(This column was published in the North Shore News on Aug. 4, 1999)

 

More troubling questions about boat people

By Leo Knight

SINCE 123 citizens of the People's Republic of China were caught bobbing around in the waters of Nootka Sound, a great debate has been stirred on the subject of what we as a country should do with them.  

 

No matter which side of the debate one is on, the whole of the situation is very troubling.  

 

In the first place, we need to understand that Canadian authorities did not intercept the ramshackle fishing boat. Two of the "boat people" tried to get ashore on a makeshift raft and were scooped up by a pair of off-duty American cops on a fishing vacation. Once they called 9-1-1 our Coast Guard kicked into action.  

 

This is an integral part of the problem. Our military, Coast Guard and the RCMP have all been hurt badly by the federal government which can't seem to come to grips with what should be its main priority -- to protect the citizenry. Consequently we simply cannot look after our coastline.  

 

The inability to keep an appropriate watch on our shores is precisely why those people were in Nootka Sound in the first place.  

 

Having said that, there are a great many questions arising from the information coming from the illegal migrants. Not the least of which has to do with the stories being told.  

 

According to the information being released by Immigration Canada and the RCMP, all the migrants paid between $30,000 and $40,000 US to be smuggled into Canada.  

 

They claim to have spent 39 days on the rustbucket former fishing boat crossing the Pacific Ocean. So the story goes, they were ill-fed, had no kitchen facilities, no washroom or shower facilities yet they were all in remarkably good physical condition when examined by Canadian doctors. How is that possible?  

 

Last Friday The Vancouver Sun ran a story suggesting the migrants might have had help along the way.  

 

The story quoted Paul Dupre, president of Western Maritime Surveyors, who had inspected the boat on behalf of immigration investigators.  

 

"I really question that the boat actually steamed 39 days to arrive here unassisted. In my experience, that doesn't seem practical -- if not impossible," said the maritime expert.  

 

Dupre confirmed reports of horrible conditions on the boat, overflowing slop buckets, used toilet paper strewn all over the place and various other equally squalid examples. But he said the boat did not have the capacity for sufficient water and fuel for the lengthy journey.  

 

Officially, immigration and police authorities are saying there is no evidence of any assistance such as a "mother ship." Unofficially, the potential for a highly organized international smuggling set-up is a major part of the investigation.  

 

What is clear is the involvement of Asian organized crime groups. Equally, there is also reason to believe Canada was not to be their final destination, but rather it was simple the conduit to the soft underbelly of the United States -- the porous unprotected border between our two countries.  

 

Clearly the traffic in human cargo is rapidly becoming a significant aspect of the Asian gangs.  

 

The weakness of Canadian laws and government policy has played right into their hands, all the while costing the taxpayer a huge amount of money.  

 

Both Canada and the U.S. are signatories to the same UN agreements on refugees. But it is very interesting to look at the differences in the way the two countries deal with asylum seekers.  

 

The migrants are currently being housed at CFB Esquimalt under guard while their refugee claims are being processed.  

 

There are a battery of lawyers assigned to represent the boat people on our dime. Had the boat landed on U.S. soil, say Catalina Island for example, this would not happen.  

 

I spoke with a representative of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and posed the question of how they might handle such a situation.  

 

In the first place, I was told, while the asylum claimants have the right to legal counsel, the American taxpayer does not fund the lawyers.

 

"There is no cost to the government," said the officer. "They are either pro bono or paid for by NGOs (Non Government Organizations)," he said.  

 

The other significant difference is the way the claim is dealt with. Here, once the incipient claimant raises his hand and mumbles the word "refugee" all manner of publicly-funded support kicks in, including legal aid and welfare while the claim is processed.  

 

Not so in the U.S.  

 

They conduct what are called "credible fear" interviews. Essentially, these interviews determine whether there is a reasonable fear of persecution in the homeland of the claimant. If it is determined this does not exist, the person is "repatriated" as soon as possible.  

 

In other words, there is no ability for an economic refugee to gain status in the U.S. They must go through the normal application process.  

 

Our immigration officials always say it's very difficult dealing with the Chinese government. They will not issue travel documents for refugee claimants who do not possess proof of identity. Which means most because, as with the boat migrants last week, they divest themselves of all identification.  

 

What happens is that Canada winds up negotiating with the Chinese government to please take back their citizens and we wind up signing an economic development deal as a bribe.  

 

Not so in the U.S. They invite representatives of the Chinese government to interview the claimants personally.  

 

Once done, the respective travel documents are issued promptly. I asked if they have ever had to enter into an economic arrangement with China as we have. Not surprisingly, he just scoffed at the prospect. The reality is that most of the refugee claimants from China never bother showing up for their board hearings once they're here.  

 

They go to the U.S. and disappear among the masses in New York or L.A. The same will happen with this latest group if they are released from custody. Guaranteed.  

 

The way this breaks down is simple. The U.S. winds up with more illegal immigrants. The Asian gangsters make a ton of money trafficking in human misery. The lawyers continue to build their immigration industry, gumming up our already fuzzy laws. And, you and I pay for the privilege.  

 

  -30-

 

 

 

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