‘One principle of asylum law is that you seek protection at the first available opportunity. You don’t asylum shop,’ said Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The Canadian Minister made this comments in regard to the human smuggling ship MV Ocean Lady arrived off the West Coast carrying 76 Sri Lankan asylum seekers. More than two years after the ship arrived the first public hearing to determine whether to accept them as refugees took place on Monday.
At the first public hearing to determine whether to accept 76 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who came to Canada on board smuggling ship MV Ocean Lady, the first person to be tried contradicted himself on several matters raising questions of credibility.
Minister Jason Kenney said none of those on board the Ocean Lady had come directly from Sri Lanka. “Some passed through two or three countries”.
People who transit through multiple countries have had other opportunities to seek protection, the Canadian Minister further said.
Stopping human smuggling ships became a Canadian government priority after the arrivals of the Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea, which reached Canada in 10 months carrying 492 Sri Lankans. A Conservative anti-human smuggling act is now before Parliament, says the National Post.
While the bill has not yet become law, federal lawyers appear to be paying close attention to the Ocean Lady hearings. The Canada Border Services Agency has filed notice that it intends to intervene in each of the 76 cases.
Organized by a Bangkok-based human smuggling ring, the Ocean Lady sailed from Indonesia and made stops in Thailand and the Philippines before it was intercepted by the Canadian Navy and RCMP off Vancouver Island on Oct. 17, 2009.
All those on board made refugee claims. They were later released and most moved to Toronto, home to a large ethnic Tamil Sri Lankan population.
The four suspected operators of the ship were arrested in Toronto last June on human smuggling charges.
At Monday’s hearing, a Tamil man said after his father disappeared in 2000 he was “relentlessly” sought by the LTTE recruiters but his mother fended them off by giving them money, some of which was sent by his uncle in Canada. He said he had never joined the LTTE.
But under questioning, he was asked to explain why he had given several notably different versions of his story. For example, while he wrote in his refugee claim he was “relentlessly” recruited by the LTTE, he told an immigration official upon arriving in Canada they had only asked him to join once, while he testified Monday it happened just “two or three” times.
He also contradicted himself on matters such as whether his siblings had been targeted by recruiters, whether one or two uniformed men had abducted him and on details of how he was released after his abduction. Credibility is often a key issue in refugee hearings.
A decision is not expected until at least next month.