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Deportation Orders: Ottawa treating government forces same as Tamil Tigers


Even Sri Lankan police officers are now
considered war criminals in Canada

Tough stand taken on Sri Lanka

He lives on a suburban street in Ajax in a two-storey brick house with a double garage and fruit trees in the garden.

The quiet neighbourhood east of Toronto is worlds away from the civil war Raja Kasturiarachchi left behind when he moved to Canada after retiring from the Sri Lanka Police.

But if he came to Canada to escape the past, he hasn't. The Canada Border Services Agency says it intends to deport Mr. Kasturiarachchi because he was complicit in war crimes.

As a former Sri Lankan police chief, the CBSA says, Mr. Kasturiarachchi is to blame for "systematic" and "widespread" abuses committed by the force "on a regular ongoing basis."

One of several

The case is one of several that suggest Canada has adopted a new hardline approach against those involved in Sri Lanka's bloody civil war - regardless of which side they were on.

While the government has long fought to prevent Tamil Tigers rebels from using Canada as a safe haven, it is now extending the same treatment to members of the state security forces.

"The CBSA strives for a fair and consistent application of the law," said Anna Pape, a CBSA spokeswoman.

"Cases where there is evidence of crimes against humanity must be pursued, no matter the perpetrator." Those war crimes continue.

Last week, a bus travelling in territory held by the Tamil Tigers was ripped apart by a mine, killing 11 school children. The Tigers blamed the Sri Lanka Army. On Wednesday, a female suicide bomber detonated her explosive-filled bra near a government minister. He survived. A second rebel bomb exploded outside a department store in the capital, Colombo, killing 16 civilians.

Reverberations in Canada

The violence prompted Maxime Bernier, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to call on both sides in the conflict "to respect international human rights and humanitarian law" and protect civilians.

The civil war reverberates in Canada because of the estimated 200,000 Sri Lankans who have resettled here since the fighting broke out, most of them in Toronto.

Most are ethnic Tamils and many are at least sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers guerrillas fighting to create an independent state in Sri Lanka's north and east.

When the deputy leader of the Tigers was killed last month, Canadian Tamils (and Liberal members of parliament) attended a large outdoor rally in Markham.

Last week, events were held around Toronto to mark Tamil 'Heroes' Day,' which commemorates the anniversary of the first Tamil Tiger suicide bombing.

The Canadian government has been cracking down on the Tigers.

The Conservatives placed them on Canada's list of designated terrorist groups last year, and the RCMP raided their suspected fundraising fronts and arrested several Tamils accused of trying to buy weapons for the guerrillas.

Review of cases

But a review of cases that have come before the courts since last year shows the government has also been quietly going after members of the security forces, barring them from entering Canada, refusing to give them visitor's visas and even deporting them. Even Sri Lankan police officers are now considered war criminals.

"Earlier they were taking a hard line on the army or navy," said immigration lawyer Kumar Sriskanda, who is representing Mr. Kasturiarachchi. "But in this case, the new development is they are taking a hard line on the Sri Lankan police force."

In a similar case, the CBSA is trying to revoke refugee status from former Sri Lankan police officer Indrabalan Ratnasingam, who entered Canada in 1996, on the grounds he was complicit in war crimes. The Federal Court ruled against the man last month.

Another recent case involves a Sri Lanka Army officer who was denied entry to Canada because he was found complicit in "grave" human rights abuses and the use of torture as an investigative technique.

Sujeewa Jayasinghe had applied for a visitor's visa at the Canadian High Commission in Sri Lanka. His wife had immigrated to Canada and she was expecting. He wanted to be present for the birth.

Refused visa

But when the Canadian immigration officer found out that Mr. Jayasinghe had served in the army, and that he had interrogated and killed people suspected of being Tamil Tiger rebels, she refused to give him a visa. The shift in Canada's approach comes as human rights groups are reporting mounting abuses by the Sri Lankan security forces, such as disappearances, torture and the killing of journalists and foreign aid workers.

Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, said while his group condemns the Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, it is also troubled by the deteriorating conduct of the government security forces.

"Our concern over the past two years is that the government has stooped to the level of this very abusive group, meaning the Tigers," he said.

Abrahams co-authored a report on human rights in Sri Lanka issued in August and is preparing to release another this month on the more than 1,000 disappearances that have occurred in the country in the past 18 months, mostly in areas under government control.

Security forces conduct

Toronto resident Naithan Vaithilingam says he experienced the brutal conduct of the security forces first-hand. He was returning to his home in the government-controlled city of Trincomalee in 2005 when he was stopped at a checkpoint.

A group of men he believes were Sri Lanka Army personnel (because they were standing near an army checkpoint next to an army truck) asked him his ethnicity. "I told them I am Tamil," he said.

They then attacked him with a knife and left him to die on the road with stab wounds in his head, leg and hands. His sister arranged to get him to a hospital in Colombo, where he spent the next nine months and had three operations before coming to Canada in June, 2006.

Sri Lankan MP M.K. Eelaventhan, a member of the Tamil National Alliance who recently visited Canada, blamed the security forces for abductions, killings and disappearances.

"Disappearances are now becoming a normal feature. I will call it a normality. When a person disappears and doesn't appear for three days, you can safely say that he is among the dead."

Sri Lankan police are blamed for some of those abuses. Chief Inspector Kasturiarachchi spent more than 25 years in the police force. He moved to Canada with his family after retiring in 2002.

No personal evidence

Even though there was no evidence he had personally committed war crimes, the CBSA argued he was nonetheless to blame. As a long-time senior officer of a police force that engaged in abuses that were "disproportionate and routinely committed throughout the country with impunity" he was found responsible.

"By virtue of his membership and activity with the force, he shared in its common purpose or objectives and was therefore complicit in the commission of crimes against humanity," according to the Federal Court ruling on his case.

"That's pretty harsh," responded Sriskanda, the lawyer. "That means any police officer from Sri Lanka cannot even apply for a visitor's visa. They are excluded for all purposes under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act."

Kasturiarachchi's last hope for remaining in Canada is a letter that is being sent to Public Safety Minister Stock-well Day. "As there is no personal allegation against him, I think that the Minister will give him an exception," Sriskanda said.

But Pape, the CBSA spokeswoman, said the agency "intends to remove Kasturiarachchi from Canada based on his complicity in crimes against humanity committed against a civilian population in Sri Lanka."

- Stewart Bell
National Post

 


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