 people “disappeared”; and 300,000 people became internally displaced. Many of the displaced are still in camps, unable to return to their destroyed homes; many of the combatants are still incarcerated and subjected to torture.

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) condemns the Government of Canada’s hypocritical use of the discourse of human rights and its current racist fear-mongering against Tamil refugees. We demand fair and humane treatment for the refugees who have come on the Sun Sea and all people who seek Canada as a refuge to rebuild their lives following the cynical and brutal abuse of human rights by their governments and/or the devastations of war.

Online petition:


Canadian Council for Refugees Statement regarding arrival of Tamil refugee claimants by boat on West Coast

Following the arrival of close to 500 Tamil refugee claimants on the West Coast aboard the MV Sun Sea, the Canadian Council for Refugees welcomes their processing by the authorities in accordance with Canadian and international law. Canada is bound by its international obligations not to send any refugees back to persecution. The story of each claimant must therefore be heard and examined on an individual basis.

Unlike the situation in 1939, when Canada turned away some 900 Jewish refugees on the SS St Louis, Canada has in place laws which provide for the protection of refugees, while also addressing issues of criminality and security.

The arrival of 500 claimants at one time clearly presents practical and logistical challenges, but the numbers are still small in terms of claims made in Canada (less than 2% of the average number of claims made annually in Canada in recent years). In addition, measures adopted by the Canadian government in 2009 have resulted in a dramatic decline in the numbers of persons able to make refugee claims in Canada. If current trends continue, Canada will receive about a third fewer claimants in 2010 compared to 2009.

The numbers are also very small in the international context. The UN Refugee Agency reports that there are over 15 million refugees in the world, and Pakistan, Iran and Syria each host over a million.

Human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, the country fled by the claimants, are well-documented and confirmed by the high acceptance rate of Sri Lankan claimants in Canada (91% in 2009). While the end of the armed conflict has led to some improvements in the security situation, there continue to be significant human rights violations. In recently published guidelines* on Sri Lankan refugee claims, the UN Refugee Agency notes that groups potentially at risk of persecution in Sri Lanka include journalists, human rights activists, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and persons suspected of having links with the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). In addition to protecting refugees fleeing persecution, Canada should redouble its efforts to promote peace and human rights respect in Sri Lanka.

There have been repeated suggestions, not backed by any credible evidence, that some of the passengers on the MV Sun Sea are members of the Tamil Tigers. Some of the allegations appear to be coming directly or indirectly from the Sri Lankan government, which has a long history of attempting to discredit opponents as “terrorists”; and labelling Tamil civilians as Tigers. It is important that Canada and Canadians not
take sides with the potential persecutor, and that each claim be examined without bias. Canadian law provides for the identification of individuals who have committed serious human rights violations or who represent a risk to Canadian security. Such persons are ineligible for refugee status and may be removed from Canada.

The Canadian Council for Refugees in no way condones the activities of smugglers who exploit for financial gain the desperation of refugees, including perhaps the passengers of the MV Sun Sea. Nevertheless, many refugees have no choice but to use irregular means to flee persecution and international law prohibits them being penalized for illegal entry. Many Canadians would not be alive today if they or their parents had not paid smugglers to help them escape persecution.

Canadians can be proud of the fact that our country provides access to a fair and independent refugee system. In this way, Canada has over the years saved the lives of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing
persecution. Whether they arrive by plane, foot or boat, people seeking refuge from human rights abuses have a right to an individual hearing on the reasons why they fled.

In compliance with international standards, refugee claimants are not generally detained on arrival in Canada. The same rules should apply to these claimants: they should not be detained beyond the time necessary to establish their identity, unless there are particular reasons in individual cases. Children should not be detained.

It is extremely regrettable that the Canadian government’s public comments on the boat arrivals have focused on suspicions of associations with terrorism and smuggling, thus encouraging negative public opinion. All governments have a responsibility to build public support for refugees by affirming the need to respect international obligations and by firmly countering any tendencies towards xenophobic reactions in the population. The Canadian Council for Refugees looks to the Canadian government to assume its proper leadership role in this regard.


VSW statement of solidarity with 490 Tamil refugees aboard the MV Sun Sea

We at Vancouver Status of Women express our solidarity with and support for the 490 Tamil refugees, including women and children, aboard the MV Sun Sea. Arriving Friday, 13 August, 2010, the boat was stopped near Esquimault and boarded by the Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The refugees have been detained and many of the children on board have been seized by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

There is no evidence to substantiate the fear-mongering by the Canadian government, led by Minister Jason Kenney, and avowed neo-Nazis such as Paul Fromm and the Aryan Guard (a.k.a. Canada First Immigration Reform Committee), that the refugees are terrorist Tamil Tigers. Last October, 76 Tamil migrants arrived on board the Ocean Lady and were eventually released from detention when the CBSA admitted that they had no evidence of a terrorist connection. In the aftermath of the decades-long conflict in Sri Lanka, 80,000 Tamils remain in refugee camps while some 400,000 displaced Tamils are eking out their living in communities with destroyed homes and infrastructure. Just this past month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a panel to investigate war crimes and genocidal acts committed by
the Sri Lankan government against Tamils.

The refugees aboard the MV Sun Sea have survived a long, dangerous and difficult journey (one refugee death has been confirmed during the ship’s passage) and it is shameful that the Canadian government would deploy their vulnerability to escalate an atmosphere of fear and insecurity that has granted so much power and wealth to the North American military-surveillance-prison industrial complex in the wake of 9-11. The Canadian government is wastefully spending resources on incarcerating tired, scared and hungry refugees (including women and children) rather than ensuring their health. The refugees are being scapegoated as “thieves of national resources”; when in fact it is Canada’s own neoliberal and militaristic policies that have created an increasing gap between rich and poor.

Canada, which extols itself as a humanitarian haven, in fact accepts fewer than 20,000 refugees per year, which is less than 0.1% of the world’s displaced population. Some 20 million refugees are making their claims in neighbouring countries in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Under the leadership of Jason Kenney, deportations have increased by over 50% in the last decade, with 13,000 deportations in the past year alone. The number of approved asylum claims has also dropped by 56%. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has recently been forced to issue public apologies for the past racist immigration policies, including the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Komagata Maru incident.

We reject the amnesiac and xenophobic response of the Canadian government. A government that continues to enforce occupation and colonization of indigenous territories and communities, and is complicit in maintaining Western imperialism globally, does not have the legitimate authority to criminalize the movement of colonized peoples when mobility is often the last recourse they have for survival. We demand the immediate release and granting of asylum to all the MV Sun Sea Tamil refugees, the immediate reunification of families that have been separated, and the supports they need to begin their lives here with dignity.


Canadian Peace Alliance: “Let the Tamil Migrants Stay”

The Canadian Peace Alliance, Canada’s largest peace network, urges the government of Canada to respect the human rights of the Tamil refugees arriving in British Colombia. The Tamil people have already endured decades of repression at the hands of the Sri Lankan government, culminating in a war in 2009 which resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and the illegal use of detention camps for the Tamil minority. The Harper government failed to strongly condemn this ethnic cleansing. Canada must not further contribute to these ongoing abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka by denying sanctuary to these refugees.

We are alarmed that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews would publicly accuse many of the migrants of being “terrorists”. This statement has the effect of branding all migrants as potential threats thus increasing racism and xenophobia. Worse, these remarks will result in increasing racism against Tamil communities in Canada. The minister has produced no evidence of these claims and he must rescind the remarks.

Further, the assertion from Toews that these migrants are not engaging in proper procedures for refugee claims misrepresents the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Tamil minority suffers from severe curtailing
of their rights and have few options for fleeing to find safety.

The people on the MV Sun Sea are in need of safe haven. Especially given the Canadian government’s recent failure to condemn Sri Lankan war crimes, there is a strong moral imperative to give refuge to these
people seeking safety, security and a better life. The current government must treat all migrants with respect and compassion, particularly those that are fleeing state sponsored violence.

For more information on the Tamil struggle please see:


British Columbia Civil Liberties Association: Canada must ensure that rights of migrants are protected

With a boatload of up to 500 Tamil migrants expected to land in British Columbia today, the BCCLA is calling on the Canadian government to ensure that their fundamental human rights are respected. Canada must also ensure that the mistakes made in the handling of many of the Tamil migrants arriving on the MV Ocean Lady last October not be repeated.

In October 2009, a vessel carrying 76 Sri Lankan Tamils seeking asylum in Canada arrived off the coast of Vancouver Island. Each of these individuals claimed to be refugees fleeing persecution from the Sinhalese government in Sri Lanka. According to press reports, they were detained, and before they even had an opportunity to present any evidence supporting their refugee claims, the RCMP contacted the Sri Lankan government about certain of the detainees, placing their families in Sri Lanka at risk for reprisal, if their claims of persecution were true.

Canada’s conduct with respect to last October’s group of Tamil migrants is very troubling. “Canada simply cannot be so cavalier with its disclosure of information to countries with poor human rights records, particularly with respect to individuals claiming asylum in our country;” said Robert Holmes, President of the BCCLA.

In the weeks and months that followed, the government continued to detain many of the 76 migrants under its power of investigatory detention. In January 2010, the government sought to hold secret hearings to present evidence that they needed more time to investigate suspicions of inadmissibility, since it did not have any evidence showing that the detainees posed a risk to public safety. Nonetheless, following the filing of an abuse of process complaint by some of the migrants, the government authorized the release of all of the remaining detainees while their asylum applications are pending.

“Given that the government had no evidence showing that the refugees posed any danger to Canada, it is incredible that they were held in detention for months,” said Holmes. “Canada needs to ensure that the migrants now landing in British Columbia are not subjected to the same unjustified detentions.”


Press Release Poetry Collective Statement

Press Release poet collective stands in solidarity with our 490 Tamil brothers and sisters aboard the MV Sun Sea, whose long, dangerous and brave journey for survival and a dignified life has been ended with detention, family separation and the threat of incarceration and deportation by the colonial Canadian government.

We challenge the fear-mongering discourse deployed by the Canadian government under Jason Kenney, and the racist actions undertaken by avowed neo-Nazis such as Paul Fromm and the Aryan Guard (or Canada’s First Immigration Reform Committee). There is no evidence to substantiate that the refugees are terrorists. 76 Tamil migrants arriving on the Ocean Lady this past October were eventually released after the CBSA admitted that they had no proof of a terrorist connection. We know that in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan conflict, 80,000 Tamils remain in refugee camps and some 400,000 displaced Tamils are struggling to survive in communities where homes and infrastructure have been destroyed. We know because many of us *are *displaced peoples fleeing the the ravages of colonization in our homelands. This historical process of colonization, in which Canada is complicit as a First World, white-settler nation, continues to benefit Canada while it harms and displaces people around the world.

We challenge the Canadian government’s attempt to deploy refugees’ vulnerability to escalate an atmosphere of fear and insecurity which has granted so much power and wealth to the North American military-surveillance-prison industrial complex in the wake of 9-11. Blaming them for “draining national resources” tries to turn the public eye from the neoliberal and militaristic policies Canada has aggressively pursued to make the rich ever more indomitable and the poor ever more desperate and exploitable.

Why was the boat stopped and boarded by THREE arms of government-organized violence (Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police)? Why have our brothers and sisters been detained? Is Canada declaring war on poor, displaced peoples? Is not Canada responsible for the displacement of mass numbers of our brothers and sisters in the South through its war on Afghanistan, support of Israel, mining operations and free trade agreements? In fact, is not Canada responsible for the *continuing *displacement of indigenous communities and theft of their territories and resources? Who is the real “thief” or “drainer” here?

Even as Canada bills itself as a humanitarian haven, it accepts in fact fewer than 20,000 refugees per year, less than 0.1% of the world’s displaced population. Even this small number of refugees admitted to Canada has decreased dramatically under the xenophobic policies of Minister Jason Kenney. Rather than coming to Canada, 20 million refugees worldwide make their claims in countries neighbouring their own in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. We do not live in a bubble. Given our global relationships, Canada has a responsibility to do much, much more to acknowledge and remedy the violence that causes people to be displaced, and to make room in our communities for those we have helped displace around the world. We have no inherent claim to this land over any other human beings, and our dignity is intertwined with the dignity of all others who seek to live with us in safety. To deny their humanity and dignity is to lose our own.

We demand the full, immediate release of all MV Sun Sea refugees, reunification of their families, adequate care for their health, and access to the resources they need to begin their lives here with dignity.

To our brothers and sisters aboard the MV Sun Sea, we extend our love and support. WE BELIEVE IN YOUR COURAGE, YOUR RESILIENCY AND YOUR SURVIVAL!

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