Over the summer of 1999, a series of tramp coastal freighters crossed the Pacific to reach the Americas from China. Canadians are well aware of the three, or possibly four, that made it to Canadian waters. Other vessels are reported to have reached other coasts from Chile to Mexico.
The boats were laden with would-be illegal immigrants. Drawn – as have been most of those who immigrated to the New World – by the prospect of a new life, they began by making a bad mistake. They allowed themselves to be recruited by “snake-heads”, organizers of illegal immigrant runs. The snakeheads required a stiff fee (sometimes as high as $40,000 US) to smuggle them into North America. Few can afford this, and most opt for an alternative arrangement. This entails working off their debts through virtual slave labour for people associated with the Snakeheads’ Triads. This can take many years, (although attractive young women can take a faster route to discharge their “debt”). Younger men can sometimes be recruited for another fast track by working as junior Triad gang members.
While the Canadian authorities referred to the interception of the three ships as a successful operation, in fact, they did no harm to Triad operations. The illegal immigrants owe the Triads and caveat emptor rules. If they paid in advance, their interception costs nothing to the Triads. If they owe the Triads their personal service in a factory, restaurant or brothel, they still owe it… and organized crime is a law unto itself. Our legal system carries no weight with them.
If an illegal refugee is held in Canada, the Triads can wait. We cannot detain him or her forever. Once they are released, or – as if it matters – they manage to make a successful refugee claim (at our expense), the Triads are still out there. In short, they are in serious trouble, no matter what our authorities believe they can do.
So perhaps the best service Canada can provide for these boat people is this: when the next wave comes, waste no time, but return them immediately to the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, if, as is commonly the case, the PRC proves obstreperous, offer to carry them to Taiwan instead. One can be assured that a Chinese airport will then rapidly become available.
Some might regard this solution as callous or cruel- and so it is, for those individuals who were foolish enough to sign on with the snakeheads in the first place. But, once the word gets around that a $40,000 debt and five weeks confined in a filthy rust-bucket buys you nothing but a fast flight back, the snakeheads may find that their business is drying up. We cannot protect those who have already signed up with the smugglers, but we can protect those who are thinking about it.
Canada celebrates the fact that it was one of the first jurisdictions to ban the practice of slavery. However, 200 years later, we find ourselves receiving what are virtual slave ships carrying people who voluntarily submitted themselves to servitude at the hands of organized crime. Why should we now tolerate slavery in its new guise?