Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Boat migrants may have paid $45,000 each

CTV.ca News Staff

Date: Mon. Oct. 19 2009 10:54 PM ET

Would-be migrants who were found aboard a vessel headed for British Columbia may have each paid $45,000 for the trip.

The men, believed to be Tamils from Sri Lanka, remain in custody as Immigration Canada determines their identity. The ship, called the Ocean Lady, was seized by RCMP last Friday.

Another vessel carrying Sir Lankans was caught off the coast of Australia last week, and the passengers said they had paid smugglers $15,000 to board the ship. One man told a reporter about the Ocean Lady, and said he had wanted to board that vessel instead, but it was too expensive at $45,000 per person.

RCMP say they're looking into the report.

"Yes, we're aware of that information and the speculation this could be related," said Sgt. Duncan Pound, of the RCMP Border Integrity Program.

Seventy-six men were found aboard the Ocean Lady.

Pound said security partners tipped off Canadian authorities on Friday, alerting them to a vessel "that was demonstrating some behaviour that was probably inconsistent with the usual maritime practices and that raised it onto our screen for concerns."

"We worked then closely with the Canadian Forces and the Canadian Navy, and they provided assets to assist us with gathering further intelligence on the vessel," Pound told CTV's Canada AM during an interview from Vancouver on Monday.

In particular, when the ship failed to notify Canadian officials about its content and intended arrival time, authorities became concerned.

"It should be a planned event, as opposed to approaching unannounced," Pound said.

It is not clear why they came to Canada and the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency remain tight-lipped about what, if anything, is known about their situation.

Pound said that translators are providing assistance, though "there is some English from some of the individuals on board."

Canadian Tamil Congress spokesperson David Poopalapillai said RCMP footage of the ship shows men wearing a style of clothing that suggests they are Tamils.

The men will have to be formally identified, photographed, fingerprinted and then under Canadian law, they will have their detention reviewed within the next two days, immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said.

"It's going to be determined whether or not some or any of them should be released, and on what terms and conditions," Mamann said during a phone interview from Toronto.

"And then if they decide that they are going to make refugee claims -- and all the indications are that they will -- they will have to put down their story within 28 days and have that submitted to the Immigration and Refugee Board who will then schedule a hearing for them."

Pound said the RCMP will investigate to see if any criminal charges are relevant.

"The RCMP's perspective, as the lead investigative agency for criminal code offences or the federal statute offences, we'll be looking at any time a vessel approaches and arrives in Canada, where we're not sure of who the individuals are or what the cargo would have been on the vessel," Pound said.

"Part of our job will be to drill down on those details and find out if there are any offences that would apply under Canadian law."