Canada: Closing its Doors to Those Most Vulnerable

Canada’s immigration history has been plagued by racist and discriminatory immigration law and policy for decades. It was not until the mid 90’s that Canada developed a somewhat colour-blind immigration system. While the regulations no longer contain blatant discrimination, subtle mechanisms remain. The arrival of the MV Sun Sea ship on August 13, 2010 stirred up the debate over Canada’s immigration policies once again. The ship arrived on our west coast carrying 380 men, 63 women, and 49 minors (The Vancouver Sun, 2013). After leaving Thailand and arriving into British Columbia’s waters all of the migrants made refugee claims due to the violence, and civil war occurring in Sri Lanka.

Once in Canada, our immigration officials along with the Canada Border Services Agency(CBSA) detained the migrants for much longer than what any other refugee claimant would be detained for. I understand the investigation on this large a scale takes time, but many were held for up to two years, some are still in detention today. While others have been deported back to Sri Lanka, tortured and in at least one case, killed when they went back home (The Star, 2013).

Two of the migrants were deported back to Sri Lanka due to alleged ties with the Tamil Tigers. One of the two deported Mr. Aseervatham was deported in July 2011 due to a firearms smuggling conviction in Thailand. When he returned home he was detained and questioned for a year before his family had to bribe the army to release him. He signed an affidavit after his release saying that he had been starved, blindfolded, and beaten with plastic pipes. This affidavit was to help him with his refugee hearing in Canada and not to be given to corrupt government officials in Sri Lanka. But he was once again summoned to a hearing by anti-terrorism police where CBSA officers were present and questioned him about the affidavit, essentially sharing it with his torturers. Shortly after this he was killed when a truck ran him over, many claim it was a murder (Bell 2013). The second refugee deported has essentially gone off the grid; nobody is able to find him after his release by the Sri Lankan army. The question remains, what will happen to the rest of the refugees whose destiny is uncertain, will they be sent back to Sri Lanka and possibly suffer the same fate?

In recent months it has come to light that the “Canadian border officials were preparing for a no-mercy approach that would include indiscriminate detention and a tooth-and-nail fight at the Immigration and Refugee Board well before the MV Sun Sea arrived in British Columbia three years ago with 492 Sri Lankan migrants on board”(Cohen 2013). A memo was found through a Freedom of Information request which vowed that refugee determination hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board(IRB) would be “dealt with aggressively”. The memo outlines the new steps the Canada Border Services Agency would take to deem migrants inadmissible, including working with the RCMP and imposing criminal investigations into human smuggling. If human smuggling charges were laid, like they have been in a few of the migrants cases, then it would make it easier for immigration officials to deny admissibility because criminality is a major ground on which foreigners are denied entry into Canada. “The CBSA will gather as much evidence as possible to build cases that demonstrate that…marine people smuggling is serious and poses a significant threat to the health and safety of those in Canada”(Cohen 2013)
CBSA officers board the Sun Sea

After this incident various changes have been made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act(IRPA) including the mandatory requirement of biometric data from certain visitors, students and workers. Biometric requirements are going to slowly be coming into effect in the next few months. These “biometric requirements are intended to make Canada safer for both Canadians and individuals from abroad” (CIC News, 2013). There is a list of 30 countries from which applicants must submit fingerprints, and photo documentation when applying for a Canadian visitor, student, or work visa. As mentioned by Lisa Jakubowski in her article titled “Managing” Canadian Immigration, in the past Canada had a list of preferred and non-preferred countries from which they would allow people to migrate. The preferred countries according to Jakubowski included Great Britain, the United States, France, and some parts of Europe. The non-preferred countries included much of south and eastern Asia, including parts of Africa. Well the new list of countries required to include biometric information are all from parts of the Middle East, and South-East Asia. “Legislation, although cleansed of racial and ethnic identifiers, continues to have a harmful impact on racial and ethnic minorities from less-preferred source area…Canadian Immigration is more about closing the back door than it is about welcoming people to the nation…and it will “continue to recruit the preferred, best, and brightest, while simultaneously closing its doors to many of the most vulnerable”(Jakubowski, 120-121).
MV Sun Sea making its voyage

Jakubowski, L.M. (2006).”Managing” Canadian Immigration Racism, Ethnic Selectivity, and the Law. In E. Comack (Ed.), Locating law (2 ed., pp. 94-121). Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.


1 Comment

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One response to “Canada: Closing its Doors to Those Most Vulnerable

  1. Thanks for the detailed overview of the experiences of persons detained and deported in relation to the MV Sun Sea case. This is an informative post.

    You refer to a 2013 Vancouver Sun article. Have you taken a look at the comments posted in response to this article? While we should acknowledge that the opinions expressed in online comment threads are not representative of public opinion in general, I think that we see several themes emerging in these remarks that reflect Jakubowski’s observations. For example:

    “I don’t care where you come from, no visa, you are gone. Unless you can prove that going back will mean your death. Escaping the justice system of the country of origin doesnt cut it.”


    “It’s about time that Canada started clamping down on these folks who, because they could come up with the cash to pay for this method of entering our country line jumping in front of those who can’t afford to. In these countries with all the corruption, etc., I wonder what kind of things they did to get that cash in the first place. I agree with Adrian Smith that these ships should be turned away at the boundary of Canadian waters.”