Accused Tamil human smuggler gets bail while awaiting new trial in Vancouver

Migrants look over the side of the MV Sun Sea after it was escorted into CFB Esquimalt in Colwood, B.C., on Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. Photo by Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

A Sri Lankan man accused of bringing hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers into Canada illegally has been granted bail after more than six years in jail.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled on Thursday that Kunarobinson Christhurajah does not have to remain in custody while awaiting a new trial over allegations of human smuggling.

Last week a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of Christhurajah, who is accused of organizing the voyage of the MV Sun Sea, a rickety cargo ship that transported 492 Tamil asylum seekers from Thailand to Canada in August 2010.

The jury found three other men not guilty.

Christhurajah's wife, Mary Patrishiya, sobbed outside the courtroom after learning the result of the bail hearing.

"I have no words," she said, covering her tear-streaked face with both hands.

"I'm going to hug him," she added when asked about the first thing she would do when she saw her husband.

Christhurajah's six-year-old daughter was with her mother outside court on Thursday. The girl was born months after the couple arrived in Canada aboard the Sun Sea.

"Nobody here. No friends. No family. I was pregnant. I had hardship the last six years," his wife said. "But I forgot everything in this moment."

The criminal trial against the four co-accused began in October and lasted four months.

The Crown argued Christhurajah was the owner of the Sun Sea based on evidence that he rented office space in Bangkok in 2008 and 2009 under a fake name on behalf of Sun & Rashiya Co., the company that officially owned the vessel.

Christhurajah's lawyer told the trial there was no evidence his client profited from his actions and the Crown had failed to prove he hadn't acted for a humanitarian purpose, the Vancouver Sun reported.

Lawyers for Lesly Emmanuel, a fellow Sri Lankan, and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam, a Canadian, argued their clients had acted on humanitarian grounds, which meant they had not violated the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

A 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which also stemmed from the MV Sun Sea, struck down human smuggling legislation in the Criminal Code, arguing it had become "overbroad" and could be interpreted to apply to humanitarian workers and family members of asylum seekers.

The lawyer for Nadarajah Mahendran, also a Canadian, argued his client was the victim of misidentification that resulted from shoddy investigative techniques on the part of the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency.

Christhurajah's bail conditions include to keep the peace, to report weekly to a bail supervisor and to refrain from contact with any of the three co-accused with whom he stood trial. He has also been ordered to pay a $10,000 recognizance.

Outside court, Christhurajah's lawyer said a new trial date has not been set for his client.

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