Canadian authorities bust Romanian human smuggling ring
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012 11:26AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 5, 2012 10:33PM EST
Government officials say they’ve busted a human smuggling ring that illegally brought carloads of Romanian nationals across the U.S.-Canada border over a period of several months.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday that 85 people managed to sneak across the border in Quebec at different intervals, starting in February.
Authorities have rounded up 40 people and 45 are still missing.
Of those 85 people – all Romas who came from the same Romanian village – 35 are under the age of 16 and 30 others were detained under a new law designating them as “irregular arrivals.”
“Irregular arrivals” can be immediately detained and they have to wait five years to apply for permanent residency status or sponsor family members to come to Canada.
Kenney said those involved in smuggling the individuals are part of the investigation.
“We open our arms to true immigrants and true refugees who follow the rules and who wait for their turn in line," he said at a news conference in Stanstead, Que., which is believed to have been the entry point for the group.
"We will not tolerate those who are abusing our generosity or who are tricking their way in."
In a statement, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he has “reasonable grounds to suspect that these arrivals have occurred as part of a human smuggling operation ... for profit or in association with a criminal organization.”
The Romanians first travelled to Mexico, then crossed illegally into the U.S. and drove to Canada, sneaking into the country over unmarked border crossings, officials said.
The first group arrived in February, followed by others in April and October -- three months after the government enacted new immigration laws to deter illegal entries into Canada.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has decried the legislation as unethical and unconstitutional, saying it unfairly penalizes victims of human smuggling rings.
The Roma-Canadian community is also calling for compassion from Ottawa, saying the minority Romas are fleeing persecution in Romania.
“People have been living in apartheid conditions for so long,” said Gina Csany-Robah, executive director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto.
“These people are essentially starving to death and are looking for any means to live.”
The public safety minister has the power to exempt people who are considered vulnerable from mandatory detention and other provisions of the new immigration law.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and files from The Canadian Press