MV Sun Sea Prosecutions in Canada: Noughts and Crosses

ONE: Item in THE STAR, 27 May 2017, entitled B.C. Supreme Court jury finds man guilty of smuggling Tamil migrants to Canada””

A prosecutor says a man accused of bringing hundreds of Tamil migrants into Canada illegally in a dilapidated cargo ship nearly seven years ago has been found guilty. Crown counsel Charles Hough says a B.C. Supreme Court jury found Kunarobinson Christhurajah guilty Saturday of human smuggling 10 or more persons. It was a retrial for the Sri Lankan national over his involvement in the voyage of the MV Sun Sea that travelled from Thailand to British Columbia’s coast in 2010.

The vessel, which was considered unseaworthy in the open ocean, crossed the Pacific without a formal crew, carrying 492 Sri Lankan Tamils who intended to claim refugee status.

A previous trial heard Christhurajah was an asylum seeker and travelled on the Sun Sea with his wife, while Rajaratnam’s mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law and two cousins were on board.

The  trial which ended in January acquitted three other men who had been accused human smuggling in the case, but the jury at the time was left undecided on Christhurajah. Christhurajah served more than six years in jail before being granted bail in February.

Hough wouldn’t comment further on the case and Christhurajah’s lawyer Casey Leggett also declined to comment. Justice Catherine Wedge did not schedule a sentencing hearing, and Hough says Christhurajah remains free on bail

***  **

TWO: Farrah Merali, in CBC News  Jul 27, 2017, Sri Lankan men accused of human smuggling found not guilty in B.C. Supreme Court”

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has acquitted four Sri Lankan men on charges of human smuggling in relation to the arrival of 76 Tamil migrants on the MV Ocean Lady ship nearly nine years ago. The ramshackle vessel traveled across the Pacific Ocean for an estimated 45 days before it arrived in B.C. in October of 2009.

Four people aboard — Francis Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah — were charged with human smuggling. On Thursday, Justice Arne Silverman found all of them not guilty. “I am satisfied that the sole motive that each of them had was, through mutual aid, to get themselves to Canada,” said Justice Silverman in his 57-page decision.

Crown lawyers tried to argue that the men orchestrated the voyage to make a profit, claiming they collected money from passengers. Justice Silverman said there was not enough evidence to prove that.”While there is evidence of organized crime, I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the activities of any of these four accused were connected to it.”

Human Smuggling laws revamped

Lawyers for the men used the argument of what’s called “mutual assistance” in their defence of the charges of human smuggling.

Phil Rankin

Phil Rankin, the lawyer for Jeyachandran Kanagarajah, said Crown lawyers failed to prove that his client and the four other accused benefited financially from the 45-day long voyage across the Pacific Ocean (Mike Zimmer). That defence arose out of a Supreme Court of Canada judgment that ruled the country”s human smuggling laws were too broad. The court found that two sections of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act do not apply to some people who help refugee claimants reach Canada..

“Those people who are seeking asylum, those people who are assisting their families or those people that who are mutually assisting one another to seek asylum, you cannot convict those people of human smuggling. That’s an exemption that the court created,” said Phil Rankin, lawyer for Jeyachandran Kanagarajah, one of the four men accused.

si-tamil-ship2-300-rcmp-091017Tamil migrants aboard MV Ocean Lady wave to a passing RCMP helicopter before the ship was seized off the coast of Vancouver Island. (RCMP)

That defense was used in the case of the MV Sun Sea, where four men were charged with human smuggling for bringing 492 Sri Lankan migrants to B.C.’s coast in 2010. Lesly Emmanuel, Nadarajah Mahendran and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam were acquitted by a jury after their lawyers argued they had acted on humanitarian grounds or had been misidentified.

A mistrial was declared for the fourth accused, Kunarobinson Christhurajah, who was found guilty at a later trial.

‘We believed we were going to die’

Outside B.C. Supreme Court, one of the accused, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah, was emotional. “I’m unable to explain my happiness, because all these days we were expecting we were going to face this decision,” said Kanagarajah.

Jeyachandran Kanagarajah 2

“Every single day we were thinking about our future,” said Jeyachandran Kanagarajah about waiting nearly eight years to be acquitted. (Mike Zimmer)

Since he arrived on the ship, Kanagarajah has been living in limbo in Canada because of the charges he was facing. “Every single day, we were thinking about our future: how it was going to be.” Kanagarajah said he will now try to seek asylum to stay in Canada. “We did not expect we would reach here, because most of the refugees believed that we were going to die …  there were so many storms,” said Kanagaraj

Jeyachandran Kanagarajah standing outside of B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. He is one of four men who was acquitted Thursday on charges of human smuggling (Mike Zimmer)

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, asylum-seekers, economic processes, ethnicity, historical interpretation, human rights, landscape wondrous, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, politIcal discourse, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil migration, tamil refugees, the imaginary and the real, travelogue, truth as casualty of war, world events & processes

Leave a Reply