Hospital readies for migrants as ship approaches B.C.
A hospital in Victoria, B.C., is preparing for the arrival of patients from a migrant ship carrying hundreds of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers.
The old emergency department at Victoria General Hospital is being set up to receive any passengers onboard the MV Sun Sea that may require medical services, according to a press release from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
The health authority says that it has not received any information about the possible medical needs of the boat's passengers, but says it will separate the new arrivals from the general patient population.
There are reports that at least one person has died during the voyage.
The boat, sailing under the flag of Thailand, is expected to reach the B.C. coast within the next day or two.
CTV News has learned that senior government sources believe Tamil Tigers organized the voyage of the cargo ship.
CTV's Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver said senior government sources have informed him that the MV Sun Sea has reached the 200-mile (320-kilometre) radius that is considered Canada's exclusive economic zone.
"These sources are telling me that through intelligence, Canada now knows that it has become a target for international people smugglers…and in this case, they believe that the trafficking is being done by the Tamil Tigers," Oliver told CTV News Channel early Wednesday afternoon.
It's not clear exactly how many people are on board the vessel. However, government authorities are preparing detention facilities for as many as 500 migrants.
Because the government now believes the MV Sun Sea is part of a Tamil Tiger-led smuggling operation, Ottawa intends to "send a message that this simply won't be tolerated."
"In particular, the government knows that at least two other ships are waiting to come to Canada if this one gets in and everyone is accepted as a refugee as the last one was."
Oliver said the government believes that two additional ships had been headed to Canada as well, but were able to have their passengers accepted by other countries along the way.
The MV Sun Sea set sail from Thailand several months ago. Earlier reports suggested the ship was carrying 200 migrants.
Controversy has surrounded the MV Sun Sea for several reasons, including the fact that critics say the migrants are abusing Canada's immigration policy by claiming refugee status.
Published reports have also suggested that some of the ship's passengers may be members of the Tamil Tigers.
Calls for support
Supporters of the migrants, such as Nick Noorani, the founding publisher of Canadian Immigrant magazine, are urging Canadians not to jump to conclusions about the people on board the ship.
"Let the due process of law happen. Let's not start judging people before they've even landed on our shores for God's sake," Noorani told CTV's Canada from Vancouver on Wednesday morning.
Noorani said Canadian authorities must consider how their actions will play out and how they will be judged in future.
"Canada is known as a compassionate country and I believe compassion also dictates that we follow the due process of law before tagging people as terrorists," he said.
The MV Sun Sea isn't the first ship of Tamil migrants to make its way to Canada.
Ten months ago, the Ocean Lady arrived on the B.C. coast with 76 Sri Lankan migrants.
Today, the 76 migrants have been released from custody and their refugee claims are being processed, an Immigration and Refugee Board spokesperson recently confirmed.
While some critics have suggested that such ships should be turned back at sea, Noorani said that won't stop Tamil migrants from trying to escape Sri Lanka.
"We've seen that Australia has done that and it hasn't changed anything, people still keep going to Australia," he said.
Oliver said Canada cannot simply turn back refugees, because it is a signatory on the UN Convention on Refugees.
"So, once anybody gets on a piece of Canadian land and says: ‘I am a refugee,' the Canadian government is legally obligated to take them in, to look after their care until it is determined whether they are genuine refugees or not, which can take a very long time. It can often take years," said Oliver.
In Australia, the tactic has been to divert incoming Tamil migrants to an island that is not part of the country "where they can be subject to intelligence interviews, (or) sent packing on other ships," said Oliver.
With files from The Canadian Press