VANCOUVER – A chronology of events in the case of the MV Sun Sea:
July 16, 2010: Canada watches for a ship alleged to be carrying illegal Tamil migrants after a Sri Lankan newspaper warned the vessel could be headed for British Columbia.
Aug. 11, 2010: The cargo ship believed to be carrying hundreds of Tamils from Sri Lanka continues sailing toward the British Columbia coast, crossing into an economic zone that extends 370 kilometres from Canada’s shores.
Aug. 13, 2010: The Canadian navy intercepts the cargo ship MV Sun Sea carrying 492 people and escorts it to CFB Esquimalt, near Victoria.
Aug. 15, 2010: The RCMP says one of the Tamil migrants on the freighter died just weeks before the ship arrived off B.C. The Mounties say a 37-year-old man died about three weeks earlier after getting sick on board the vessel, with no way to treat his illness.
Aug. 19, 2010: Five migrants, all women, participate in an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing in Vancouver.
Aug. 26, 2010: Shepherd Moss, a lawyer for some of the 492 Tamils, suggests federal agencies are trying to drag out the identity checks on the migrants, thereby keeping them in jail longer.
Sept. 13, 2010: A pregnant woman who arrived aboard the MV Sun Sea is the first of the migrants to be ordered released from detention.
Oct. 19, 2010: Prime Minister Stephen Harper says legislation will be introduced in the House of Commons aimed at tightening immigration law to deter human smuggling and encourage would-be migrants to follow proper channels. He said the “growing problem of mass arrivals through human smuggling … calls into question the most basic obligation of a sovereign country — to control its own borders.”
Oct. 21, 2010: Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says some of the Tamil migrants who arrived in British Columbia waters were already denied refugee status from the United Kingdom.
Feb. 21, 2011: Harper is in B.C. promoting his government’s immigration platform at a time when speculation is rife that there could be a spring election.
March 24, 2011: The last of 63 female passengers on board the Sun Sea is ordered released from detention by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Forty-four of the men on board are still in detention.
April 29, 2011: Marc Tessler, an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board, says the federal government’s definition of which migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea are members of the Tamil Tigers is so broad that, if it was accepted, ongoing hearings to determine membership in the terrorist group would be meaningless.
Nov. 27, 2015: The Supreme Court of Canada says those who are steering a ship, acting as a lookout or cooking meals cannot automatically be branded as human smugglers. The high court effectively ruled that acts of humanitarian assistance or aid between family members do not amount to people smuggling under Canada’s immigration law.
Oct. 19, 2016: A trial begins 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. 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.
Jan. 17, 2017: A British Columbia Supreme Court judge instructs the jury in the case to be “very cautious” about relying on eyewitness evidence to find guilt in the case of the four men. Justice William Ehrcke noted that the jury had heard evidence from witnesses that on more than one occasion, they were shown photographs by the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency and asked if they could identify anyone pictured. He says problems with the photo lineup raised by defence lawyers are a “serious concern.” The Crown tells the jury the RCMP had to adapt to a “rather unusual situation” when they investigated the arrival of a dilapidated vessel.
Jan. 19, 2017: The jury in the case begins its deliberations.
Jan. 25, 2017: The jury finds Emmanuel, Mahendran and Rajaratnam not guilty. Ehrcke declares a mistrial for Christhurajah after the jury told the court it couldn’t reach a verdict in his case.