Dressed in red prison-issued clothing, listening intently as a Tamil interpreter translated the proceedings, two men charged with helping organize the MV Sun Sea’s voyage into Canada made a brief appearance in Vancouver Provincial Court.
Kunarobinson Christhurajah and Lesly Jana Emmanuel were each charged this week with one count of organizing entry into Canada contrary to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Both men face penalties of life in prison and/or a $1-million fine.
Mr. Christhurajah and Mr. Emmanuel did not address the court during their first appearance Wednesday. The men stood behind a glass barrier in the prisoner’s box and followed the hearing through the interpreter. They remain in custody and will be back in court June 5 for a bail hearing.
Counsel for both Mr. Christhurajah and Mr. Emmanuel declined to comment on the case Wednesday.
The MV Sun Sea arrived in Canada in August, 2010, following a dangerous trip across the Pacific Ocean. The rickety ship was carrying 492 Sri Lankan Tamils when it docked at CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island.
The Globe and Mail reported days after the ship arrived that it had been purchased in Thailand by a company called Sun & Rshiya Co. for 5.35-million Thai baht, or about $175,000 Canadian. The company was allegedly owned by Mr. Christhurajah.
An indictment sworn Monday alleged Mr. Christhurajah and Mr. Emmanuel, along with a third man named Thayakaran Markandu, organized the ship’s entry into Canada between August, 2009 and August, 2010, in the countries of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand.
Mr. Markandu was the first person to be charged, in March. However, he was not in Canada at the time, sparking an international manhunt. He was taken into custody last month in France. Efforts to extradite him to Canada are underway.
RCMP Superintendent Derek Simmonds, the officer in charge of the British Columbia Federal Border Integrity Program, said this week the MV Sun Sea investigation remains active and more charges could be laid.
The MV Sun Sea arrived in Canada less than one year after another Tamil migrant vessel, the Ocean Lady. That ship was carrying 76 passengers.
Of the 492 people aboard the MV Sun Sea, 380 were men, 63 were women, and 49 were minors. As of April 30, the Immigration and Refugee Board said six men remained in detention.
Following the arrival of the two migrant ships, the Canadian government introduced a controversial new refugee bill. Advocacy groups said the bill would punish legitimate refugees, while doing nothing to prevent human smuggling.
The bill would have seen people who arrived on ships designated as “mass arrivals” and detained for one year without a review. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said last week, however, that a review will be held at the 14-day mark, and again six months later.
The legislation will also be changed so refugees aren’t punished for visiting their home countries once the situation there improves.