Send them home and use the Navy if necessary is the message coming from a new poll on the Tamil boat people issue.
By a margin of five to one, Canadians say the government should reject the almost 500 would-be refugees from Sri Lanka who arrived last week.
The Leger Marketing poll of 1,500 people, released exclusively to QMI Agency, was conducted from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4 as the ship travelled towards the British Columbia coast.
Asked which statement best described their own opinion on what should be done with the ship, which may include members of the banned Tamil Tiger terrorist group, 60% agreed with the statement: “They should be turned away–the boat should be escorted back to Sri Lanka by the Canadian Navy.”
Just 17% agreed with the statement: “They should be accepted into Canada as political refugees.”
A significant number, 20%, said they did not know which answer to choose and 4% did not answer.
Alberta ranked highest with 74% of respondents there saying send the boat back and just 11% saying let them stay, while Quebec was the second highest with 64% opting to send the boat back and 15% saying the passengers should stay.
“That’s a very high number,” said Leger pollster David Scholz.
Scholz said the number is likely high for a number of factors, including concerns about who arrived on the boat, such as possible terrorists, and whether other boats will follow.
“There is that worry that this is potentially people coming in, not just jumping the queue, but coming in and falsely representing where they are from,” said Scholz. “We don’t often hear about other refugee claims that are done on an individual or family basis, but when we see lots of them at the same time we tend to get a little nervous.”
Martin Collacott was Canada’s highest-ranking diplomat in Sri Lanka during the period when the civil war launched by the Tamil Tigers started in the early 1980s. Collacott says we can’t just turn the boat back.
“We need to follow the process that takes the ones that are legitimate refugees and return the others,” said Collacott.
How many are legitimate refugees is up for debate said Collacott, who noted that the ship, the MV Sun Sea, didn’t come directly from Sri Lanka, but from Thailand where the passengers were safe from any possible persecution from the Sri Lankan government.
As for what he takes away from the fact that the majority of Canadians don’t want the government to let the would-be refugees stay, Collacott pins the blame on a battered immigration system.
“I think it shows Canadians feel they are being taken advantage of,” said Collacott.
The Canadian Tamil Congress believes the poll results are a reflection of feelings towards the immigration system, not Tamils themselves.
“I think there is a growing frustration,” said spokesperson Manjula Selvarajah.
Still Selvarajah puts some of the blame on government rhetoric that has warned about possible criminal or terrorist connections on the boat.
“People may be reacting to certain words such as queue jumpers and human smugglers,” said Selvarajah. “If people understood the immigration and refugee system and the process in place, they may have a bit more faith in the system.”
Pollster Scholz told QMI Agency the results cannot conclude whether race or ethnicity are factors in the reaction Canadians are having to the boat’s arrival.
The poll of 1,500 adult Canadians was taken online between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
[Other stories about the arrival of Tamils in Canada are listed here.]