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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is striking a tough tone on the mass arrival of migrants on Canada's shores, saying Canada is a land of refuge that must not be abused.

"Canadians are pretty concerned when a whole boat of people comes - not through any normal application process, not through any normal arrival channel - and just simply lands," he said, noting that all of the 492 Tamil refugee claimants on the MV Sun Sea will undergo security screenings.

Speaking at a news conference in Mississauga, Ont., on Tuesday, Mr. Harper added that the government "will not hesitate to strengthen the laws if we have to" in order to prevent more ships from coming to Canada.

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"We are responsible for the security of our borders, and the ability to welcome people, or not welcome people, when they come," he said. "This trend gives us some significant concern, and we'll take whatever steps are necessary going forward."

Mr. Harper's comments came after the Liberals called on the government to show more compassion and to stop emphasizing the possibility that some of the Tamil refugee claimants might be criminals or terrorists.

"There's a little bit too much on terrorism and human trafficking and not enough perhaps to indicate, I would say, a little bit of a level of compassion," Liberal MP Marc Garneau said at a news conference. "Just a sense of proportion on this whole thing would be nice."

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