If we do not respond robustly to the Sun Sea end run around our legitimate rules governing immigration, we lose the ability as a society to set those rules, and immigrants become self-selecting based solely on their ability to pay enough that human smugglers will take the risk of transporting them… or someone else's willingness to pay on their behalf for reasons unlikely to contribute to our well-being. We make a mockery of the normal process by which immigrants are selected by Canada and create an incentive for more people to jump the queue. This is unfair to those potential immigrants who play by the rules, unfair to legitimate refugees (and I readily admit that some of the Sun Sea passengers will turn out to be legitimate, but by the same token many will not), damaging to our ability to protect ourselves from undesirables who would not pass our screening tests, and so forth.
It is reasonable for the government to assert Canada's sovereignty and control over its borders. To do so, it must discourage future such self-selection and queue jumping. This is the second boatload of people to arrive in recent months, and I don't think it is unreasonable to think that there are a lot of people out there watching to see how Canada will react.
If the response is a jaded shrug and business as usual, we are simply sending out a general invitation for people who cannot pass the normal process to make their own process — at Canada's expense. And given the track record of a dangerous minority of Tamils in Canada, and the likelihood that they may wish to establish a 'government' in exile, and continue their policy of extorting money from the Tamil diaspora in Canada, I think we have a particular need right now to be vigilant with respect to attempts by Tamils to do an end run around existing rules and procedures.
I am, as Laurier and Macdonald were, very pro-immigration; my writings on this score, including in Fearful Symmetry and Canadian Century are quite clear. But I want immigration to be carried out in a way that is fair to all, protects the interests of Canadians and ensures that it is Canada who makes the rules, whatever they are. I think the Sun Sea endangers all of these objectives.
Scott Newark's paper just published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute suggests some reasonable steps to give the government of Canada the tools to respond to these attempts to frustrate our immigration and refugee system. If you think Canada should welcome with open arms all who can make it to our shores you will not favour these or any other immigration controls. But Canada already accepts one of the highest, if not the highest, proportions of immigrants relative to our population of any country in the world so it is hard to accuse Canadians or their governments with being anti-immigrant. And I think to try and portray the Sun Sea incident as being chiefly about immigration is to misunderstand its true nature.
It is about fairness, safety and sovereignty. All three are legitimate concerns of Canadians and their governments, and should be protected by Canada's laws.