US & Canada

Canada proposes tougher people smuggling legislation

The MV Sun Sea
Image caption Some 490 Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka arrived in British Columbia in August on the MV Sun Sea

Canadian government officials have put forward legislation setting out tougher penalties for those caught smuggling illegal migrants into the country.

The proposed law would sentence individuals illegally bringing more than 50 people into the country to a minimum of 10 years in jail.

Migrants could face jail, have reduced health care access and be denied permanent residency under the law.

The news comes after some 490 Tamil migrants arrived in Canada in August.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews unveiled the proposed measures in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon.

"Canada is a welcoming nation, but our government has clearly stated that we will not tolerate abuse of our system," said Mr Toews, while outlining the Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.

He added: "These measures have a message, and it's that Canada will not tolerate human smuggling. We're not pushovers."

The new legislation will make it easier to charge and convict smugglers.

It would expand the definition of a human smuggler to include any individual who "knows or is reckless as to whether" a migrant has broken the law.

Critics' disapproval

Critics have already voiced disapproval over the proposed law, saying it treats refugees like criminals and puts too much power in the hands of the Conservative government.

Current Canadian law requires prosecutors to prove that those aiding in human trafficking did not know the people being smuggled were without the documents required by law to enter Canada.

"A failure to act, and act strongly, will inevitably lead to a massive collapse in public support for our immigration system," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at a citizenship ceremony held on Tuesday.

Another ship carrying 76 Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka arrived in British Columbia in 2009.

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