Tag Archives: MV Sun Sea

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.


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Food for Thought: CLS, Racism, and Law

This week marked our first of three teach-in weeks, with two teach-ins based on works by Monture (2006) and Jakubowski (2006).

Locating Law – Standing Against Canadian Law: Naming Omissions of Race, Culture, and Gender (Monture), pp. 73-93

Locating Law – “Managing” Canadian Immigration: Racism, Ethnic Selectivity, and the Law (Jakubowski), pp. 94-122

The general theme of the class was an introduction to Critical Legal Studies, with a special emphasis on racism and law.

There are two food for thought questions for this week. You are welcome to write a post in response to either of them (but not both).

Food for thought 1:

Monture’s (2006) chapter is subtitled “Naming Omissions of Race, Culture, and Gender”. ‘Naming’, in this context, reflects the commitment to demystification – critically examining official narratives and dominant ideologies – that informs the Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory perspectives.

Recently, and not for the first time, there has been some debate regarding the appropriate way of naming the historical oppression of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Some have argued that the actions of Canadian governments in relation to Aboriginal peoples constitute genocide, according to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Article 2 of the Convention reads:

genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Phil Fontaine, Bernie Farber, and others recently co-signed a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples arguing that the residential school system, the ‘Sixties Scoop’, policy of forced starvation under John A. MacDonald, and recently revealed nutrition experiments performed on children, taken together, are indicative of a prolonged campaign of genocide.

Monture (2006) explains the historical role of legal processes in the reproduction of systemic racism and oppression directed towards Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. She is deeply skeptical about the prospect of achieving transformative change through the mainstream justice system, arguing that it is simply incapable of engaging in the macro-level reflection necessary to confront structural racism.

Question: Would naming the historical oppression of Aboriginal peoples in Canada genocide, according to the Convention, be an act of demystification? What would be the outcome or effect of such an act of naming? How do you think Monture, based on her argument in Standing Against Canadian Law, might respond to this call to employ the moral and legal language of genocide? What is your own position on this question?

Of interest: Andrew Woolford’s article on ‘Ontological Destruction’

Food for Thought 2:

Lisa Marie Jakubowski, in her chapter “‘Managing’ Canadian Immigration”, explores the explicitly racist history of Canadian immigration policy and the role of immigration law in perpetuating forms of systemic discrimination.

The 2010 MV Sun Sea incident represents a major ‘moment’ in recent Canadian immigration policy and politics.

Question: First, provide a brief description of the events surrounding the arrival of the MV Sun Sea. Then, briefly explain any shifts in immigration policy that followed from the incident (including policies and laws associeted with the issue of ‘irregular arrivals’). Finally, apply Jakubowski’s arguments to this case. Has the response to the MV Sun Sea incident represented a continuation of the pattern that Jakubowski describes?

Posts in response to these questions should be submitted before our next class.

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