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

Just Posted

Trail Smoke Eaters grind out win over Vernon Vipers

Trail Smoke Eaters Kent Johnson scored the game winner in a 3-2 victory over the Vernon Vipers

Tea, crafts, music and dance this weekend in Greater Trail

Grapevine: Events in the Trail area for the week of Nov. 15 to Nov. 21

Car accident prompts advisory from Greater Trail RCMP

Extrication by regional firefighters; driver and passenger walked away with minor injuries

Trail mayor announces task force to address crime

Coun. Sandy Santori was appointed to the Community Safety Task Force

Castlegar’s Waterline property purchased; owners to protect it for rock climbers

New owners plan to subdivide, sell bluffs to recreational climbing group

Extreme Education and Career Fair helps give back to the community

It’s estimated that there will be one million job vacancies in the next nine years in B.C.

Hunter who saved B.C. man pinned inside smashed truck says ‘God was sending me to him’

Sayward man describes chance discovery of Duncan Moffat, 23, in northern Vancouver Island woods

Road-weary Canucks thumped 6-2 by Wild

Vancouver hosts the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday

Toronto private school didn’t report alleged sexual assault to police

Police say a sexual assault at an all-boys Catholic institution was not reported to them

China says butt out; Canada calls for release of “arbitrarily” detained Muslims

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman accused Canada’s envoy of going beyond their diplomatic roles

Dead Saskatoon tattoo artist’s skin removed and preserved

The skin was removed in honour of the well known artist’s work

B.C. Realtor suspended after helping intern forge note about sick grandma

Vancouver real estate agent Jaideep Singh Puri has to pay fine, take ethics course

Offensive Facebook post by Okanagan Conservative riding sparks outrage

Post taken down after Conservative MP in neighbouring riding condemns it and demands removal

Judge rules against ALC on rural B.C. subdivision

The ALC can’t change the definition of an acre, the judge ruled.

Most Read