Gov't worried Tamil Tigers are onboard migrant ship
Ottawa is concerned about who is on a B.C.-bound ship that may be carrying Tamil Tigers, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday.
The government is monitoring a Thai cargo ship that is reported to be carrying about 200 Sri Lankans, including members of the Tamil Tigers, to Canada's west coast, Toews said.
He said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam -- a banned terrorist organization in Canada -- are behind operations that smuggle people into Canada, but would not comment on specifics of what the government is doing about the situation.
"I can assure you that we are concerned about who is on that ship and why they might be coming to Canada," he said after a luncheon speech Monday.
A Sri Lankan newspaper reported last month that the MV Sun Sea was heading to British Columbia with 200 migrants on board, including members of the Tamil Tigers, the military arm of the Tamil separatist movement.
However, the Canadian Tamil Congress says Ottawa should reserve judgment until the ship arrives.
"We don't condone these ship voyages. It's very risky, it's deadly," said David Poopalapillai, a spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress. "But we understand, at the same time, why these people are coming. Desperate times push people to desperate measures."
Poopalapillai said the government is in danger of "painting everybody with the same brush," based on biased information from the Sri Lankan government.
The government should let Canadian law evaluate whether the people on the ship should be considered legal refugees, he said.
"If you find any people inadmissible after putting them through due process, then yes, go after them."
On Monday, Toews said that while the government is committed to protecting genuine refugees, it will thwart those who try to abuse Canada's immigration policies.
Toews was in Toronto to give a speech on national security to the Economic Club of Canada.
Among many concerns for potential terrorist threats in Canada, Toews singled out "marine human smuggling" as a particular focus of the government.
"I think it's important to send a message that Canada should not be viewed as easy entry into North America and that we are very concerned about security issues," he said after the speech.
Last October, a ship carrying 76 Sri Lankan migrants was intercepted in Canadian waters off the B.C. coast after crossing the Pacific from Sri Lanka.
The group on board the Ocean Lady claimed to be fleeing persecution after the country's bloody 26-year civil war.
There were concerns some had links to the Tamil Tigers, but an Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman has said all 76 of the Sri Lankan migrants from that ship have been released and their refugee claims will be processed over the next 19 months or so.
Toews also outlined a recent history of terrorism in Canada, from the Air India bombing in 1985 to the thwarted plans of the so-called Toronto 18 homegrown terror cell.
Toews stressed the importance of approaching terrorism on several levels.
"There is no one-size fits all approach to countering violent extremism," he said during his speech.
Beyond concerns of safety, Toews also touched on the economic impact of terrorist threats.
In the past there has been a "thickening" of the Canadian and United States border whenever threats arise.
However, Toews said that is something both sides are working hard to avoid in the future, given that approximately $1.6 billion crosses the border in trade everyday.
"Security is not only about preserving our personal safety, but also the integrity of the economy and our economic system," he said.