POLITICS

Alleged human smugglers from Cuba, Sri Lanka taking case to Supreme Court

10/09/2014 10:20 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - A cook who says he was forced into work on a human smuggling ship that showed up on the B.C. coast five years ago will be among several passengers and crew to have their cases heard by Canada's top court.

The Supreme Court said Thursday it plans to look at a number of cases calling into question the depth and breadth of Canada's human smuggling laws.

Four of the five cases the court will consider together involve people connected to the arrival of ships full of Sri Lankan migrants off the coast of B.C.

The first ship arrived in 2009 with 76 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard; the second, the MV Sun Sea, came in 2010 with 492 migrants.

Their arrival prompted a national debate about Canada's existing refugee and human smuggling legislation, and spurred the government into promising a crackdown.

Passengers on the ships paid between $30,000 and $40,000 for a berth on the voyage and made refugee claims upon their arrival.

But those who worked on the ships were arrested and charged as human smugglers. Those charges, along with the subsequent immigration proceedings, are what will be examined by the high court.

In three cases, the people claim they were forced to work on the ships after they were abandoned by the original crew, and as a result should not have been caught up under existing laws.

In a fourth case, four crew members argued that Canada's human smuggling laws are simply too broad, and could result in humanitarian workers or even family members being charged for helping those in need.

The B.C. Supreme Court agreed, but that decision was overturned on appeal.

"Parliament intended to create a broad offence with no exceptions, directed to concerns of border control and the particular issue of deterring and penalizing those who assist others in entering Canada illegally,'' B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Kathryn Neilson said in a written ruling.

The fifth case on human smuggling to be considered by the Supreme Court involves a Cuban man arrested for running a smuggling boat to the U.S.

When he was deported, he made a refugee claim in Canada but was turned away because of his conviction.