OTTAWA, June 14, 2011 (AFP) – Canadian police arrested Tuesday four Sri Lankan nationals accused of being behind a 2009 operation that illegally brought 76 Tamils from war-torn Sri Lanka to Canada on a rickety freighter. All 76, including the four people arrested, requested asylum when they arrived off the coast of British Columbia in October 2009, after reportedly paying tens of thousands of dollars for passage on the freighter Ocean Lady.
The four men arrested, aged 32 to 39, “are alleged to be involved with organizing the overall venture and of being active leaders on the vessel,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement.
They were charged with human smuggling under Canada’s immigration and refugee protection laws and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a CAN$1 million fine if convicted, authorities said.
The refugee claims of all 76 Ocean Lady passengers are still pending.
Police continue to investigate their possible ties to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, which is banned in Canada as a terrorist group.
Following their arrival in this country, Canada’s border agency singled out 25 of them as possible Tamil Tiger rebels fleei