The case involving MV Sun Sea had gathered a lot of controversy at the time when it was actually taking place and continues to present a lot of legal, ethical and political challenges at present time. This case has been lighting rod in attracting attention of opponents and proponents of Canadian immigration reforms in general and dealing with refugees coming to this country in particular, gathering along the way, very heated discussions involving different opinions often significantly biased, from various groups representing law enforcement agencies, immigration and refugee board, defence lawyers and Canadian border agency (CBSA). Not since the time of ill-fated journey of ship St. Louis from Nazi occupied Germany, Canadian authorities were facing en masse arrivals to Canadian shores of such significant amounts of refugees from abroad.
Society at large was polarized in their opinions as to what Canada has to undertake to deal with this issue. Enormous amount of resources including monetary, personnel and logistical contributions have been spent by the federal government and all its subsidiaries to deal with this case which still continues to gather attention and create controversy. Putting special interests aside (refugee lawyers, immigration refugee board, CBSA and law enforcement agencies), general publics sentiment by and large was strongly opposing granting asylum to this group of Sri Lankan refugees. Modern Canadian society, largely built through immigration, particularly in large cities, expressed strong sentiments favoring enforcing legitimacy for admission process for refugees. Consensus among the public echoed by federal government stated that it is illegitimate to jump the cue to gather admission to this country bypassing existing channels created by United Nations affiliated organizations dealing with refugees (as an example, utilizing existing refugee camps in South Eastern Asia for refugees from war torn countries of this region).
Strongly biased defence lawyers representing refugees argued that not granting refugee status to those seeking asylum and sending them back to Sri Lanka would ultimately sign the death verdict at the hands of Sri Lankan government. They argued that some of the asylum seekers were part of the Tamil Tigers group hunted by the government of the state. However, at the same time, they “conveniently” failed to mention that Tamil Tigers were classified as a terrorist organization trying to overthrow the elected government. As the result of failure to achieve their goals, they used women and children as a human shield to gain access to Canadian land bypassing aforementioned channels. People responsible for organizing this mission, had deliberately chosen to sail across vast mass of water to go to Canada as opposed to sailing to the much closer Austraila, while knowing well that very harsh Australian laws would not allow them to even enter country’s territorial waters. In situation as such, Canadian government had chosen the only reasonable outcome, to allow the ship to enter our territorial waters but decided to detain all ship occupants, limiting their freedom of movements in the interests of national security and preventing them from spreading across North American continent.
As of today, 117 refugee claims were accepted and 117 refugee claims were denied with 2 people still remaining in federal custody. 29 deportation orders have been issued. Judging by these numbers, Canadian government showed its significant restraint in blindly refusing to acknowledge illegitimacy of their entry into the country by granting 117 people refugee status and sent a strong message stating that Canada as a society still governed by the virtues of compassion and understanding of refugees plight. On the other hand, the federal government, through its immigration refugee board and CBSA, showed an example of strong determination that the country’s territorial integrity and national security has to be protected by various means and no new precedents for illegal arrival of groups of refugees should be permitted. Canada should not be viewed as a “weak safe haven” by any group seeking immediate and illegal entry by bypassing officially established United Nations channels for dealing with these kinds of problems.
MV Sun Sea case has been instrumental in allowing Canada to get much more closely involved with its international allies in monitoring traffic of illegal refugees and participating in creation of framework of international laws dealing with this complex issue of human smuggling. Canada has been an active participant in creating intelligence networks with several other countries of this region, allowing it to have early warnings and means of interception and detention of similar missions in the future.
Arguably, Canada still continues to be “desired” land for groups attempting to arrive to this country claiming persecution and trying to avoid accepted channels of immigration established by the Federal government. Examples of Roma, from Czech Republic and Hungary, claiming persecutions in the democracies of European Union is another example of legacies stemming from the case of MV Sun Sea. The lessons learned from this case have been successfully employed in creating legal frameworks allowing authorities responsible for creating and enforcing immigration laws to deal with the new challenges related to refugee admission to this country in more successful ways.
References 1) Quan, D. (2013, October 11). Immigration Lawyers call for review of all failed MV Sun Sea refugee claims. Postmedia News. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/news/immigration+lawyers+call+review+failed+refugee+claims/9028384/story.html