CCR expresses deep concerns over Canadian response to Sri Lankans fleeing human rights abuses

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11 October 2013

CCR calls for more consistency in Canada’s response to the serious human rights abuses that continue to occur in Sri Lanka.

On the one hand, CCR welcomes the Prime Minister’s recent strong statement about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. In particular he noted that the “absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian standards during and after the civil war is unacceptable.”

On the other hand, CCR is shocked by Canada’s treatment of Sri Lankans who fled to Canada to escape those human rights violations, most particularly those on the MV Sun Sea who arrived on the West Coast in August 2010.

A recently disclosed memo reveals that before the boat had even arrived, Canada Border Services Agency was directing its officers to use all legal means to detain the passengers as long as possible, to try to have them declared inadmissible and to argue against them being recognized as refugees. This directive was given even though, as the memo itself recognizes, many were likely to be refugees and there might be women and children on board. The rationale for this legal harassment of the passengers was to “ensure that a deterrent for future arrivals is created.”

Furthermore, newly publicized information about the fate of one of the passengers on the Sun Sea raises deeply troubling questions about the relationship of the Canadian government to the Sri Lankan authorities. Sathyapavan “Sathi” Aseervatham, who was recently killed in Sri Lanka, alleged in an affidavit that he was tortured on his return to Sri Lanka, by authorities who knew that he had been on the Sun Sea. Did the Canadian government share the names of the Sun Sea passengers with the Sri Lankan authorities? He was subsequently called in by the Sri Lankan authorities (the Terrorist Investigations Division) who allegedly interviewed him about the affidavit in the presence of officers of the Canada Border Services Agency. Did the Canadian government share a confidential affidavit alleging torture to the very authorities alleged to have committed the torture?

The CCR calls for an investigation into these questions. The CCR notes with regret that the Canada Border Services Agency has no external complaints mechanism, meaning that formally there is no one to investigate such allegations other than the CBSA itself.

Contact:

Colleen French, Communication Coordinator, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223, ext. 1, 514-476-3971 (cell), cfrench@ccrweb.ca