The investigation into the human smuggling ring behind the MV Sun Sea, which brought 492 asylum seekers to Canada in 2010, has ended with charges against two Canadians and four Sri Lankans.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested a 55-year-old man in Ontario Tuesday and issued warrants for two more suspects, bringing to six the number of alleged people smugglers the Crown intends to prosecute over the Sun Sea.
Superintendent Derek Simmonds, head of the RCMP’s Federal Border Integrity Program in British Columbia, said in a statement Wednesday the “investigative phase” of the Sun Sea probe was winding down and he did not expect further charges.
“I am not able to provide details of the roles each of these six individuals played, but I can inform you they represent not only the leadership aboard the vessel, but also the organizers from Canada and internationally,” he said.
But only three are in Canadian custody: The ship’s owner, Kunarobinson Christhurajah; an alleged crew member, Lesly Jana Emmanuel; and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam, a Canadian who lived in Markham, Ont.
A fourth suspect, Thayakaran Markandu, was picked up in Paris on March 29 after a brief international manhunt and Canada has requested his extradition. Police believe the remaining pair, Nadarajah Mahendran and Sathyapavan Aseervatham, are not in Canada.
“Efforts to confirm their location and legal options to have them returned to Canada to face their charges will continue,” Supt. Simmonds said. All face possible sentences of life imprisonment and $1-million in fines if convicted.
The charges announced Wednesday are the first against Canadians implicated in the Sun Sea. Mr. Mahendran, 56, is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian and former owner of SRV Convenience Plus, a shop in the heart of Toronto’s Tamil-Canadian neighbourhood.
Neighbours said he imported South Asian clothing and travelled frequently. He was living in Ajax, Ont., last year when a National Post reporter asked him about his involvement with the Sun Sea. He declined to comment, as did Mr. Rajaratnam.
But documents show the Canadians were rounded up together by Royal Thai Police in Bangkok two years ago as part of an investigation into the Sun Sea smuggling operation.
At the time, Thai police, the RCMP and Australian Federal Police were investigating the ship, although it had not yet sailed. As part of that probe, Thai police searched an apartment building in Bangkok.
During the raid, they found food, supplies and engine parts they believed were being stockpiled for the voyage of the Sun Sea, including more than 500 litres of engine oil.
Mr. Mahendran, Mr. Rajaratnam, Mr. Christhurajah and Mr. Markandu were all arrested at the scene, fined and handed over to immigration police for deportation.
But the arrests did not stop the smuggling operation. Would-be refugees who had signed contracts promising to pay the smugglers tens of thousands of dollars were bused from hotels in Bangkok to southern Thailand, where they boarded fishing boats that ferried them to the Sun Sea.
After several months of loading in the Gulf of Thailand, the ship arrived off the west coast of Vancouver Island in August 2010. Their arrival prompted the Conservative government to draft controversial legislation to deter would-be refugees from paying for illicit passage to Canada by sea.
“Canada is a generous and compassionate country that welcomes newcomers, but Canadians are not naive. Canada will not tolerate abuse of our immigration system for financial gain through the despicable crime of migrant smuggling,” Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement Wednesday.
Two years after the Sun Sea’s arrival, only seven of the passengers have been accepted as refugees. Another seven have had their claims rejected, while 20 have been ordered deported over their involvement in human smuggling or links to the Tamil Tigers rebels, National Post reports.