The Canadian government has announced plans designed to reduce immigration fraud and those who take part in for-profit human smuggling.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews spoke about Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, during a press conference in Vancouver, after it was tabled in the House of Commons.
"Human smuggling networks are targeting Canada, because they believe our system can be exploited for profit," CBC News quoted Toews as saying.
Under the bill, anyone who brings more than 50 people into the country illegally would be imprisoned for at least 10 years. People who come to Canada through a smuggling operation would not be able to apply for permanent resident status for five years and, during that period; they would not be allowed to sponsor family members.
"We know that human smuggling is a despicable crime that recklessly endangers human lives," The Vancouver Sun quoted Toews as saying. "We know that jumping the immigration queue is fundamentally unfair to those who follow the rules and wait their turn to come to Canada."
The bill would make it easier to revoke the status of refugee fraudsters. If someone claiming asylum chooses to return to their home country for a visit, the minister of immigration can determine they are not in need of protection and halt the process.
It would also put in place measure to ensure refugee claimants do not receive health benefits that are more generous than those received by Canadians.
The country received 33,161 refugee applicants in 2009.
In August, 492 Tamil migrants arrived in British Columbia on the Sun Sea. Representatives said they were fleeing persecution because of the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, but the Tigers were defeated in May 2009 and a recent UN report stated it need not be presumed that Tamils were still fleeing imminent harm in that country.
There are reports that another vessel carrying human cargo is preparing to leave Southeast Asia for Canada.
NDP MP Olivia Chow stated that without adding more enforcement resources, little will change.
Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau said the bill is a hollow gesture because when boats arrive it is almost impossible to know which people are crew members and which ones paid for passage.
David Poopalapillai of the Canadian Tamil Congress is unhappy about the rules on sponsorship.
"This is inhumane, very cruel. If you're not allowing to sponsor their loved ones until they become a citizen, it's totally inhumane,” News1130 quoted him as saying.
The proposed legislation can be read online.