Canada Police to charge suspected migrant smugglers

Wednesday, 15 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is preparing to lay charges against several alleged migrant smugglers who helped bring 76 Sri Lankans to the British Columbia coast last fall, according to two sources briefed on the investigation.

The sources said the pending criminal charges concern suspected organizers of the voyage of the Ocean Lady, which was intercepted in Canadian waters on 17 October, 2009, after crossing from Malaysia.

The charges would be the first to result from intensive Canadian police investigations that are probing the smugglers suspected of ferrying 568 Sri Lankan migrants across the Pacific aboard two frail cargo ships.

In addition to the Ocean Lady, the RCMP has been investigating those suspected of playing a role in the voyage of the Sun Sea, which arrived off Vancouver Island on 12 August after carrying 492 Sri Lankans from Thailand.

A Thai official told the National Post that Thailand had arrested a Canadian citizen, who was then “handed over” to Canadian authorities. The official did not want to be named and said the case was considered classified and active.

An RCMP spokesman declined to confirm whether the Toronto-area, Sri Lankan-born businessman named by the Thais was a suspect in the Sun Sea investigation.

“Only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges would the RCMP confirm the nature of the charges laid and the identity of the individual(s) involved,” said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Marc LaPorte.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s special envoy on human smuggling hinted two weeks ago that arrests could be coming. “I think there are likely to be some arrests in Canada, but … that would be a responsibility of the RCMP and prosecutors in any case,” Ward Elcock told the CBC. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some arrests in the not-so-distant future.”

The Cambodian-flagged Ocean Lady was used to smuggle cocaine, explosives and weapons before it was seized off the West Coast just over a year ago. It was owned by Ray Ocean Transport and operated by Sunship Maritime Services, according to shipping records. Both companies appear to exist only on paper, stated National Post.

In October, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stood aboard the Ocean Lady to announce new legislation they said would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers, impose mandatory prison sentences on them and hold ship owners and operators responsible.

Under the existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, it is illegal to knowingly “organise, induce, aid or abet” the entry of a person who does not have the required visa or passport. The sentence is up to 10 years. Anyone convicted of smuggling a group of 10 or more migrants can be sentenced to life and fined $1-million.