Tamil refugee claimants taking advantage of us

Canadians don't like queue-jumpers and the smugglers who bring them here

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The Gazette, Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Canada is a nation of immigrants, and in that sense we are all boat people.

You only have to travel to Grosse Ile, the quarantine station downriver from Quebec City, to be reminded of that. There in 1847, the Summer of Sorrow, 5,000 Irish immigrants perished of typhus and other diseases. Many more died in sheds in Point St. Charles in Montreal.

Waves of eastern Europeans landed in Montreal and rode west on the new Canadian Pacific Railway, where they transformed the Prairies into the breadbasket of the world. They had names like Hnatyshyn and Romanow, and their descendants became governor-general of Canada and premier of Saskatchewan. The current governor-general is herself a refugee from poverty and oppression in her homeland of Haiti.

The last wave of boat people came from Vietnam in the 1970s, and while the parents might have run depanneurs, many of their children went to university.

It is precisely because Canada is a beacon of liberty, and a land of opportunity, that people from around the globe still flock to this country.

Most of those new Canadians, 250,000 every year, come to this country through normal channels. They take a number. They stand in line. They wait their turn.

And then there are those, like the nearly 500 boat people on the Sun Sea, who decided to join us whether they were invited or not.

If there's one thing that makes Canadians angry, it's people jumping the queue. This is a country where people stand in line to buy coffee at Tim Horton's.

This voyage was organized by human traffickers, the worst kind of scum. And the Tamil migrants evidently paid or promised to pay up to $50,000 each for their passage, for the privilege of spending months huddled together on deck on their voyage across the Pacific from Sri Lanka to Canada. The Canadian government does not rule out the possibility that some of the $25 million in proceeds from the highly organized voyage could end up in the hands of the Tamil Tigers, a militant organization that is banned in this country.

But apparently, we are under every obligation to take these people in, because they are claiming refugee status.

Under international law, we were unable to intercept such a ship on the high seas, and force it to turn around. Once the ship entered Canadian waters, rather than arresting the captain and crew, the navy and coast guard escorted the Sun Sea to a naval base at Esquimalt in British Columbia.

Would the next step involve putting the passengers on a couple of jumbo jets and sending them home? Nope. The 490 passengers have been held in quarantine, processed, and given medical examinations.

Because they are refugee claimants, they are accorded the same treatment as landed immigrants, and can invoke all the privileges of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is pursuant to a Supreme Court ruling in 1985. There is actually something the government can do about this, as Ezra Levant noted elsewhere yesterday, and that would be to invoke the constitutional override of the notwithstanding clause of the Charter setting the judgment aside for five years.

This is something Ottawa has never done. But as those who were present at the creation of the Charter, including Peter Lougheed, have attested, the notwithstanding clause was the dealmaker, and there would have been no Charter without it.

It is one thing to be sympathetic to the plight of the Tamils. And surely no one abandons their homeland, and sets sail on a hazardous voyage without good reasons.

It is quite another for human traffickers to make a mockery of Canada's territorial and political sovereignty. Nor can there be any doubt that this is a test case or a probe of Canada's capacity to fend off rogue ships before they reach our shores. And Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has warned that two more ships might already be in the water bound for Canada. Apparently, the first and only line of defence is to stop these ships before they ever leave their home ports. We would have to rely on the Sri Lankans for that. Criminal sanctions could also be considered against Tamils living in Canada who can be proved to have sent money home to bring relatives here illegally. And then there is the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution - it's there for a reason, use it or lose it.

In the longer view of history, the voyage of the Sun Sea might be seen as an epic journey by brave migrants who risked everything for the opportunity to begin their lives anew. But we should not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in this manner. Our hospitality, to say nothing of our generosity of spirit, is being abused.

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