VANCOUVER â€” The fate of four men accused of using a derelict cargo ship to smuggle hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers into Canada was placed in the hands of a jury on Thursday.
The 12 jurors began their deliberations in the case of two Canadians and two Sri Lankans who have pleaded not guilty to organizing or assisting the 2010 voyage of MV Sun Sea.
The Sun Sea left Thailand in July and arrived in B.C. waters five weeks later, carrying 492 Sri Lankan Tamils intent on claiming refugee status.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia heard that the vessel crossed the Pacific Ocean without a formal crew, despite being unseaworthy and designed only for coastal travel.
“It is important that you consider the evidence in relation to each of the accused separately,” Justice William Ehrcke told the jury in his final instructions.
“For each accused, ask yourselves, ‘What evidence is there that that man did the things that the Crown alleges?’ “
Kunarobinson Christhurajah, Lesly Emmanuel, Nadarajah Mahendran and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam are each charged with violating the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act by organizing, inducing, aiding or abetting the illegal entry of 10 or more people into Canada.
Mahendran and Rajaratnam are Canadian citizens who were not aboard the vessel. Both are accused of being agents who met with migrants in Bangkok and arranged their journeys across the Pacific.
Throughout the trial, legal counsel for Christhurajah, Emmanuel and Rajaratnam argued their clients acted for humanitarian reasons, either to assist their family members or to help fellow asylum seekers.
Earlier during the proceedings, Emmanuel’s lawyer pointed out that his client bought a ticket intending to be a passenger on the vessel. It was only after the Thai crew abandoned the ship that Emmanuel was pressured into taking over as captain because of his maritime experience, his lawyer said.
Mahendran’s lawyer said his client is the victim of misidentification.
He said an investigation conducted by the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency into Mahendran was seriously flawed because it broke “almost every single rule” designed to prevent wrongful conviction. This involved including identifying marks on photos used in a lineup and taking no precautionary measures to prevent witnesses from discussing the pictures.
In his summary, Ehrcke told jurors that the Crown argued none of the men acted on humanitarian grounds, but rather to advance their own self-interest. Crown attorney Charles Hough asserted that putting hundreds of people on a small, dilapidated vessel unfit for travel on the open sea in deplorable conditions does not constitute a humanitarian act, Ehrcke said.
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Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press