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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Canada's Tamils under scrutiny

By Daniel Lak in Canada

Concern is growing in Canada that Tamil Tiger rebels from Sri Lanka are using the country's liberal traditions and legal system to raise funds and conduct propaganda campaigns.

Canada has one of the world's largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora populations - around 155,000.

Newspaper reports allege that a number of expatriate Tamil organisations in Canada are actually fronts for the Tigers, and have used their legal status to raise more than $14m for the militant group.

The controversy has even led to the press criticising members of the government for attending Tamil functions.

'Celebrations'

Commentators say there is cause for concern about potentially illegal activities by groups close to the Tamil Tigers.

A Tamil protest rally
Sri Lankan Tamils rally worldwide for their cause
Recently, two public rallies organised by Canadian expatriate Tamil groups were cancelled after a newspaper, the National Post, carried pictures of posters and web sites that showed the gatherings were intended to celebrate Tamil Tiger military successes around Jaffna.

Organisers of one of the rallies, at a rock concert venue in Toronto, said they received a threat by telephone from an unspecified source.

The National Post has carried photographs of rallies at Toronto area public schools, where men dressed in military fatigues and carrying replica machine guns stood on the stage against a backdrop of Tamil Tiger posters and the flag of Tamil Eelam.

The newspaper said the rallies were put on by Tamil cultural organisations.

Toronto's school authorities have since banned such gatherings on school property.

Criminal activity

Canadian Tamil groups have vigorously denied involvement in illegal or potentially violent activities.

But newspaper reports say criminal gangs with links to the Tigers have created a climate of fear in the expatriate community.

Victoria city hall
Using Canada's liberal traditions
A report to the CSIS says the gangs also raise money by selling drugs, forging passports, smuggling and extortion.

One problem, according to legal experts, is that Canada's constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, gives a broad definition to freedom of association.

This makes it difficult to ban groups that do not explicitly advocate violence.

However, a recent decision in the Federal Court of Appeal, the second-highest in the land, could lead to a crackdown on groups suspected of links to the Tamil Tigers.

In January, the court upheld a deportation order issued three years earlier against a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee, 44-year old Manickavasagam Suresh.

The court ruling said those who raise funds for "terrorist" groups are as culpable as those who plant bombs.

Cracking down

Mr Suresh came to Canada in 1990 and was granted refugee status soon after.

Canadian Minister of External Affairs
Lloyd Axeworthy: "No tolerance"
He became a key organiser of a group called the World Tamil Movement.

The appeal court agreed with government lawyers and the police that the group had close links to, or was a supporter of, the Tamil Tigers.

Security sources in Canada say the WTM is now less prominent in fund raising activities.

Mr Suresh is still in Canada, while a final appeal is submitted to the Supreme Court, the country's highest court.

Canada's Minister for External Affairs, Lloyd Axeworthy, said the government was working on legislative amendments to stop fundraising for terrorist groups for which Canadians had "no tolerance".

He was speaking in parliament last week after a bomb in Colombo killed the Sri Lankan Industry Minister, CV Gooneratne.

Canada is also one of 16 countries to endorse the International Convention on the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, but has yet to ratify the accord.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | South Asia
Bomb kills Sri Lankan minister
25 May 00 | South Asia
Tamil diaspora surfs for news
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