Canada must ensure that rights of migrants are protected

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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.”

Robert Holmes, President, 604-838-6856
Carmen Cheung, Counsel, 604-630-9758