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Cablegate: Canadians Detain Shipload of Tamils

VZCZCXRO6550
PP RUEHGA RUEHHA RUEHMT RUEHQU
DE RUEHVC #0244/01 2950322
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 220322Z OCT 09
FM AMCONSUL VANCOUVER
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5331
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO PRIORITY 0002
RUEHVC/AMCONSUL VANCOUVER 7916

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VANCOUVER 000244

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2019
TAGS: CA PGOV PHUM PREF CE PTER
SUBJECT: CANADIANS DETAIN SHIPLOAD OF TAMILS

VANCOUVER 00000244 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: G. Kathleen Hill, Political/Economic Chief, US
Consulate Vancouver, State.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: The Canadian Navy and Customs and Border Service
Agency (CBSA) officials stopped and detained an aging freighter
attempting to transport 76 men, mostly Tamils, into Canada. The
action took place on October 17, although the vessel had been
tracked from earlier in the week thanks to some foreign
intelligence reporting. Indications are most of the migrants
are ethnic Tamils, although there may be other ethnic groups
represented. Press reports the passengers paid Cdn $45,000 each
for the trip from South Asia. The vessel is thought to be one
of four managed by known Indonesian human smuggler Abraham
Lauhenapessy. RCMP sources have informed us they have reason to
believe this vessel was funded by the Tamil Tigers and are
attempting to establish whether any of the men on board have
ties to that terrorist organization. At the same time, the
Canadian Government is publicly trying to maintain a balanced
approach that emphasizes fair treatment while not appearing too
lenient toward potential terrorists. End Summary.

2. (C) Canadian forces began tracking the vessel "Ocean Lady" on
October 14 but press reports indicate the Canadians received
tips about the voyage from foreign intelligence, most likely
Australian, prior to locating the vessel itself. According to
Canadian Navy contacts, the frigate HMCS Regina was sent out
late on the 14th from Victoria to follow the Ocean Lady, but the
vessel did not enter Canadian waters until October 17, at which
point CBSA officials boarded the ship. CBSA officers found no
documentation on the ship to say who operated the ship and none
of the passengers claimed to be a member of the crew. All the
passengers are male, between the ages of 17 and 45 and only a
few were carrying identification. The ship was brought to port
near Victoria and the 76 men were transported to a detention
facility in the Vancouver area. The CBSA and Royal Canadian
Mounted Police (RCMP) are jointly interviewing the men. All the
detainees have been fingerprinted and photographed and an
initial list of names and birthdates has been passed to U.S. ICE
officials in Ottawa and Vancouver for assistance in verifying
identifications.

3. (C) Canadian Immigration Minister Kenney voiced concern about
"unconditionally embracing" the detainees as refugees and
creating a "perverse incentive" for further dangerous attempts
to enter Canada illegally. The Canadian Tamil Congress and
other groups, such as No One Is Illegal, are strongly advocating
refugee status for all of the detainees, stating all Tamils are
subject to persecution in Sri Lanka. Per the Canadian
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, an individual must first
formally file a refugee claim before being considered for status
in Canada. Two detainees have already claimed refugee status
and had initial hearings. These first claims are being reviewed
but the Immigration Board denied them release because of fears
they would disappear. CBSA expects further claims to be filed
and all detainees have had access to legal counsel. Minister
Kenney has stated that all claims will be given a fair screening
for admissibility, whether or not Tamil Tiger ties are
suspected, but that a key factor is whether the claimants
present a security risk to Canada and Canadian citizens.
Sources told us that other Canadian security agencies interested
in the detainees had been barred from fully participating in the
early screening process while CBSA conducted the initial
interviews. The effort of processing so many undocumented
migrants has strained resources. Several units from RCMP and
CBSA have been pulled out of scheduled Olympics-related security
exercises to deal with the detainees.

4. (C) A source in the RCMP, who is himself ethnic Tamil and was
called in to help with the interviews, told us that some of the
men were claiming to be Tamil, while some were claiming to be
Singalese. He believed that most are in fact Tamil but a few
may not be from Sri Lanka at all. Canadian security authorities
are highly suspicious of the group. According to sources, the
ship, although it looked like a derelict form the outside, was
well-appointed on the inside, complete with a fully-equipped gym
and kitchen. The men's excellent physical condition and the
fact they are all of military age increases the suspicion of
Tamil Tiger ties. Press reports state the men paid Cdn $45,000
each for the voyage to Canada. According to a Tamil Congress
spokesman, the average salary in Sri Lanka is Cdn $1,200 a year.
RCMP and CBSA are attempting to discover how these men raised
such funding and whether they had help from the Tigers.

5. (C) Comment: The Canadian government is proceeding with
extreme caution in processing these detainees. In 1999, three
ships loaded with Chinese migrants made their way to Canadian
shores. Many of the detainees spent years in detention as their
cases were processed. Several hundred were released and
disappeared, presumably into the U.S. as illegal immigrants. In
the end most of the remainder were sent back and only a handful
were granted refugee status. In the end the GOC was highly
criticized from all sides for poor handling of the Chinese

VANCOUVER 00000244 002.2 OF 002


migrants. The GOC is determined this time to demonstrate
transparent, fair and efficient processing. The balanced
approach is strained, however, by the conflict between the
suspected role of the Tamil Tigers, a group classified as a
terrorist organization by the GOC, and the loud voice of the
250,000-strong Tamil community in Canada. End Comment.
CHICOLA

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