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This article was published 14/8/2010 (3353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINNIPEG - The Harper government has mishandled the Tamil refugee situation, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said during his political event in Winnipeg Saturday afternoon.
Ignatieff said the Conservative government made an issue of the 490 Tamil refugees only as their small, rusty boat was about to enter Canadian waters.
"This boat was in the water for 90 days and ... what was the government doing?" Ignatieff said.
The cargo vessel MV Sun Sea docked near Victoria, B.C., Friday, after spending more than three months at sea.
The Tamil refugees are requesting asylum, claiming they were persecuted in their native Sri Lanka. Government officials are concerned that some of the refugees might actually be members of the Tamil Tigers, considered a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.
Ignatieff spoke about the Tamil refugees following his appearance Saturday afternoon at a Liberal picnic at the Norwood Community Centre.
Ignatieff spent an hour at the picnic, an event that was marred by cool temperatures, brisk winds and a spitting rain.
Despite the unpleasant weather, Ignatieff easily worked the crowd of about 200 supporters, greeting party faithful, posing for photographs, signing autographs and even serving up a few burgers before getting back on the Liberal bus.
"We’ve had great meetings the last few days, wonderful crowds," Ignatieff said of his two-day whirlwind tour of Winnipeg that began Friday.
Joining Ignatieff at the picnic were his wife Zsuzsanna Zsohar, MP Anita Neville and Liberal candidates Terry Duguid and Raymond Simard.
Ignatieff said the Harper government should have prepared for the arrival of the refugees by consulting the United Nations agency for refugees and the Sri Lankan government while they were still at sea.
"Now we’ve got a situation where they’ve docked and they have to have individual confirmation of each one of them," he said, adding the identification of the refugees has to be independently verified in addition to any information that the Sri Lankan government might provide.
Ignatieff dismissed calls that Canada should have followed Australia’s policy on refugees and turned the Tamil refugee boat away.
"This is Canada, not Australia," Ignatieff said. "That means Canada has principles, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our international obligations."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.