Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.


The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Ship carrying nearly 500 migrants docks near Victoria

VICTORIA -- A ship carrying nearly 500 migrants docked this morning at CFB Esquimalt near Victoria, sailing into a vigorous debate about how Canada should treat them.

The MV Sun Sea was intercepted off Vancouver Island on Thursday and boarded by Canadians from a flotilla of vessels, including the frigate HMCS Winnipeg. The ship became visible from land as it was entering Esquimalt harbour around 6:10 a.m. local time, shortly after sunrise. Several other vessels were moving near the ship, while members of Canada's Tamil community were on the shore with reporters.

"I'm quite surprised at the size of the ship," said Gary Anandasangaree, a lawyer with the Canadian Tamil Congress. "I was expecting it to be much larger given the number of people."

"It clearly gives us an idea of the type of conditions that could have been inside. Very cramped, given the size."

He said it was "quite a moving experience actually, when you see it coming to shore. I'm sure the anticipation for the people inside is that this is a new beginning."

It's believed that many of the 490 migrants aboard are from Sri Lanka.

A lawyer who represents many Sri Lankans who arrived the same way last year has said he's been told by family members of the MV Sun Sea migrants that women and several children are believed to be on board. Several are ill.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said some of those aboard are "human smugglers and terrorists" and he suggested there will be changes in Canada's laws to prevent future ships from arriving the same way.

"Let me be clear on this point: human smuggling, illegal migration or any other abuses of Canada's immigration system can not and will not be tolerated," he said. "As we deal with this current situation under Canadian law, Canadian officials will look at all available options to strengthen our laws in order to address this unacceptable abuse of international law and Canadian generosity."

As a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, Canada must process all refugee claimants who manage to reach Canadian soil. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association called on the federal government to respect the human rights of those aboard.

"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," the association said in a news release.

Last October, a vessel carrying 76 Sri Lankan Tamils arrived off the coast of Vancouver Island and was escorted to Victoria. All of those claimed refugee status, saying they were fleeing persecution from the Sinhalese government. They were originally detained in jails and most were soon released, but the Canadian Border Services Agency argued 25 potentially had links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a banned terrorist organization and separatist group that lost a 26-year civil war last year.

The agency wanted secret hearings to argue for their continued incarceration, but those hearings were abandoned and the agency never produced any evidence to support their suspicions. By this spring, all the migrants had been released.

"Canada's conduct with respect to last October's group of Tamil migrants is very troubling," said Robert Holmes, president of the civil liberties association. "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."

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus