In the summer of 2010, close to 500 Tamil refugee claimants arrived on the West Coast aboard the MV Sun Sea. Although this mass arrival presented practical and logistical challenges, the numbers were still small in terms of claims made in Canada (less than 2% of claims per year) or the 15,000 Burmese refugees that fled into Thailand in one week in November.
Regrettably, instead of affirming the need to respect international obligations towards refugees, the Canadian government’s public comments on the boat arrivals focused on suspicions of associations with terrorism and smuggling, thus encouraging negative public opinion.
This was followed up in October by the tabling of Bill C-49, a bill that was presented as being anti-smuggling. In fact, however, most of the provisions of the bill would punish refugees. Legal experts strongly condemned the bill as contrary to the Charter and international law.