Interpol calls people smuggling a transnational crime, a violation of human rights and a contemporary form of slavery. It is also a growing phenomenon - even in Canada, where two ships ferrying 568 Sri Lankan refugee claimants arrived in less than 12 months.
The government is right, then, to introduce new legislation to combat human smuggling, and to appoint Ward Elcock, former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, as a special adviser to stop the crime at its source.
The government must act to safeguard the integrity of Canada's immigration system, which welcomes 250,000 newcomers a year. Polls show that the public's high level of support for immigration dipped by 20 per cent after the arrival of the Sun Sea and Ocean Lady - even though asylum seekers and skilled immigrants are two very different streams.
Large-scale arrivals of refugee claimants strain the system, and make it difficult to determine their identity, and whether they are a security risk.
The Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act proposes to make it easier to prosecute human smugglers, impose mandatory prison sentences on convicted smugglers and hold ship operators to account.
The act also aims to deter asylum seekers from paying human smugglers by introducing punitive measures, should they arrive in this manner. They can be detained for up to one year. And, if their claims are approved, they may not return to the country from which they are fleeing.
"The refugee debate is emotional. But human smuggling is a global phenomenon and other target countries are cracking down, including Australia and the U.S. Canada must do something," says Sergio Karas, past chair of the Ontario Bar Association's immigration section.
The act, however, goes too far by forcing successful claimants who entered via human-smuggling ships to wait five years to apply for permanent residence, and not letting them sponsor family members. Asylum seekers must be encouraged to approach the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the first safe haven they reach. But Canada should not deny citizenship rights to people who are found to be genuine refugees, no matter how they managed to get here. Overall, though, the thrust of the act is welcome. The government is right to tackle this crime.
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