VANCOUVER — A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has found four Sri Lankan men not guilty of human smuggling.
Justice Arne Silverman said Thursday that while there was evidence of organized crime in the smuggling operation, he wasn't satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the men were connected to any crime.
"I have determined that these four accused were asylum seekers and that there is an air of reality to the defence of mutual aid."
The accused — Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah — smiled, laughed and shook hands with their lawyers after the judge released his ruling.
I have determined that these four accused were asylum seekers and that there is an air of reality to the defence of mutual aid.Justice Arne Silverman
The Crown had argued the four accused were in charge of the smuggling operation and out to make a profit on people seeking asylum in Canada.
But Silverman said the Crown didn't prove its case.
"I am also not satisfied that their actions were to obtain either directly or indirectly a financial or material benefit, or that any of the them obtained one."
The men were part of a group of 76 young men from Sri Lanka who arrived on B.C.'s coast in October 2009.
They travelled about 45 days across the Pacific Ocean seeking refuge in Canada from a civil war that ravaged their homeland, Silverman said in his decision.
Defence lawyers told the trial their clients were trying to escape poor living conditions and seeking a better life.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that people providing humanitarian aid, including family members, were exempt from smuggling laws.
But the Crown told the trial that the top court's exemptions didn't apply because the accused had a role in organizing and executing the voyage, which it said was a money-making scheme costing migrants thousands of dollars.
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