The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

March 12, 2010

Table of Contents
1 Context……………………………………………...............…………………..………..…................... 03

2

Events Leading Up To Arrival…….….…………................................…………………………….… 02

3

Complicating Factors………...............................………………………………………………….… 03

4

CTC in the Media…………….......................................……………………………………………... 04

5

CTC's Administrative Work Page…………......................................…………………….………. 08

6

Index of Supporting Documents……………...........................................………..……………... 10

7

CTC Press Statement Oct 18, 2009.................................................................................. 11

8

Letter to Hon. Peter Van Loan, Oct 18, 2009..................................................................... 12

9

Letter To RCMP, Oct 19, 2009.......................................................................................... 13

10

Press Meet Tamil, Oct 20, 2009....................................................................................... 14

11

Globe and Mail article Oct 20, 2009................................................................................. 16

12

CTC Press Statement Oct 20, 2009.................................................................................. 19

13

CTC Press Statement Oct 27, 2009.................................................................................. 21

14

Immigration and Refugee Fact Sheet............................................................................... 23

15

Information For Newcomers............................................................................................ 26

16

Process To Connect With Newcomers............................................................................... 27

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

I.

Context

Courtesy of Canwest News

On the morning of October 17, 2009, the Ocean Lady entered Canadian waters with 76 newcomers on board. In many ways, the 76 were unlike many of the other Tamil refugees who came before them. They were not only the first refugees to arrive in Canada by boat in more than 20 years, the migrants were also the first large group of people to arrive in Canada since the end of the war in Sri Lanka. The last factor is particularly vital in examining how the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) and the larger Canadian Tamil community reacted to the men’s arrival. For several months, Tamil Canadians protested, held vigils and formed human chains to alert the world about the war crimes being committed in Sri Lanka. They rallied repeatedly and helplessly, unable to stop the Sri Lankan government’s killings of 20,000 to 40,000 Tamils and internment of 300,000 more. With the newcomers’ arrivals, the community got a real chance to help the few who had against all odds escaped from the Sri Lankan government’s persecution and ended up on Canadian soil. By taking action, the Tamil Canadian community wanted to ensure the men would be at least given due process instead of letting Rajapaksa’s list of victims grow.

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

II.

Events Leading Up To Arrival

Courtesy of Channel 4 Video

At the time the Ocean Lady arrived on Vancouver’s shores, the Sri Lankan regime had interned 300,000 civilians, including 50,000 children inside barbed-wire camps. Despite the outcry from leading NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the authorities repeatedly denied the displaced civilians freedom of movement in accordance with international law. Aid agencies were also repeatedly denied unfettered access and foreign and independent media only received limited access. Simultaneously, free media and human rights defenders continued to be attacked across the island. Meanwhile, several reports were emerging showing that Sri Lanka had committed war crimes during the last phase of the conflict. These included a Channel 4 video that showed summary executions of Tamils and a Times of London investigation establishing that more than 20,000 civilians were killed during the final phase of the war. These reports came contrary to government claims that no civilian was killed during its offensive.

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

III.

Complicating Factors

There were many complicating factors that stood between the newcomers being accepted as genuine refugees in Canada. The challenges stemmed from perceptions that these newcomers were ‘abusing a soft Canadian refugee system,’ concerns about the newcomers’ cost on the Canadian government and most significantly, the view that the migrants posed a potential security threat. The latter, promoted by the Sri Lankan government and its agents, posed the biggest challenge to the settlement of the refugees. Sri Lankan government agents, through interviews in newspapers and interaction with government officials, were busy trying to spread false propaganda about the refugees. This false propaganda, if successful, would have led to the refugees being sent back to Sri Lanka and to the doubt and criminalization of the Tamil Canadian Diaspora. Additionally, the reports that large amounts of money were paid to bring each individual to Canada also raised questions as to whether these were genuine refugees. All these issues raised questions on whether due process would be accorded to the newcomers. Furthermore, the existing backlash against the Tamil community for its protests complicated matters.

IV.

Information on the men

Due to media reports and later, phone calls from families, CTC came to know that several of these men were not only Tamil but had relatives in Canada. About 10 did not have anyone they knew in the country.

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

V.

CTC in the Media

As news began to emerge that there were Tamil refugees on the Ocean Lady, the Canadian Tamil Congress immediately sprung into action. Cognizant of the many challenges, CTC strove to provide context for the war in Sri Lanka to help the Canadian public understand why so many Tamils, including those on the Ocean Lady, have fled. A day after the boat’s arrival, CTC National Spokesperson David Poopalapillai and Toronto lawyer Gary Anandasangaree took an early morning flight to Vancouver. Along with meeting with newcomers, they conducted several media interviews and organized a press conference to advocate for due process and compassion. They informed the public about the persecution faced by Tamils and the civil war in Sri Lanka. Here is a breakdown of CTC’s activities in Vancouver and Toronto: • In Vancouver, CTC held a large media conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 20, 2009 at 791 West Georgia Street. In light of the Sri Lanka’s efforts to cast doubt on Tamil Canadians and refugees, CTC repeatedly spoke about the necessity of due process in these cases. 1The CTC media conference in Vancouver was organized by the Vancouver chapter and was attended by several CTC representatives, including CTC’s former vice-president Roy Ratnavel, National Spokesperson David Poopalapillai, and Vancouver Chapter coordinator Sue Nathan, and Toronto lawyer Gary Anandasangaree. It was covered by almost all the media outlets in the country, including the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, CBC, CTV, Global and many others. CTC spoke about the internment camps in Sri Lanka, the high likelihood of Tamils being arbitrarily imprisoned and tortured in prisons, and the war crimes and human rights violations committed by the Sri Lanka government. Soon after the media conference, the country’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, leading national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, a well-respected newspaper from Montreal and several other print media wrote editorials and quoted Canadian Tamil Congress and recommended these migrants be given due process. The largest TV networks, such as CTV, CBC, and Global, covered the stories widely. The same outlets wanted to interview migrant families and bring out their plights to the Canadian public. Canadian Tamil Congress connected families, who were interested in telling their stories, to media outlets. However, there continued to be great suspicion about the newcomers, with many of them not having full access to legal counsel and facing several questions about their admissibility. Much of this was due to Sri Lankan government agents providing faulty information to media and Canadian officials. Though examinations of their past experiences and track record could have revealed the unreliability and bias of the information, the Sri Lankan officials were initially taken seriously. Again, CTC advocated for due process on behalf of the newcomers to outlets across the country, including the cross-Canada Canwest news chain (which owns everything from National Post to Ottawa Citizen to Vancouver Sun): "They should have access to fair process,” CTC said, noting that

1

Article I

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees the conditions for Tamils in Sri Lanka had gone from bad to worse. CTC also publically questioned the credibility of information that came from Sri Lanka as the government had a track-record of attacking those who sought to tell the truth, like human rights defenders and journalists. CTC also raised concerns that sharing the refugees’ personal information with the Sri Lankan government will increase the chances of the individuals being tortured or killed upon their return to Sri Lanka. 2 CTC also took part in a media event, held in partnership with several advocacy groups, and called for due process and the release of the migrants. Vancouver chapter coordinator, Sue Nathan, of the Canadian Tamil Congress said she feared for the safety of the asylum seekers should their refugee applications be declined and they are forced to return home. "If these men are sent back, they will definitely, definitely face persecution," Nathan noted. "They will disappear. They will face death." CTC also held media conferences for the Tamil media, who worked hard to engage the community to help the newcomers.

Some of the media outlets, which interviewed CTC, are listed below:
October 17-19 The Globe and Mail: In Vancouver, dozens of boat migrants await their fate CTV News: Passengers, crew of seized ship sent to Vancouver Canadian Press: Would-be migrants sent to Vancouver on B.C. ferry Victoria Times-Colonist: Tamil community urges due process of migrants seized in Victoria CTV News: MacKay won't confirm if seized ship was smuggling migrants Vancouver Sun: 'Irregular' migrants to be scrutinized in Vancouver Victoria Times Colonist: Migrants seized at Ogden Point leave Wilkinson Road jail Canadian Press: Identities of would-be migrants from detained boat still not revealed Globe and Mail: Canada to take hard line with would-be migrants CTV News: Boat migrants may have paid $45,000 each Globe and Mail: Former Tamil castaways building new lives in Canada
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Article II

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The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees CBC: Migrant ship likely tied to Indonesian smuggling ring Global BC: The Ocean Lady AFP: Tamil Canadians to offer seized migrants legal help National Post: Human smuggling suspected The Vancouver Sun: Boat migrants await fate in Vancouver CTV News: Officials investigate mystery migrants in B.C. Toronto Star: Migrants said to be Tamils Thaindian: Ship-load of Tamils trying to enter Canada seized

October 20, 2009 CBC: CTC Press Conference Global TV: CTC Press Conference CTV BC: Migrants risked lives to flee to Canada Vancouver Sun: Boat migrants kept in detention for now Migrant Ridge News: Migrants held in Maple Ridge prison Vancouver Sun: Migrants Will Face Tough Scrutiny: Kenney Globe and Mail: Sri Lankan migrants reach out to Canadian Tamils National Post: Canada Tipped Off On Ship Toronto Star: Boat migrants' plight rekindles memories Vancouver Sun: Board retains two migrants out of fear they wouldn't reappear Metro Vancouver: Migrants due proper proceedings: Lawyer Canadian Press: Migrants risked lives to flee to Canada from post war-torn Sri Lanka: supporters Montreal Gazette: Treat Tamil asylum seekers by the book Page | 6
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The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees The Daily Gleaner: News Digest

October 21-22, 2009 AFP: Hearings begin for migrants arrested off Canada Globe and Mail: Sri Lankan migrants suffered grueling journey National Post: Passenger Wanted In Sri Lanka The Province: Smuggled Tamil migrants: Refugees or artful dodgers? CTV: Men risked their lives to come to Canada: supporters

October 25, 2009 Sunday Leader: Journey For A Better Life as 76 Sri Lankans Wait In Limbo National Post: Mystery ship belongs to Tamil Tigers: experts

October 27, 2009 The Province: Advocates call for release of Sri Lankan immigrants The Gazette: Boot Tigers, but migrants deserve a hearing

November 4, 2009 National Post: CTC’s former Vice-President Responds to Editorial Claiming Tamils Are Not Persecuted In Sri Lanka

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

VI.

CTC’s Administrative Work

Beyond CTC’s work in the media, the organization also played a critical role in advocating for the newcomers, facilitating connections between families, newcomers, and legal counsel. • On the day of the men’s arrival, CTC President Professor Sri Ranjan wrote to Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan. CTC urged the government to let the newcomers stay on humanitarian grounds due to the persecution faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka. The organization also advocated the men be given due process and pledged to help the Canadian government with the newcomers.3 • The next day, two key representatives from CTC, National Spokesperson David Poopalapillai and Toronto lawyer Gary Anandasangaree, took an early morning flight to Vancouver to help the newcomers. • In Vancouver, the CTC chapter coordinated with Head Office representatives to meet as soon as possible with the newcomers and inform them about their legal rights in Canada. When Mr. Anandasangaree initially showed up at the Canada Border Services Agency’s Vancouver offices asking to meet with the migrants, he was refused entry. At the time, he made an appeal for due process for the migrants in a variety of media outlets, including everything from the Vancouver Sun to the Globe and Mail: “For many people, Sri Lanka is no longer safe,” Mr. Anandasangaree said. “If they’ve willing to risk so much getting here, they deserve a hearing. They deserve our compassion.” 4 • At the same time, CTC wrote to the RCMP and volunteered any assistance to law enforcement officials. 5 • Soon afterwards, CTC representatives, including Mr. Anandasangaree, would be allowed to meet with the migrants. In these meetings, CTC sought to inform newcomers about the refugee and detention process in Canada. Anticipating the language barriers faced by the newcomers, CTC produced and delivered multiple documents in Tamil within the first week that explained the detention hearing process.6 The documents would be given to every single newcomer. This step was taken to inform the newcomers of their rights so they were best able to navigate the system to ensure due process. • Simultaneously, CTC’s Head Office in Toronto became the central point of contact for newcomers and families with collect calls flooding CTC from morning to midnight. A CTC team continuously staffed its phone lines on weekdays and weekends to ensure calls from families and newcomers were answered. With its efforts, CTC connected newcomers with their families in Canada and around the world and also helped families, wherever they were based, find out if their relatives were in Vancouver. After initial contact was made, many newcomers still faced problems connecting to their families or had additional concerns about the legal process. In the coming weeks up until presently, CTC took on this role
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Article III Article IV 5 Article V 6 Article VI

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees and passed messages to family members and provided information and emotional support to newcomers. To make things easier for the newcomers until they were connected to their families, CTC deposited $1,500 ($20 per person) to help all newcomers pay for the expenses of contacting relatives and lawyers. CTC continued to support people without families beyond this initial deposit. After Head Office representatives returned from Toronto, CTC held multiple meetings in a town-hall format to inform interested families about the legal process and complications involved. The meetings took place at CTC’s Toronto Head Office and featured lawyers from the top immigration firms: Barbara Jackman & Associates, Lorne Waldman & Associates and Robert Blanshay & Associates. Both meetings were fully packed as lawyers from the firms answered questions and addressed concerns the families had. These meetings were designed to help families understand the refugee and detention hearing system. CTC helped facilitate legal representation for interested families and for newcomers with no families in Canada. For the latter, CTC also undertook the responsibility of appealing and reaching out to the larger Tamil Canadian community7 and finding people to post bonds and to host the newcomers upon their release. CTC helped newcomers with no family in Canada gather their identity documents from relatives or friends in Sri Lanka. CTC coordinated donations for plane tickets for those who had no families to come to Toronto. We also arranged the purchases of tickets and a person to help drive the newcomers to the airport from the detention facility.

• •

VII. End Result
Today, CTC is pleased to say that all 76 newcomers have been released from detention.

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Article VII

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The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Index of Relevant Documents

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

CTC Press Statement Oct 18, 2009

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Letter to Hon. Peter Van Loan, Oct 18, 2009

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Letter To RCMP, Oct 19, 2009

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Press Meet Tamil, Oct 20, 2009

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The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Globe and Mail article Oct 20, 2009

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

CTC Press Statement Oct 20, 2009

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The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

CTC Press Statement Oct 27, 2009

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Immigration and Refugee Fact Sheet
If you are afraid of being in danger if you are returned to Sri Lanka, you are allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. You have to make your intention to seek asylum in Canada clear at the first opportunity you get to a Canadian official that you meet. At the moment you are detained you have the right to obtain legal counsel. CBSA immigration officers can ask you questions at a port of entry to decide if you have a right to enter Canada during an interview called port of entry examination. A port of entry is a border crossing, international airport or seaport. You must answer the officer’s questions. You have to answer truthfully. Remember you have the right to counsel when you are being asked these questions. These answers can be written down and used against you in immigration proceedings. You should ask for an interpreter if you do not speak English or French. If a CBSA officer thinks that you should not be allowed to enter or remain in Canada because you have broken an immigration rule, you will have to attend an admissibility hearing. Admissibility Hearing: A member of the Immigration division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) will be in charge of the hearing and will make a decision on your case. A hearings officer will represent CBSA and state the case against you. You will have to answer the questions both of these individuals ask you. You have the right to a hearing in English or in French. You have the right to have a qualified interpreter provided by the IRB at your hearing if you do not speak English or French. You also have the right to legal counsel at an admissibility hearing. You do not have to answer questions from the CBSA or Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) outside the hearing. If you are arrested by CBSA or police, the arresting officer must tell you why. They can also search you. If you are detained at a port of entry or arrested inside Canada the officer who arrests you must tell inform you that you have the right to consult with a lawyer. You do not have to answer questions and sat that you will not say anything until you speak to a lawyer. If I am detained by CBSA, what is the process for getting released? Anyone who is detained is supposed to get a detention review within 48 hours of being arrested. The CBSA officers must review the reasons for the detention. These officers have the authority to release the person with or without conditions. A person who has been detained for 48 hours must appear as soon as possible before a member of the IRB’s Page | 23
Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees Immigration Division. Officers must present information to justify the continuation of the detention. The Division member reviews the case and decides if the individual should remain in detention or be released with or without conditions. You can give evidence and say why you should be released. It is up to you to convince the IRB member to release you. You have the right to a qualified interpreter if you do not understand English or French. You have the right to legal counsel at a detention review, but the IRB member will not adjourn the hearing to give you time to get counsel. The IRB member will order your release if he or she is satisfied that: • You are likely to appear for hearings, interviews, or removal which you might be able to show by having a bondsperson, also known as a guarantor • You are not a danger to others or yourself • If hearings officer says that there are questions about your identity, either you help prove who you are or CBSA is not making reasonable efforts to find out who you are • CBSA does not suspect that you are inadmissible for security reasons or because you violated human or international rights What happens if I am not released? f you are not released, the Division member must review the case again in 7 days and then every 30 days after that. You can ask in writing for an early review if your situation changes. There is no clear limit to how long you can be detained, you cannot be held indefinitely. Bondsperson – Having a bondsperson may help in getting you released. A bondsperson should be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident living in Canada who is at least 18 years old and is not in default of another immigration guarantee. Minors - Children under the age of 18 are detained only as a last resort. The best interests of the child are always taken into account when considering whether to detain him or her. WHERE CAN I GET LEGAL HELP? You have the right to legal counsel at a detention review or an admissibility hearing. If you need a lawyer but cannot afford one, you might be able to get a legal aid certificate to pay for a lawyer. British Columbia: • To apply for legal aid in British Columbia, you can contact the Legal Services Society at www.lss.bc.ca or call 604-408-2172 (Lower Mainland) or 1-866-5772525 (elsewhere in British Columbia). The society will provide an interpreter if you do not speak English. Page | 24
Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees • If you wish to apply for a private lawyer, but do not know one, you can call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604-687-3221 (Lower Mainland) or 1-800-663-1919 (elsewhere in British Columbia).

Ontario: • If you have questions about detention, you can contact the Refugee Law Office at 1-800-668-8258 or 416-977-8111. They accept calls from people in detention. • You can also call Legal Aid at 1-800-668-8258 or 417-979-2352 (in Toronto) A toll-free hotline has been set up to assist detainees to access community resources and contact any family members they have in Toronto. For more information please contact Canadian Tamil Congress at 1-800-952-1433

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Information For Newcomers

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

The Case of Ocean Lady's 76 Tamil Refugees

Process To Connect With Newcomers

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Canadian Tamil Congress Briefing Report

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