Human smuggling charges dismissed in MV Ocean Lady case

Human smuggling charges in a British Columbia Court were dismissed against four Eezham Tamil men who were accused of bringing Tamil refugees aboard the MV Ocean Lady in October 2009, the Toronto Star reported on Friday. Justice Silverman of the British Columbia Supreme Court also temporarily suspended his January 11 ruling that rendered Canada’s human smuggling law “to be of no force or effect.” As a result the Crown has 30 days to appeal Justice Silverman’s ruling to the B.C. Court of Appeal. The outcome of this appeal will also affect ongoing human smuggling prosecutions against six Eezham Tamils from the MV Sun Sea.

Justice Arne Silverman dismissed criminal charges against Francis Appulonappa, Hamalro Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanaharajah, and Vignaraja Theverajah.

Justice Silverman dismissed the charges as a result of his January 11 ruling that struck down Section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Section 117 defines human smuggling and prescribes mandatory minimum sentences. Justice Silverman ruled Section 117 to be unconstitutional because it could criminalize the actions of close family members as well as humanitarian workers who act out of compassion and in the best interests of refugees.

In his January 11 ruling Justice Silverman rendered Section 117 “to be of no force or effect.” However on January 25 he temporarily suspended his prior ruling thereby granting a stay on his decision to allow the Crown 30 days to appeal.

While Justice Silverman granted the Crown’s request for a stay on his ruling against Section 117, he did not grant the Crown’s request to stay the charges against the four accused. Instead, the criminal charges of human smuggling based on Section 117 were dismissed.

Developments in the Ocean Lady case will also effect ongoing prosecutions against six Eezham Tamils facing human smuggling charges stemming from the MV Sun Sea case. Two of the six accused remain in custody, the Canadian Press reports.

All ongoing prosecutions based on Section 117 are currently in a state of limbo pending the outcome of the Crown’s appeal of Justice Silverman’s ruling. The B.C. Court of Appeal, the highest court in the province, will hear that appeal.

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