Would-be migrants will face tough scrutiny: Kenney

Posted by admin on Oct 20th, 2009

Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has signalled there should be no rush to unconditionally embrace as refugees the 76 men, believed to be from Sri Lanka, who arrived on a rusting boat off Canada’s West Coast over the weekend. Kenney said Tuesday he views the case as one of human smuggling, something Canada and other countries must try to combat. “We obviously don’t want to encourage people to get into rickety boats, pay thousands of dollars, cross the oceans and come to Canada illegally,” Kenney said Tuesday in an interview.

“Without prejudice to this particular group of people, all I can say is that as a country we need to make sure we are not creating a kind of perverse incentive for people to try to come to the country through these kind of really dangerous circumstances.”

Kenney said that if the men make refugee claims, they would be processed in the regular manner and according to the rules laid out in the Refugee Protection Act.

He also stressed their backgrounds will be checked by Canadian security authorities — and anyone found to belong to a terrorist organization, such as the Tamil Tigers, or to have a criminal record will be declared inadmissible.

Kenney, who has long complained bogus refugee claimants are abusing Canada’s system, says he plans to bring in legislation to overhaul the system before Christmas. He used the arrival of the latest group of potential refugees to restate his unhappiness with the existing system.

“We want to ensure that we don’t end up with a two-tier immigration system, one tier for legal law-abiding immigrants who wait patiently to come to Canada the legal way, and another that incentizes (sic) false refugee claimants to come through the back door,” he said.

Earlier in the House of Commons, Kenney said all the men have been provided legal counsel and that they would go through the normal screening processes. He gave no sign the government was prepared to do anything to speed the process.

Opposition New Democrats have pressed Kenney to recognize the desperate human rights and living conditions in Sri Lanka fuelling an exodus of people, mostly Tamils.

The 76 illegal migrants were taken from a ship, named the Ocean Lady, which was intercepted by authorities and towed to Victoria on Sunday. The men, who reportedly paid $45,000 each for a shot at a new life in Canada, are being held in Vancouver.

Martin Collacott, a former Canadian ambassador to Sri Lanka, said a hard-headed approach to asylum seekers from that country makes sense, given its long history of civil war between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

“There is a security question,” Collacott said in an interview. “Are they simply Tamil Tiger supporters or actual Tamil Tiger fighters who are fleeing so the authorities won’t prosecute them?”

The federal government has declared the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization.

Collacott, who was ambassador to Sri Lanka in the 1980s, also said the men’s cases will test Canada’s definition of who should qualify as a refugee.

“Now that the civil war is over, can they really claim they are persecuted?” he asked.

Opposition Liberal and New Democrat MPs said officials must ensure the men are subjected to thorough questioning to determine whether they are bona fide refugees or a security risk.

“If there are one or two terrorists, no, we can’t accept them,” said Olivia Chow, the NDP immigration critic.

Chow stressed, however, the men deserve the chance to make their case.

“We should give refugee claimants a fair hearing. It’s case by case whether they meet the refugee standard. We should not prejudge.”

Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, the party’s immigration critic, agreed the men should get the same treatment as anyone else who makes a refugee claim from within Canada.

He also said officials handling their claims should have “access to all the intelligence” available about individuals’ backgrounds vis-a-vis the Tamil Tigers so they can make an informed decision about who stays and who goes.

“They can’t be asleep on the job. They have to know who is who,” Bevilacqua said in an intervi

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