A Sri Lankan man believed to be the mastermind behind the MV Sun Sea human smuggling case has been arrested in France and will be extradited to Canada, the RCMP said Thursday.
Thayakaran Markandu was arrested this week by French authorities and Interpol agents who were acting on behalf of the Canadian government. He was charged last month with organizing the smuggling of 492 people to Canada in August, 2010. Markandu, 40, was arrested without incident, RCMP said.
The Sun Sea smuggling operation became a celebrated case when Canadian authorities, given advance notice of the ship's departure for Canada, intercepted the vessel off Vancouver Island and escorted it to Esquimalt Harbour.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney wasted no time in congratulating the arresting authorities for capturing Markandu.
"We would like to take this opportunity to commend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Interpol and the French authorities for their efforts in apprehending Mr. Markandu. Canada is a generous and compassionate country that welcomes newcomers. But no Canadian thinks it's acceptable to abuse our immigration system for financial gain through the despicable crime of human smuggling," the two ministers said in a joint statement.
They also used Markandu's arrest to underscore why they brought in new immigration rules that are under debate in Parliament.
"Our government takes this crime very seriously and that is why we introduced the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. With this new legislation we are cracking down on human smugglers, including making it easier to prosecute them, and introducing mandatory minimum sentences."
However, that legislation has also been criticized as unduly harsh for the victims of human smuggling because it would allow the immigration minister to detain for one year anyone he has "reasonable grounds to suspect" was smuggled.
According to the National Post, Markandu came to the attention of police in Thailand in 2010 when he appeared to be organizing a smuggling operation involving a large vessel. Thai, Canadian and Australian authorities were led to Markandu while tracking suspected smuggled passengers who were being moved from Bangkok to southern Thailand.
When he was arrested by Royal Thai police at a Bangkok apartment building, he was using a French passport that listed his birthplace as Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.
During the raid, Thai police seized 529 litres of engine lubricant in dozens of plastic oil drums, sacks of food and engine parts. Police photographed Markandu posing in front of the supplies.
But the arrests resulted only in charges of improper storage of materials and the men were released after paying a 10,000 Thai Baht fine, about $320.
In March of this year, the RCMP charged Markandu with human smuggling. They said he was living abroad while Mounties tried to track him down. Markandu faces a maximum of life imprisonment and a $1-million fine if convicted. (Source: vancouversun)