Four men accused of human smuggling not guilty

Four men accused of human smuggling not guilty

A B.C. Supreme Court judge acquitted the group involved in Tamil migrant case

VANCOUVER – Four Sri Lankan men accused of bringing dozens of Tamil migrants to Canada aboard a dilapidated cargo vessel eight years ago have been found not guilty of human smuggling.

Prosecutors argued that Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah helped organize the trafficking operation to profit from people looking for asylum in Canada.

But Justice Arne Silverman of the B.C. Supreme Court said the Crown failed to prove its case.

“I am also not satisfied that their actions were to obtain either directly or indirectly a financial or material benefit, or that any of the them obtained one,” he said.

The four men smiled, laughed and shook hands after the judge released his ruling in Vancouver.

The accused were part of a group of 76 young men who arrived on B.C.’s coast from Sri Lanka on the MV Ocean Lady in October 2009. The migrants were seeking refuge in Canada from a civil war that was ravaging their homeland, Silverman said in his decision.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2015 that people providing humanitarian aid, including family members, should not be captured by smuggling laws.

The Crown argued the top court’s exemptions didn’t apply because the accused helped organize and execute the voyage, which cost migrants thousands of dollars.

Silverman said while there was evidence of organized criminal activity in the smuggling operation, he wasn’t satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the men were connected to any crime.

“I have determined that these four accused were asylum seekers and that there is an air of reality to the defence of mutual aid.”

Phil Rankin, a lawyer for Kanagarajah, said he doesn’t expect the acquittal will prompt a surge in the number of asylum seekers making the dangerous ocean voyage.

“I think it’s a good message,” he said, speaking outside court. “The message is that those who profit should be prosecuted and those who seek asylum should not be prosecuted.

“You shouldn’t be convicted of trafficking because you attempted to get your wife and children and family and friends here.”

Kanagarajah, who was accused of helping some of the migrants travel to the MV Ocean Lady, said he doesn’t have the words to explain how happy he is with the judge’s decision.

Speaking outside court, Kanagarajah described how he and the other migrants were convinced partway through the ocean journey they would not survive.

“Most of the refugees believed that we were going to die, because there were so many storms, and the sea was very rough,” he said. “Fortunately we are here today.”

Kanagarajah said he still wants to become a Canadian citizen and plans to go to college to study business.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
MP Morrison calls Keystone XL permit cancellation ‘devastating news’

Kootenay-Columbia MP reacts to the Conservative Party’s removal of a controversial Ontario MP

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

It was a quiet week for COVID-19 cases in the West Kootenay. Illustration: B.C. Centre for Disease Control
Two new cases of COVID-19 in Nelson area

The cases were confirmed for the week of Jan. 10 to 16

The Nelson and District Community Complex ice has mostly been empty this season with the Nelson Leafs’ season on hold due to the pandemic. File photo
Six Nelson sports groups included in provincial grant

The Local Sports Relief Fund is meant to offset pandemic-related expenses

The Nelson library’s podcast club is like a book club, but for podcasts. Photo: Submitted
CHECK THIS OUT: Happiness at the library

Columnist Avi Silberstein invites you to the library’s podcast club

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Jan. 21 marks the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, according to some. (Black Press Media file photo)
The 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century is upon us

Milestone won’t be back for another 100 years

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

Most Read