Four men accused of human smuggling not guilty

A B.C. Supreme Court judge acquitted the group involved in Tamil migrant case

VANCOUVER – Four Sri Lankan men accused of bringing dozens of Tamil migrants to Canada aboard a dilapidated cargo vessel eight years ago have been found not guilty of human smuggling.

Prosecutors argued that Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah helped organize the trafficking operation to profit from people looking for asylum in Canada.

But Justice Arne Silverman of the B.C. Supreme Court said the Crown failed to prove its case.

“I am also not satisfied that their actions were to obtain either directly or indirectly a financial or material benefit, or that any of the them obtained one,” he said.

The four men smiled, laughed and shook hands after the judge released his ruling in Vancouver.

The accused were part of a group of 76 young men who arrived on B.C.’s coast from Sri Lanka on the MV Ocean Lady in October 2009. The migrants were seeking refuge in Canada from a civil war that was ravaging their homeland, Silverman said in his decision.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2015 that people providing humanitarian aid, including family members, should not be captured by smuggling laws.

The Crown argued the top court’s exemptions didn’t apply because the accused helped organize and execute the voyage, which cost migrants thousands of dollars.

Silverman said while there was evidence of organized criminal activity in the smuggling operation, he wasn’t satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the men were connected to any crime.

“I have determined that these four accused were asylum seekers and that there is an air of reality to the defence of mutual aid.”

Phil Rankin, a lawyer for Kanagarajah, said he doesn’t expect the acquittal will prompt a surge in the number of asylum seekers making the dangerous ocean voyage.

“I think it’s a good message,” he said, speaking outside court. “The message is that those who profit should be prosecuted and those who seek asylum should not be prosecuted.

“You shouldn’t be convicted of trafficking because you attempted to get your wife and children and family and friends here.”

Kanagarajah, who was accused of helping some of the migrants travel to the MV Ocean Lady, said he doesn’t have the words to explain how happy he is with the judge’s decision.

Speaking outside court, Kanagarajah described how he and the other migrants were convinced partway through the ocean journey they would not survive.

“Most of the refugees believed that we were going to die, because there were so many storms, and the sea was very rough,” he said. “Fortunately we are here today.”

Kanagarajah said he still wants to become a Canadian citizen and plans to go to college to study business.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UVic Vikes new basketball coach on the fast track

At 26, Shalie Dheensaw assumed head coaching role

Spring shift in service includes no weekend late night bus services in Greater Victoria

Annual shift into spring sees additional decrease in frequency on multiple routes

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Excess activity damaging Saanich golf course – despite being closed

Cedar Hill Golf Course manager reminds people of the 170 parks available in Saanich

Greater Victoria liquor stores see spike in sales amidst COVID-19

Customers are buying go-to products in larger quantities

VIDEO: ‘Used gloves and masks go in the garbage,’ says irked B.C. mayor

Health officials have said single-use gloves won’t do much to curb the spread of COVID-19

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

POLL: Will you be able to make your rent or mortgage payment this month?

With the COVID-19 delivering a devastating blow to the global economy, and… Continue reading

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Nanaimo man arrested after allegedly setting house fire

Firefighters arrived to find mobile home ablaze on Barnes Road in Cedar on Thursday

Businesses advised to prepare for federal, B.C. COVID-19 assistance

Canada Revenue Agency portal expected to open next week

Dogs are property, not kids, B.C. judge tells former couple

Court decision made on competing lawsuits over Zeus and Aurora — a pit bull and pit bull cross

B.C. senior gives blood for 200th time, has ‘saved’ 600 lives

There was no cutting of cake for Harvey Rempel but he’s challenging youth to start donating blood

Most Read