Men accused of human smuggling on Tamil ship seeking bail in B.C.

Four men charged with human smuggling after a ship full of Tamil migrants arrived on the West Coast almost two years ago will return to court Friday as they continue to seek bail.

VANCOUVER — Four men charged with human smuggling after a ship full of Tamil migrants arrived on the West Coast almost two years ago will return to court Friday as they continue to seek bail.

The MV Ocean Lady arrived off Vancouver Island in October 2009 carrying 76 Tamil men, who all made refugee claims.

Vignarajah Thevarajah, 33, Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, 33, Hamalraj Handasamy, 39, and Jeyachandran Kanagarajah, 32, were arrested in Toronto last month and charged with human smuggling. They’ve since been transported to Vancouver, where their case is proceeding through direct indictment, without a preliminary inquiry.

Their bail hearing was adjourned until Friday afternoon. The men were led into court wearing red jail garb and white sneakers. They sat in the prisoners’ box wearing headphones as an interpreter translated the proceedings into the Tamil language.

The evidence presented at the hearing cannot be published.

The Ocean Lady was the first of two ships full of Tamil migrants, which have together fuelled a national debate about Canada’s refugee system, and have prompted the federal Conservative government to propose tougher human smuggling laws.

A year after the Ocean Lady arrived, the MV Sun Sea brought nearly 500 Tamil migrants to Canadian shores, including women and children.

The federal government alleged migrants aboard both ships were connected to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers. The group is considered a banned terrorist organization in Canada.

None of the accusations against the Ocean Lady passengers were substantiated, but the Immigration and Refugee Board has ruled against several migrants, ordering them deported.