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New trial ordered in Sri Lankan refugee smuggling case

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Prime Minister Stephen Harper aboard the MV Ocean Lady in 2011. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper aboard the MV Ocean Lady in 2011. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

Four men who were previously acquitted of human trafficking in relation to bringing 76 undocumented Sri Lankan refugees to Vancouver Island in 2009 have been given a new trial after a successful Crown appeal.

The four accused, Francis Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah, argued a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that they were charged under was overly broad.

They argued “that it criminalizes the actions of individuals such as humanitarian workers or family members” helping to get refugees into Canada, and that it was never Parliament’s intention to create legislation that would harm humanitarian efforts.

An earlier court decision agreed. But now, a three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel has reversed that decision.

“It is evident that some (parliamentary) members expressed concern that ‘people doing humanitarian work, reverends and saintly people’ not be prosecuted under (section) 117,” Justice Kathryn Neilson wrote.

“The record as a whole, however, demonstrates any attempt at drafting an exemption for such individuals foundered because of definitional difficulties and the overriding wish to retain a strong offence without ‘loopholes.’”

On Oct. 17, 2009, the freight ship MV Ocean Lady was intercepted off the coast of Vancouver Island.

Authorities discovered 76 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers, who said they paid $5,000 to board the ship in Indonesia or Thailand, and had to pay a total of up to $40,000 for the voyage to Canada.




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