Canada’s tough talk on Tamil migrants backfires
Published Friday, September 21, 2012 6:00PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, September 28, 2012 9:47AM PDT
Canada’s Federal Court has upheld a ruling that warns tough talk by the Harper government against Tamil migrants is putting them in more danger back in Sri Lanka – and making it harder to send them back.
The ruling says that because the government publicly connected the Tamil migrant ships to the threat of terrorism from the Tamil Tigers, everyone on board was tarred by the same brush.
“You were on a boat with Tamil Tigers, says the government of Canada. I therefore find that you face more than the mere possibility of interrogation and thus torture in Sri Lanka,” Immigration and Refugee Board member Michal Mivasair said in the ruling of a migrant who can only be identified as B384.
“Each and every one of them is exposed to the same level of danger,” said B342’s lawyer, Gurpreet Badh, adding that he thinks the government “overreacted.”
The federal government appealed the ruling, but it was upheld in Federal Court last week.
The ruling is the latest development in a lengthy legal battle about how to handle the arrival of two migrant ships, the M.V. Sun Sea and the M.V. Ocean lady, that brought almost 600 people from Sri Lanka to Canada in 2009 and 2010.
Those on board claimed to be fleeing a civil war in Sri Lanka after the defeat in 2009 of the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group in Sri Lanka that is classified as a terrorist organization in Canada.
The federal government’s reaction was initially to jail all migrants to find out who might be a Tamil Tiger.
“As long as there is any doubt about people constituting any threat to Canada they will be detained,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at the time.
Some migrants did have terrorist links. 23 migrants were deemed inadmissible to Canada.
But as the legal battles have worn on 34 migrants’ refugee claims have been accepted, and about 470 are still waiting to hear if they will stay.
Going back has become even more dangerous, one migrant, who cannot be identified, told CTV News.
She says that when the Sri Lankan government found out she was on one of the ships her father in law was thrown in jail.
“He was taken for interrogation and arrested and kept in custody for three days,” she said through a translator.
The government statements connecting terrorists and the migrant vessels mean that even if someone had no refugee claim, sending them back could be dangerous, said immigration lawyer Doug Cannon.
“It’s creating refugees where there might not have been a legitimate claim previously,” he said.
Federal public safety minister Vic Toews said the government is trying to keep Canada safe.
“Courts make rulings all the time. We take them into account when we’re making decisions and we’ll decide whether we will appeal them or not,” he said.