News/Canada: Whistle-blower migrants offered landed status

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Subject: News/Canada: Whistle-blower migrants offered landed status
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Dec 01 1999 - 20:39:08 EST


Whistle-blower migrants offered landed status
Aim is to catch snakeheads who smuggled Chinese into Canada and to protect
victims, Caplan says
Rod Mickleburgh
The Globe and Mail, November 27, 1999

Vancouver -- Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan is offering automatic
landed status to Chinese boat people willing to turn in the snakeheads who
smuggled them into Canada.

Stressing that offers would be made only on a case-by-case basis, Ms.
Caplan said such measures, including witness protection, are nonetheless
necessary to end abuse of Canada's refugee system by organized criminals
"engaged in deplorable human exploitation."

In a hard-hitting speech in Vancouver that also accused some lawyers of
abusing the system, the minister said the hundreds of Chinese migrants who
arrived on four boats this past summer are often too frightened to provide
information about those who arranged their passage for sums as high as
$50,000 each.

"We want to give those individuals security and protection so they will
feel safe and able to assist us in identifying and charging those involved
in trafficking in human lives," Ms. Caplan told a news conference later.

Added an immigration official: "If it takes officially landing a few people
to crack these snakehead operations, we're ready to do that."

The unwillingness of the migrants to provide solid information has meant
that RCMP have been frustrated in their efforts to trace the human
smuggling rings that organized the migrant boatloads.

"We find this a very exciting and welcome piece of news, albeit a bit
late," said one senior RCMP member, when told of the minister's announcement.

The Immigration Minister already has broad discretion to grant landed
status to specific individuals, but that power is believed to have been
used rarely, if at all, for assisting criminal investigations.

Ms. Caplan said she would offer rights of residency to co-operative
migrants only on the advice of Crown prosecutors and police.

She said this is the first time Canada has faced organized trafficking in
human beings whose goal is not to win legal residency in Canada.

The snakeheads attempt to land their cargo unnoticed and to force their
passengers underground and into servitude as soon as possible to collect
the large fees they charge for the voyage, she pointed out.

Ms. Caplan called for criminal penalties against those convicted of
trafficking in human beings that are just as tough as those for drug
traffickers.

"I will not tolerate the abuse of our system by organized criminals engaged
in such deplorable human exploitation. [Their] victims often have reason to
fear for their lives, and the lives of their family members back home," she
said in her address to a national conference of immigration lawyers.

So far, charges have been laid against crew members of only one of the four
boats to hit the West Coast.

Nine Korean crew members, perhaps more readily identifiable than the
Chinese crew on the other boats, face criminal charges of failing to
provide the necessities of life to their 131 passengers, plus immigration
charges of aiding more than 10 people to enter Canada without valid documents.

Ms. Caplan said she is considering further moves to fight human smuggling
into Canada, including "more aggressive steps to seize the vehicles,
vessels, aircraft and other property used in the course of such operations."

She also called for more rigorous early screening of refugee claimants to
weed out criminals and security threats.

And Ms. Caplan said clearer rules for detention of refugee claimants
brought here by snakeheads may be necessary.

On another topic, she accused some immigration lawyers of abusing Canada's
refugee system.

She said she knows of at least one lawyer who advised a person seeking to
stay in Canada for personal reasons to apply for refugee status as the best
way to avoid deportation.

And lawyers have told her "of many colleagues" who routinely apply for
judicial review of negative refugee decisions to drag out the cases long
enough to win "compassionate and humanitarian" considerations to stay.

"This is simply wrong," she said. "When the integrity of process is
undermined, everyone suffers."

She said an accountability provision for lawyers may be needed in the
Immigration Act to curb such abuses.

Melanie Orhant

morhant@igc.org
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