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Canada Canada's History Of Migrant Ships Has Left A Flotsam Of Issues




1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Aug 24, 2010 James Ellsworth

The Tamil ship, MV Sun Sea, is the latest in a series of incidents in Canadian history concerning immigration, from Sikhs, to Jews, and now Sri Lankans.

Migrants wanting to settle in Canada, often as refugees, have been coming by ship for centuries. The most salient incidents occurred in 1914 with Sikhs on the Komagata Muru, in 1939 with Jews on the St. Louis, and most recently with Tamils on the MV Sun Sea. As a result, repercussions have put Canadian identity and refugee processes under scrutiny.

Canada's Historical Record With Migrant Ships
Canada prides itself on being a haven of multiculturalism. It wasn't always so and the reputation has only come after soul-searching historical evolution.

Komagatu Maru Affair: A wealthy Sikh hired the Japanese-owned cargo ship to transport 376 East Indians, mainly Punjabis and Sikhs, to Vancouver in May 1914. Canada had a Continuous Passage Act then that only ships which did not call at any other port could bring immigrants, thus effectively banning migrants from India; and an exclusionary head tax aimed at non-Caucasians. Canadian Customs and a Canadian Navy vessel forced the passengers to stay on board for two months until it returned to Calcutta. In 2008, Harper's Conservative government issued a formal apology for Canada's role in the affair and $2.5 million to the Indo-Canadian society for a monument and education.

St. Louis Affair: Two books, Irving Abella's "None Is Too Many" (1982) and "Refuge Denied" by Sarah Ogilivie and Scott Miller, tracked Canada's attitude toward the 1939 voyage of 907 Jewish refugee migrants aboard the German ship, St. Louis, seeking but denied asylum in Cuba, the U.S. and Canada. Abella found in the papers of the immigration bureaucrat at the time, Frederick C. Blair, such anti-Semitic statements as the title. The ship was forced to return to Belgium and over a third of the occupants later died in Nazi concentration camps. Also in 2008, the Canadian government gave $300,000 to fund historical recognition programs and a memorial, but no apology.

Both of these events illustrate Canada's past 'nativist' values in dealing with immigrants to Canada. Since then, Canada has developed an official cultural mosaic and more objective system for immigrants. However the refugee claimant still presents problems that strain Canadian values of fairness.

In October 2009, the ship MV Ocean Lady arrived with 76 Tamils who are now free in Toronto pending refugee hearing results. Was this the first ship of human smuggling, illegal immigration and possibly Tamil Tiger attempts to set up cells in Canada?

MV Sun Sea Affair: After being refused entry in Australia, this ship of Tamil passengers spent 3 months at sea and other ports before arriving in Victoria, British Columbia on Friday, August 13, an ominous date. According to the "Vancouver Sun" (Vivian Luk, Aug. 16, p. A5)) there were 400 men, 60 women and 30 children on the modified cargo ship. The relatively clean ship had been well stocked with food, a sewage-disposal system, and separate sleeping quarters for passengers paying $40,000, earning $2 million for the ship's owners.

The government promised a quick process and investigation. Canada has a generous refugee claimant system compared to other countries though. For instance, Australia sent asylum-seekers to remote Pacific islands for detention until processed, a practice ended in 2008 but being revisited.

Refugees, Terrorists, and Immigration
According to the United Nations, the U.S. and Canada plus France, Germany & the U.K. are the top five places among the developed industrialized world for asylum-seekers. If Canada declared certain countries as not meriting refugee status, then it might accept fewer refugees. For example, Australia said Sri Lanka was no longer at civil war and not dangerous to inhabitants although ironically it warned its own citizens about travelling there.

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board processed approximately 19,000 claims last year and projects about 17,500 for the future, accepting about 80% of claimants. It costs about $1,700 for an admissabilty hearing and detention review, but does not include the cost of detention.

The "Globe and Mail" (Aug. 12, 2010) cited an immigration official who said it takes typically four years to process a refugee claim, and that the Conservative government is setting up a fast track system that will take 90 days. In the meantime, the official described Canada as an "easy mark for those fleeing their homeland." Refugee claimants have access to medical and social benefits while cultural societies, like the Canadian Tamil Congress provide lawyers and counsellor to assist.

These asylum-seeking Tamils have scotched a xenophobic response among many Canadian citizens. However Canada is bound by at least three international agreements in accepting and judging the merit of refugee claimants.

For example, in 1999 Canada rejected the refugee claims of Fujian Chinese boat people. After more than a year in custody, most were rejected and sent home. The Canadian system may be slow and appear easy; but if some Tamils are terrorists, they will be sent back; if some are being persecuted by the Sri Lanka victors, then Canada's reputation as a haven needs to be upheld.

Canada can punish the smugglers; pressure Sri Lanka to desist in persecuting; but it must continue to be fair with those flinging themselves on our shores for relief.

One caveat though. Refugees are not citizens and, to be fair, should be cooperating with authorities to prove their right to stay; the onus of proof should be theirs. Refugees should have nothing to hide.

Read more at Suite101: Canada's History Of Migrant Ships Has Left A Flotsam Of Issues http://news.suite101.com/article.cf...eft-a-flotsam-of-issues-a273675#ixzz0xYtAQjLj