The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that individuals who help undocumented migrants enter Canada by steering a ship, acting as a lookout or cooking meals cannot automatically be branded as human smugglers. Refugee and civil liberties groups welcomed the court’s pronouncement.
Recent judgments by the high court ruled that acts of humanitarian assistance or aid between family members do not amount to people smuggling under Canada’s immigration law.
In one judgment, the court ruled in favour of four Tamils from strife-torn Sri Lanka who arrived in British Columbia in 2010 aboard the MV Sun Sea, a boat carrying 492 passengers. The organizers of the voyage promised passage to Canada for payments ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 a person, but the Thai crew abandoned the ship shortly after departure. During the journey, three men involved in the case performed such routine tasks as meal preparation, navigation and working in the engine room. The court held the three are entitled to new refugee hearings after initially being declared inadmissible to Canada for engaging in people smuggling.
The men can escape being barred from Canada under the relevant provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act “if they merely aided in the illegal entry of other refugees or asylum-seekers in the course of their collective flight to safety,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the majority judgment.
In a second ruling, the Supreme Court ordered new trials for four individuals who were criminally charged with people smuggling after arriving off the coast of Vancouver in 2009 aboard the MV Ocean Lady, carrying 76 Tamil migrants.
The Supreme Court however, said the provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act under which they were charged, was unconstitutional and overly broad.
The Crown’s interpretation of the provision would mean “a father offering a blanket to a shivering child, or friends sharing food aboard a migrant vessel, could be subject to prosecution,” said Justice McLachlin.
The court found the interpretation incompatible with the refugee-protection goals of the federal immigration law. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, an intervener in the case, applauded the ruling.
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