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article imageOp-Ed: What do we really know about Tamils or ship crews in news?

By Hans Smedbol     Nov 17, 2010 in Crime
Vancouver - Despite premature and possibly illegal claims by many people in Canada, even Ministers, that the recent Tamil arrivals and the crews of the vessels bringing them are "illegal migrants", and "human traffickers", no such claim has been legally established.
An interesting if somewhat flawed and possibly even libelous interpretation of the events that have been transpiring with regard to the Tamils, recently arrived on our shores was published in the Digital Journal a while ago, written by G. Robert M. Miller.
While I do agree with the author, that human traffickers and smugglers should be dealt with in a much more serious manner than has been done up until now, there is the problem that these traffickers are filling an obvious need. That need is the need of the Refugee claimants, in this case Tamils, who are fleeing persecution, oppression, prison, torture and even death in their fractured and dangerous homeland.
If there are no means of traveling to the nation which is sought as asylum, how shall these victims of a genocidal government, which continues to defy the UN, continues to defy International Law, does not allow independent third party observers to move freely through the conquered territory, nor to interview the Tamils in that territory, who are mostly in detainment camps and which continues to commit crimes against humanity on these Tamils; I say, how are these victims to escape their prison, and to find a new home, where they might be safe to raise their families in peace, and to contribute their efforts into developing the economy of the nation in which they would like to seek asylum. If there were no NEED for such people as "human traffickers" in this case, they would cease to exist, because it would no longer be profitable. Also if you were to ask the refugee claimants who may have accessed the services of "human traffickers" and "smugglers", if they thought it was worth while to pay these folks to bring them to freedom and peace in a new land, I would venture to suggest that they would say it was well worth their while, even if they had to go into debt to do so. What worth is money when your life is at stake?
Another distinction must be made between such people as the captains and crews of these vessels, who openly travelled across the seas, whilst the Canadian Government knew they were coming to our country, and those criminals who attempt to bring illegals into the country hidden away, in semi trailers and such. In my view, and in the view of many others, there is a great distinction. The former are openly carrying refugee claimants to our country, whereas the others are secretly doing so, knowing that their clients wouldn't get in otherwise, and would not be allowed to claim refugee status. What is the justification here for the captains and crews of vessels openly transporting refugee claimants, to be labelled as human "traffickers" and "smugglers"? "Traffickers" they might conditionally be accused of being, but as for "smuggling", that is usually a very secretive, and possibly dangerous manoeuvre. These people were not "smuggling" the Tamils to our shores. They were OPENLY bringing them, just like any other ship might be bringing cargo, or passengers to our shores. The legal status of the cargo does not necessarily dictate whether the captain and crew might be considered to be smuggling, when they are openly bringing the cargo, and voluntarily submit themselves and their crews, as well as the cargo to Official scrutiny at their destination. They did not attempt to evade the Navy when they came calling to escort the ship to Victoria. They did not attempt to hide the passengers from the Immigration services upon landing. I wonder how any one could possibly seriously attempt to make the claim that these captains and crews are "human smugglers" when they so openly carried about their business? Where is the "smuggling" in all this?
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, a while back, now, announced a new initiative, aimed at ordinary Canadians, in which he his asking the public to keep their eyes open for human trafficking "victims". He mentioned several signs by which one might suspect that one is in the presence of such a victim. He also stressed the difficulty in uncovering such abuses of human rights, as human trafficking, because such victims are hard to spot, and they do not wish to be spotted, because they may be in fear of their lives. He mentioned such things as noticing if staff at a bar or restaurant, or hotel, or whatever, might be seen to be there for very long hours, they might look a little cast down, or furtive if you attempt to make contact, they may not speak English very well, if at all, and so on. This clearly does not describe the current situation with the Tamils. They are not under coercion. They are not secretive. They are not criminals, or fugitives from justice (real justice I mean, not the trumped up kangaroo courts that they appear to have in many of these oppressive states, from where the refugees flee). These Tamils from Sri Lanka have openly approached our country on board a ship, and openly dealt with our Naval authorities, the RCMP and our Border Services agency, as well as the Immigration folks. So where is the claim that they are smuggled? or trafficked?
How do we know that the captain and crew of either vessel which arrived in the last year are human traffickers? Perhaps they are "Good Samaritans", their hearts beating with compassion for the suffering of these much maligned people, who they have helped to find a new and safer life, like the Captain of the MS St. Louis. If we want to cite the shabby nature of the ships, and the dangers of the voyage undertaken by these refugee claimants to arrive here on our shores, as an excuse to label them "human smugglers", then perhaps we should have consulted all of the immigrants who have arrived on our shores since the 1600's, and I'm sure that many if not most of them would have arrived in equally shabby ships, with equally dangerous voyages to the shores of the New World. That is not a sufficient claim to prove anything. If this issue bothers us too much, then may I humbly suggest that we might provide some better ships to bring refugees to our shores.
If this law proposed by Robert Miller in his opinion piece were to have been in effect in the 1930's, the captain of the MS St. Louis, who had vowed to help his passengers, the Jews, who were attempting to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany, who had vowed never to return with them to Germany, but to sail from country to country until all of his passengers had found refuge, this captain would have been liable to life imprisonment, simply for attempting to be a "Good Samaritan". Because he put his compassion, his ideas of human freedom and dignity, into action, he would have been branded a felon, and incarcerated for life, as well as the members of his crew. Now this captain was NOT profiteering from the woes of his passengers, but he was simply attempting to help them to find a country where they could live in peace, free from the fear of the police state that Nazi Germany was.
To the best of our current knowledge, the same goes for the captains of the two ships who brought the recent "wave" of Tamil refugee claimants to our shores. Do we know for certain that either of these captains profiteered from their decision to help the Tamils find a new home free of oppression, detention, torture and death? Unfortunately at this time, it begins to look like Canada is oppressing and detaining these innocent victims of state sponsored genocide and other crimes against humanity. I ask again, how can we know for certain that these captains and crews are criminals, when they may simply be good Samaritans, or even they may just be doing their job as merchant captains and crews, taking whatever cargoes they get to whatever destinations are desired?
Another bone I have to pick with many of the anti-Tamil voices, as well. Many commentators have consistently stated that these people are "illegal migrants", as if to differentiate them from "legitimate" refugees. This is technically, ethically, and morally wrong. They are not illegal migrants any more than any refugees from any other country who arrive on our shores, either by airplane or ship. Or if you want to call them that, then you must label all such refugee claimants as such.
They are "refugee claimants" not "illegal migrants". These kinds of terms are inaccurate and misleading not to say defamatory and inflammatory, calculated to anger the readers, and to predispose them against the claims by these people that they are refugees. Many news commentators have taken the same propaganda line against these refugee claimants, as the government loudmouths, Stephen Harper, and Vic Toews, as well as Jason Kenney, all of whom have been attempting to stir up the masses with their hateful propaganda, by calling these people illegal migrants, and insisting that they are "jumping queues", and that there must be criminal elements, possibly Tamil Tigers among the passengers. Also they have been jumping the gun on assuming that the captains and crews of these vessels are criminals, human traffickers and smugglers, when no such claim has been established as truth.
The government attempted to pull the same sneaky tricks last fall, when they wanted to hold secret hearings for some of the Tamils who arrived then. Despite their wishes, and due to the benefit of Canadian Law, which applies independently of the wishes of the government, not one of the suspects was found to have any links whatever with the "criminal elements", nor were they established as members of the Tamil Tigers.
As for the commonly heard but unfounded information that these Tamils who arrived last year are still in detention, to my knowledge that is a false claim. As far as i know, from the research I have done, they were all released after several months in detention, even the ones suspected at first, of criminal behaviour. They were all released without the secret "security" hearings that had been desired by the government, and they were established as authentic refugee claimants, as do more than 90% of such folks ho come from Sri Lanka.
In all likelihood, most or all of the current crop of Tamils will also be found, despite Prime Minister Harper's inclinations and desires, and despite Public Safety Minister Toews' innuendo and outright deception, not to mention the slanderous propaganda being perpetrated against these folks by all and sundry, to be legitimate refugee claimants.
By definition you cannot call refugee claimants "illegal migrants" until they have gone through due process of Canadian Law, and have been thoroughly investigated by the immigration folks. Only they have the right and the power to make such a claim legitimately. and only after the Immigration folks have made their decision can anyone else make such a claim legitimately. Actually such false claims as made by many commentators, including government ministers and such, could be regarded as actionable libel or slanderous statements, because the results of such claims, made publicly, are destroying the reputation of the refugee claimants without allowing them to establish the truth of their claims. This is wrong, and even illegal, and all such claims should not even be allowed to be published in the press, as they prejudice an already misinformed and inflamed public against the Tamils before they've even had a chance to prove their innocence. This is following the idea of Guilty until proven innocent, and this is not how Canadian law works, being as it follows from the English Common Law precedence, rather than the Napoleonic code.
In our country a person is always presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the media, and the government, are leading the Canadian people to believe that these people are guilty until proven innocent, and even then, there will still be doubts in people's minds, because they are predisposed to see the Tamils as unwanted illegal migrants, when really they are refugee claimants. Another complaint that I have with the Government's methods is that they contravene the right of Habeus Corpus, which was established centuries ago in English Common Law, and the last I heard, still obtains here in Canada. If you have no charges against these folks, they must be released. We cannot just assume that they are guilty and are criminals and, like the Americans, keep them locked up indefinitely in some over packed prison just because we don't like their names, or their colour, or their reasons and methods for coming here. This is not legal, and it is not fair. If they have committed no crimes, release them, especially the women and children. What is there to fear from the women and children?
The same goes for the captains and crews of the two vessels. Until they are established by immigration proceedings, or by a court of law to be guilty of human trafficking, or smuggling, it is simply wrong], and possibly illegal to state that they "are" such. This claim inflames public opinion against them even further. And the public is already inflamed enough by the negative propaganda perpetrated by this government, and some media. This gambit must cease and desist immediately. Even, I am wondering if it might be worth while to pursue the option of bringing charges of Libel and Slander against these government figures, and the media figures who continue to falsely inflame public opinion with their lies and innuendo, as it has such an harmful effect upon the refugee claimants, as well as public opinion.
Already Canadians are all too ready to jump on the "not in my back yard" view, not to mention the exclusionist, verging on racist, and bigoted view that such people should not be allowed to come here. Why? Because they are brown and speak a different language? have a different culture? It is certain that even if there are some Tamil Tigers that get by the Immigration folks that they will not be pursuing their "terrorist" methods here in Canada. They have nothing against us, so why should we worry about them being dangerous to our country?
The worst that could happen is that they might attempt to help their brethren in Lanka with monetary support, and that will not be going to a military operation because the Tamil Tigers have been stamped out, murdered, along with thousands and thousands of other, innocent men, women and children in their homeland. They no longer have an army.
So what is with the constant harping on the dangers of letting any former members of the Tamil Tigers into our country? Where is the clear and present danger of allowing them to come here? Not only that, but perhaps, even the Tigers had some legitimate reason to be in existence. What would you do, if your family and friends had been discriminated against, oppressed, repressed, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for a few generations merely because they are who they are? Would you not wish to seek an homeland of your own? If forced to, might you not seek to use whatever means you have available to struggle against the crushing force of a state which appears to be bent on the destruction of your entire people in their homeland? What would you do?
Despite the fact that Canada and the US and several other nations have declared the Tamil Tigers to be a terrorist organisation, the nation of New Zealand has re-examined the whole issue in their supreme courts over the last while, and the New Zealand supreme court arrived at the decision that the Tigers of Tamil Eelam are not a terrorist organisation, but rather a legitimate political body, which undertook desperate measures to protect their people, and to attempt to establish an homeland in the north of Lanka which they could call their own, and from which the Lankan forces of oppression and evil would be excluded, thus leaving the innocent Tamils free of the constant fear and danger of detention, torture and death, with which the Lankans, full of hatred have continued to oppress the local Tamils, despite their lying claims.
This interpretation of their role makes far more sense to me, and, I suspect, to any seriously thinking and impartial observer of events as well. So, I call on the Government of Canada to live entirely up to their international obligations as set out in the international conventions on refugees. No quibbling. No lying. No petty exclusionary practices. No lengthy imprisonments for innocent refugee claimants. No prison time for good Samaritan captains and crew.
Thus, in view of the Federal Government's intention to pass BIll C-49, which really contravenes the U.N. Convention on Human Rights and Refugees, that Canada has signed previously, I must strenuously insist that this bill should NOT be allowed to pass, nor should any other bill which seeks to restrict the rights of refugee claimants to access asylum here in Canada. As well, I oppose any legislation which will consider such people as the captains and crews of vessels openly bringing refugee claimants to our shores as human traffickers and smugglers, for reasons stated above in my arguments. Under such a law, the Captain and crew of the M.S. St. Louis in 1939, would have been jailed for life, due to their soft hearts, which made them carry all those Jews attempting to escape the horrors of the Third Reich in Germany. Each case in my belief, must be independently analysed, evaluated and decided upon according to the actual facts of the matter, not some crazy, exclusionary law, desired by a bigoted, and prejudiced public, and devised by a bigoted and fascistically inclined government. People come first. Compassion for others must be the rule of the day.
Instead of trying to close the doors to the desperate souls of refugee claimants from Sri Lanka and from all over the world, I strongly suggest and urge that we must instead open our doors and our hearts, and welcome them to a new country, where they might settle themselves, get established, found new careers, and make peaceful contributions to our Canadian society. It is the least that we should do! How else can we live with ourselves?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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