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

B.C. man convicted in fatal boat crash awaiting appeal date

Leon Reinbrecht maintains rights breached by delays

JoeAnna’s House fundraising campaign reaches $4.5 million

Offering ‘home away from home’ for families of KGH patients

Food truck options to expand in Salmon Arm

City council votes in new food truck regulations

New commercial development coming to council

Liquor outlet and 60-seat restaurant among uses proposed by applicant

Kelowna West byelection called for Feb. 14

Four candidate race to replace departed former B.C. premier Christy Clark

Solitary-confinement veto a chance to address mental health: advocate

B.C. Supreme Court made the landmark ruling Wednesday

KIJHL prospects shine in showcase game

Top players for Kootenay and Okanagan conferences put best skate forward.

Challenge issued to ‘Read for 15’

Regional district libraries to compete by asking patrons to read for 15 minutes on Jan. 26 and 27.

Winter storm coming to B.C. this weekend

The bets are on as to how much snow the province will actually get in the coming days

B.C. civil rights group files complaint about RCMP arrest of man who later died

Dale Culver, a 35-year-old Indigenous man was arrested in Prince George last July

Public asked to report bat sightings

White nose syndrome leads to bats flying in winter or death.

Lawyer says former B.C. government aide ‘barely guilty’ in ethnic vote scandal

Brian Bonney pleaded guilty to a breach of trust charge

Quite a few tears as homemade quilts distributed to residents of Ashcroft Reserve, Boston Flats affected by last summer’s fire

Quilters in B.C. and Alberta worked through the summer and fall to create more than 100 quilts.

Island Health: No need for alarm in wake of Victoria needle-prick incidents

Three incidents in a week prompts meeting between health authority, city service providers

Most Read