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Canada’s top court rules human smuggling law too broad in MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady cases

Migrants helping themselves, or other refugees or asylum-seekers flee persecution cannot be considered human smugglers and deemed inadmissible, Canada’s top court ruled on Friday.

In two separate but related cases, the Supreme Court of Canada issued decisions on charges of human smuggling against individuals including asylum-seekers from the MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady, two ships that arrived in Canada in 2009 and 2010, carrying hundreds of Tamil asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka.

In the first case, B010 v Canada, the court dealt with whether four individuals, including three from the MV Sun Sea, were inadmissible as a result of having participated in 'people smuggling'. The individuals in question took on certain duties after the ship’s crew abandoned the vessel shortly after it departure from Thailand. In addition to finding that asylum-seekers could not be held inadmissible for aiding other asylum-seekers reach safety, the Court also held that “[a]cts of humanitarian aid and mutual aid (including aid between family members) do no constitute people smuggling”.

In the second case, the court considered whether four individuals from the MV Ocean Lady, which arrived on Canada’s shores in 2009, could be found guilty of human smuggling under a different provision of the refugee and immigration laws. Here the Court decided that the provision defining human smuggling was too broad and imposed a narrower definition.

The asylum-seekers from the MV Sun Sea will now have a chance to have their cases for refugee status re-heard. The four individuals from the MV Ocean Lady though still face a criminal trial based on charges that they received money to bring people to Canada.

To read the full decisions see here and here.