11/27/2015 10:45 EST | Updated 11/27/2016 05:12 EST

MV Sun Sea Ruling From Supreme Court Defines People Smuggling

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada says people who helped migrants enter Canada improperly by steering a ship, acting as a lookout or cooking meals cannot automatically be branded as human smugglers.

In a unanimous judgment Friday, the court ruled in favour of several Tamils who arrived in British Columbia in 2010 aboard the MV Sun Sea, a rickety boat carrying 492 passengers.

While on the ship, they helped out by performing routine tasks.

The court says they are entitled to new refugee hearings after initially being declared inadmissible to Canada for engaging in people smuggling.

They can escape being barred from Canada under the relevant provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act "if they merely aided in the illegal entry of other refugees or asylum-seekers in the course of their collective flight to safety," the Supreme Court said.

In a second unanimous ruling, the court ordered new trials for four individuals who were criminally charged with people smuggling after arriving off the coast of Vancouver in 2009 aboard the MV Ocean Lady, which carried 76 Tamil migrants.

mv ocean lady

The MV Ocean Lady was seized and towed into a port in Victoria, B.C. by the Navy on Oct. 17, 2009.

The Crown had alleged the four, who were on board the ship, had organized the voyage and served as the captain and chief crew members.

The Supreme Court said the provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act under which they were charged was unconstitutional and overly broad.

The Crown's interpretation of the provision would mean "a father offering a blanket to a shivering child, or friends sharing food aboard a migrant vessel, could be subject to prosecution," the judgment said.

The justices found that incompatible with the refugee-protection goals of the federal immigration law.

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