07/13/2011 12:00 EDT | Updated 09/12/2011 05:12 EDT

Intercepted Human Smuggling Ship MV Alicia Bound For Canada: Jason Kenney

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- CALGARY - Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said a human smuggling ship intercepted Monday appeared to have been "destined for Canada" and reinforces the need to pass the Tory government's anti-smuggling legislation.

"We are not going to be a doormat for the dangerous crime of human smuggling," Kenney told reporters at a news conference Tuesday in Calgary.

Human smuggling is already a crime in this country, but there has been few successful prosecutions and the government says the act would strengthen Canada's ability to prosecute such crimes and deter queue-jumping in the immigration system.

"The Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act" is supposed to make it easier to prosecute smugglers and impose mandatory prison sentences.

It will also hold ship owners and operators responsible if their vessels are used in smuggling operations.

Two ships of Tamil migrants have arrived off the coast of British Columbia since October 2009, with nearly 800 people authorities believe were the human cargo of smugglers.

The latest ship seized, the MV Alicia, was carrying close to 90 Sri Lankan Tamils and was intercepted by Indonesian authorities.

"This vessel is believed to be have been destined for Canada," Kenney said.

"This incident in Indonesian waters of a vessel believed to contain illegal migrants destined for Canada in a human smuggling operation underscores the need for Parliament to act in passing our anti-human smuggling legislation," he added.

"That would send a clear signal to those that want to treat Canada like a doormat that they should no longer target Canada for the odious business of human smuggling."

Whether or not the ship was actually headed for Canada is up for debate. There have been numerous media reports suggesting the final destination was actually New Zealand. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that "charts indicating the boat was prepared to travel to Canada" were found aboard the vessel, which was stopped on Monday.

Kenney conceded the reports are inconclusive.

"I read a report from the prime minister of New Zealand indicating that apparently the captain of this vessel indicated they might be headed for New Zealand...there is some evidence apparently that they were destined for Canada. We can't be absolutely certain what their destination was."

He said many smugglers have "open-ended" contracts with passengers that don't guarantee the destination.

The immigration minister credits a bolstered law enforcement and intelligence presence in southeast Asia at known transit points for human smuggling for preventing "several vessels destined for Canada from leaving port."

Kenney said Canada needs to reduce the number of "pull factors" that allow smuggling syndicates from targeting Canada.

"We have very generous policies, one of which is family reunification," he said.

"If someone comes here in a smuggling operation, succeeds in getting a positive asylum claim, they become a permanent resident and pretty quickly can turn around and sponsor family members that can help them pay off the debt to the smuggling syndicate."