Man arrested in France for smuggling Tamil migrants

MV Sun Sea crew still at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre

493 Tamil migrants arrived in B.C. aboard the MV Sun Sea in August 2010.

493 Tamil migrants arrived in B.C. aboard the MV Sun Sea in August 2010.

A man accused of trying to smuggle Tamil asylum seekers into Canada aboard the MV Sun Sea two years ago has been arrested in France.

Thayakaran Markandu faces a charge of organizing entry in Canada contrary to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for allegedly organizing the trip that brought 492 Tamil migrants from Thailand to Victoria in 2010 aboard a rusty 59-metre-long cargo ship.

Markandu was taken into custody last week by French authorities and Interpol agents who were acting on behalf of the Canadian government.

All 492 Tamil migrants found on board have all made refugee claims. Many of the women and men were held in two Maple Ridge provincial prisons while federal agencies processed them. Men who Canadian authorities allege were the ship’s crew remain in custody at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre.

Markandu is the first person charged in connection with the MV Sun Sea. An international search was launched after the charges were laid last month in B.C. provincial court.

Extradition proceedings are underway to bring Markandu to Canada.

In a joint statement, Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney commended the RCMP, Interpol and French authorities for apprehending Markandu.

“Canada is a generous and compassionate country that welcomes newcomers. But no Canadian thinks it’s acceptable to abuse our immigration system for financial gain through the despicable crime of human smuggling,” read the statement.

The federal government has accused several Sun Sea passengers of having ties to a banned terrorist organization, the Tamil Tigers, and has ordered them deported.

The arrival of the MV Sun Sea and an earlier ship in 2009 that also carried Tamils triggered a sharp response from the federal government, which promised to crack down on human smuggling and illegal migration.

As a result, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-49 to toughen rules. Those include mandatory jail terms for those involved in human smuggling, detention for up to year while their status is being determined and making those who arrive by a smuggling operation wait five years before they can apply for permanent residency in Canada.