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RCMP officers and Canadian Boarder Services onboard the Sun Sea filled with Tamils from Sri Lanka on August 13, 2010. (JOHN LEHMANN/Globe and Mail)
RCMP officers and Canadian Boarder Services onboard the Sun Sea filled with Tamils from Sri Lanka on August 13, 2010. (JOHN LEHMANN/Globe and Mail)

Human smuggling case highlights two agencies at cross purposes Add to ...

One arm of the government sent him away. Another wants to bring him back as the purported “kingpin” of the human-smuggling operation that carried 492 Tamils to Canada’s shores two years ago.

The RCMP announced last week that Sathyapavan Aseervatham was one of six men charged in connection with the arrival of a migrant ship, the MV Sun Sea, off the British Columbia coast in August, 2010. The Mounties said Mr. Aseervatham was out of the country and efforts were under way to have him brought to Canada.

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But The Globe and Mail has learned Mr. Aseervatham was in Canada until last July, when he was deported back to Sri Lanka. The Canada Border Services Agency carried out the deportation despite the fact that the RCMP were investigating Mr. Aseervatham’s role in the smuggling operation.

The incident highlights what can happen when the CBSA’s mandate collides with that of the RCMP – the former is tasked with removing people who are in Canada illegally, while the latter aims for arrests.

Getting Mr. Aseervatham back to Canada might not be easy. Canada and Sri Lanka do not have an extradition agreement, and Mr. Aseervatham has been held in custody since he was deported.

“I think it’s a blunder that CBSA made,” said Nagendra (Sam) Selliah, a Toronto-based immigration consultant who represented Mr. Aseervatham at a few of his Immigration and Refugee Board hearings.

Mr. Selliah described Mr. Aseervatham as “the kingpin,” and said the RCMP indicated charges would be laid against him before he was deported. Mr. Selliah said sending Mr. Aseervatham to Sri Lanka, only to then try to return him to Canada, was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The CBSA declined to comment on the case. An e-mail statement said the Privacy Act restricts what CBSA can say about a particular case or person. “The removal of any one person is covered by the Privacy Act, as such we cannot confirm or deny any information,” the e-mail said.

Sergeant Duncan Pound, a federal RCMP spokesman, wouldn’t comment on whether the Mounties and CBSA got their signals crossed. In an interview, Sgt. Pound would only say charges are laid when the evidence has been collected.

“There have been many cases in the past that the RCMP have worked where we believe we have a person of interest, a suspect – whatever the terminology is that we use – on the specific case,” he said. “If we don’t have the evidence and they’re on their way – whether they’re leaving the country, leaving the province, or going wherever they’re going – then our hands are tied by the need to respect our laws.”

Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the federal Ministry of Public Safety, said the CBSA has a duty to proceed with deportations as soon as reasonably possible. “At all times, the RCMP and CBSA work in collaboration to ensure safety and security of Canadians,” Ms. Carmichael wrote in an e-mail.

The RCMP said last week that the six men who’ve been charged with organizing the Sun Sea’s entry into Canada, contrary to section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, represent not only the leadership aboard the vessel but the trip’s organizers. The men face penalties of life in prison and/or a $1-million fine. None of the allegations against them have been proven.

Gabriel Chand, a Vancouver-based lawyer who also represented Mr. Aseervatham, said he was limited in what he could disclose about the case. He said the RCMP spoke with Mr. Aseervatham before he was sent back to Sri Lanka, and knew full well that he was leaving. Mr. Chand said the RCMP seemed to have enough information to press ahead with charges while Mr. Aseervatham was in Canada.

Mr. Chand alleged Mr. Aseervatham has been tortured since he’s been in Sri Lankan custody. His wife and child remain in Canada.

The MV Sun Sea docked at CFB Esquimalt nearly two years ago. Of the Tamils on board, 380 were men, 63 were women, and 49 were minors. The MV Sun Sea arrived less than one year after another migrant vessel, the Ocean Lady, carried 76 Tamils to Canada.

The federal government responded to the migrant ships by introducing a controversial refugee bill. Advocacy groups have said the bill punishes legitimate refugees, while the Conservatives have said it makes it easier for officials to crack down on smugglers.

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