The federal government has dragged its heels disclosing evidence to ensure the continued detention of MV Sun Sea passengers, including a mother who's been held for months because of a necklace that allegedly links her to the Tamil Tigers, her lawyer said Monday.
The woman and her children - who can't be identified because of a publication ban - have been at a Burnaby youth corrections facility since the MV Sun Sea arrived in B.C. last August. Of the 63 women onboard the cargo ship, 25 were taken to the Burnaby jail with their children. Only one of those 25 remains locked up.
At an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing in Vancouver, the Canada Border Services Agency argued the woman should be kept behind bars until the necklace with a pendant - called a thali - can be fully investigated. CBSA previously said the woman's thali is believed to be given only to members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist organization banned in Canada. The Tigers were defeated in the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.
Douglas Cannon, the woman's lawyer, said there was nothing suspicious about his client's explanation that her husband bought her the thali for their wedding day. He also blasted CBSA's lack of disclosure, arguing seven months after his client arrived in Canada he still doesn't know exactly what she's accused of.
"The Minister [of Public Safety]is not pursuing the necessary steps to properly investigate this matter. It's not known what other information may be relevant to this matter that's in the files of the minister that has not been disclosed," he told the board.
Mr. Cannon also criticized CBSA's plan to have the thali analyzed by an expert currently in Afghanistan. CBSA said it could be two months before the expert completes her report and did not shed any light on why the refugee claimant is believed to be a security risk to Canada.
Mr. Cannon said after several months of trying, he's finally been able to get a copy of some of the evidence against his client. He said that evidence suggests the thali is one given to a woman on her wedding day to signify a husband's bravery. The thali apparently has two tiger teeth and a tiger symbol in the middle, though Mr. Cannon said he has not yet been able to see it.
Sonya Sunger, CBSA's hearings representative, said the government has been as upfront as possible. Ms. Sunger said the board does not require the agency to disclose every bit of evidence it may rely on at a hearing.
She said there's a reasonable suspicion the woman is a Tamil Tiger because she worked in a community centre operated by the group. Mr. Cannon said no evidence has been provided to support that claim.
The board adjudicator reserved her decision on the woman's detention review.
The migrant appeared at the hearing in person and, through an interpreter, answered questions about her time in custody. She said CBSA first hinted it thought she was a member of the LTTE in November and has interviewed her seven or eight times in all. She said one of the border officials told her months ago she would be the last woman kept at the Burnaby facility.
She alleged that she once asked to speak with her lawyer during a CBSA interview, but was told she had to answer questions from border officials that very minute because she was in custody.
At one point, Ms. Sunger recalled, a border official told the woman she might have to go back to Sri Lanka. The woman said she would take her and her children's lives before she ever went back.