Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the ship MV Ocean Lady for a photo opportunity in Delta, B.C. Monday, Feb 21, 2011.The MV Ocean Lady, which was carrying illegal migrants to Canada, was seized and towed into a port in Victoria, B.C. by the Navy on Oct 17, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
Four Sri Lankan men accused of human smuggling have been found not guilty by a British Columbia Supreme Court judge.
Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah were charged after the MV Ocean Lady, a decrepit cargo vessel, took 76 Sri Lankan asylum seekers from Thailand to the west coast of Vancouver Island in October 2009.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Arne Silverman said the men were asylum seekers who had an air of reality to their claim of helping others aboard the MV Ocean Lady get to asylum on the B.C. Coast.
Silverman said he wasn’t satisfied the men were knowingly connected to organized crime.
The Crown argued the four accused were out to make a profit on people seeking asylum in Canada and were in charge of a smuggling operation.
However, defence lawyers said their clients were trying to escape poor living conditions in their home country, were seeking a better life and their work did not facilitate organized crime.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2015 that people providing humanitarian aid, including family members, were exempt from smuggling laws. The high court ordered a new trial for the four men after the ruling.
With files from The Canadian Press