OTTAWA - Almost 150 Sri Lankans hoping to come to Canada were deported back to their home country from West Africa following an aborted human smuggling operation.
According to Sri Lankan news reports, the migrants were sent packing Thursday after gathering in Benin through various routes with plans of coming to Canada.
"This proves what we've said all along - that thugs and criminals continue to target Canada," said Alexis Pavlich, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
Bill C-31, currently before the Senate, aims to crack down on human smuggling operations targeting Canada as a destination country by upping fines and penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for convicted smugglers.
The government could also detain "illegal arrivals" who come to Canada en masse through suspected human smuggling operations for two weeks.
Pavlich said the bill would stop smugglers from viewing Canada as "the world's doormat," while critics caution it unfairly targets legitimate refugees.
It's not the first time a human smuggling operation targeting Canada has gone sour.
In January, some 200 Sri Lankans refugee claimants were left stranded after they were abandoned by a human smuggler in Togo, also in West Africa.
In 2009 and 2010, the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea vessels turned up on Canada's West Coast carrying more than 550 asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka.