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April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
Lankans in Canada
A Community in Legal Limbo
Paul Weinberg, Inter Press Service (international news agency), Rome, Italy,
Jan. 28, 2002
Suresh is in legal limbo and so, it seems, is much of Canadas
Sri Lankan Tamil community. Suresh, now 45, was granted refugee
status in 1991, detained in 1995, and ordered deported. He was
released under strict supervision in 1998 pending appeal. Earlier
this month, the Supreme Court ordered further review of the
case against Suresh, which rested largely on secret evidence
that Suresh and his lawyers could not review and rebut.
On a Sept. 15, 2000 visit to Winnipeg, Former Sri Lankan
foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar appeals to Canadians
to stop financing the Tamil Tigers (Photo: AFP).
Even so, Suresh could still face expulsion under new counterterrorism
laws that some Tamils fear bode ill for their community in Canada.
Suresh is an alleged fund-raiser for the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is fighting the Sinhalese-dominated
government of Sri Lanka for a separate Tamil homeland. He has
denied engaging in any terrorist activity. From the states
point of view, Suresh is a suspected member of an organization
that has committed terrorist acts. His deportation originally
was ordered on the grounds that he had misrepresented himself
by hiding this information from authorities. Even if the legitimacy
of his refugee claim is upheld, however, he could be sent back
to Sri Lanka as a suspected terrorist under harsh new immigration
laws enacted last fall, said University of Ottawa law professor
From Francis Xaviers point of view, however, the Canadian
government must recognize the right of freedom of expression
for refugees from countries governed by oppressive regimes.
Xavier is director of the Canadian Council of Tamils and a lawyer
who has documented cases of torture directed against members
of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. As long as the Prevention
of Terrorism Act and emergency regulations [in the Public Security
Act] are in place in Sri Lanka, people can be arrested and tortured,
says Xavier. Hence, like many in the Tamil community here, Xavier
welcomed news that the Supreme Court stayed Sureshs deportation.
Troubling to Xavier and others in the community, the Supreme
Courts Jan. 11 ruling stated that under extraordinary
circumstances Canada is justified in asking refugees to
return to countries where torture is practiced. Canadian officials
countered that torture was not inevitable, that U.S. authorities
had proceeded with deportations after assurances from foreign
governments that returnees would not be tortured. Sri Lankan
diplomats said they had given Canada such assurances. Whatever
the outcome of Sureshs case, he and other supporters of
Tamil self-determination are being persecuted for their
beliefs, says Xavier.
Sureshs lawyer, Barbara Jackman, says the Canadian government
has failed to distinguish between legitimate political expression
and violent terrorist activity. The LTTE was not an unlawful
organization in Canada when Suresh was charged, says Jackman.
Jackman says Suresh lawfully worked for a community center that
supported the LTTE, but it is inadmissible to forbid Canadians
from supporting groups engaged in armed struggle that might
have killed civilians. Government officials, however, say Suresh
raised funds knowing the money would be used to buy weapons
that would be used to kill civilians. Traditionally, Canadas
ruling Liberal Party has been popular among immigrant communities
in [Toronto], where the majority of Canadian Tamils live. Community
organizations have contributed to the partys coffers while
also sending money back to Sri Lanka for schools, health clinics,
and other services they say have fallen victim to war. The
National Post, a leading newspaper, and the right-wing opposition
Canadian Alliance Party have attacked Finance Minister Paul
Martin and another member of the Canadian government for attending
Tamil community events.