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Authorities search for Romanians smuggled into Canada

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OTTAWA -- The hunt is on for 45 Romanian adults and children smuggled into Canada.

Government officials said Wednesday the missing are among 85 people who entered the country illegally at intervals stretching back to February.

Authorities have found 40 of them so far, and 30 of them were detained under new immigration law provisions that saw the entire group designated as part of an "irregular arrival," which essentially means a human-smuggling operation.

"We open our arms to true immigrants and true refugees who follow the rules and who wait for their turn in line," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at a news conference in Stanstead, Que., a town that borders the United States and 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."

Kenney said those involved in smuggling the individuals are part of the investigation.

The first of five waves of Romanian nationals began arriving in Canada in February, officials said Wednesday.

They were part of what was described as a sophisticated smuggling ring that saw people travel to Mexico, cross illegally into the United States, drive north to Canada and sneak in over unmarked border crossings in Quebec.

Another group arrived in April and three more followed in October, packed into what Kenney said officials told him were rented sports utility vehicles.

Altogether, 50 adults and 35 people under the age of 16 were brought into Canada and spread out throughout Ontario and Quebec, though most are believed to be in the Toronto-area, officials said.

The New Democrats said the cases highlight concerns they've been raising for months over that very border crossing.

"What this really shows today is a failure by the minister of Public Safety to devote adequate resources to keeping the border safe," said New Democrat MP Randall Garrison.

"So the only reason human smuggling can go on is because of the cutbacks and the lack of resources at Stanstead."

The last three groups arrived roughly three months after the government enacted new immigration laws they said would deter those who illegally enter Canada and then claim refugee status.

The new laws allow the minister of Public Safety to designate a group of immigrants as an "irregular arrival," which subjects them to immediate detention, a five-year wait to apply for permanent residency and restrictions on sponsoring their families to come to Canada.

Some may also have to regularly report in person to immigration officials.

"The facts I have reviewed have provided me with 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," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement.

It is the first time the government has used the new law since it came into effect in June, and the mandatory detention provisions don't apply to anyone in the group who arrived in Canada before then. Those who were jailed will have a detention review after 14 days and again at six months.

Those under the age of 16 are not subject to mandatory detention; officials said 35 people in the group meet that criteria.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 A13

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