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 Post subject: A little Kilinochchi in Toronto
 Post Posted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 11:32 pm 
A little Kilinochchi in Toronto

There can be no other city in the world in which Sri Lankan situations are mirrored the way it is in Toronto, the city of some 200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils. Sadly, Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada are as manacled as they are in the Wanni if not more, unwilling to even speak of the conflict. The LTTE’s chief leveraging power – the relatives of Canadians citizens living back home in Sri Lanka who they threaten with violence unless their rules are obeyed.

By Dharisha Bastians in Toronto
@ The Nation / 11 June 2006


It is May 18, just over a month after the LTTE was officially listed as a terrorist organisation on Canada’s criminal code. I am in Toronto, the city of some 200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils, many of them fleeing the tumultuous conflict back home. I expect to see free flowing Tamil sentiment and expression. After all, these are Sri Lankans seeking greener pastures in a first world country, often in an attempt to escape alleged curtailment of their fundamental freedoms by the government of the south.

When not a single Tamil person living in Toronto was willing to speak to me, except on a strict condition of anonymity, the reality finally dawned. It is not the government ban they fear. Their only concern is incurring the wrath of the Tigers and so they are afraid to say anything – for or against the movement. The only glimpse I got into the thinking of a Sri Lankan Tamil living in Canada came from a 20-year old I happened across on the street.

Rueben Yogarajah is a university student, originally from Jaffna. He moved to Colombo when he was six and attended Wesley College until his family migrated a few years later. Rueben has played an active part in protests in Downtown Toronto demanding sovereignty for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Rueben is part of the Tamil resurgence movement that is incredibly active in Canadian universities. He lives in Scarborough, identified as being almost exclusively the Tamil area of Toronto, home to about 90,000 Sri Lankans. Naturally, this is also the area in which the Tigers exert the most influence.

The Kilinochchi effect

A journalist visiting Kilinochchi, quickly learns that to tell the story like it really is, there has to be a lot of reading between the lines. To avoid returning with pages full of propaganda and parroted rhetoric, we learn to sieve comments and see through clever gimmicks. But that is in the LTTE’s de facto capital, where the organisation’s eerie Big Brother presence is all pervasive. In Kilinochchi, it is the LTTE and the LTTE alone that calls the shots. Residents are coached about what to say to visitors and all is always well in Tigerland.

Sadly, Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada are as manacled as they are in the Wanni if not more, unwilling to even speak of the conflict. The LTTE’s chief leveraging power – the relatives of Canadians citizens living back home in Sri Lanka who they threaten with violence unless their rules are obeyed.
True, Canada’s newly elected conservative government banned the LTTE in April this year, presumably ending the free run the Tigers had in Toronto. In the years before the ban was enacted, the LTTE had with its customary administrative prowess, established an extensive fundraising network in Canada. Given Canada’s “liberal” attitude towards their activities, the LTTE was able to sell Eelam souvenirs, set up collection centres and hold cultural events espousing their cause in the heart of Canada’s most bustling city. T-shirts, calendars and flags sporting the Tiger emblem were being sold at a pricey 20 Canadian dollars (Rs. 1800). Tiger memorabilia and souvenirs were on sale at high school fairs, inside school halls and at all Sri Lankan Tamil events. This public sale of Tiger merchandise is now illegal. Toronto residents mentioned that post-April 10, the massive portraits of Tiger Supremo Vellupillai Prabhakaran which had adorned the walls of almost every Sri Lankan shop had been taken down.

Well known front organisations including the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), the World Tamil Movement (WTM), the Federal Association of Canadian Tamils (FACT) and the politically active Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) had made themselves at home in Toronto. Registered as “charitable” organisations, they freely rented school auditoriums and halls around the city to put on cultural “Eelam” shows. Witnesses to these events recall how while there would be little or no mention of the LTTE per se, the organisation’s fiery emblem, bearing the open mouthed Tiger would always be part of the décor at an event. The Sri Lankan Tamils came decked out in their finest - sarees and gold jewellery - and the money collected from ticket sales went back home, into Kilinochchi’s coffers. With the LTTE’s listing, all of these organisations have been recognised as Tiger front organisations, preventing representatives of the movements from organising events and gatherings.
Underground ops Outside of Toronto, the Tigers have also been very active in Montreal and parts of British Columbia. But it is safe to say that Toronto is the LTTE’s home base in Canada.

Which is why, Canada’s recent proscription ought to have had the greatest impact here. But that is presumptuous thinking. The Tigers have just gone underground now.

The ban came into effect on April 10, 2006. In the first week of May, the Tigers were busy extorting money from Tamils. The standard amount is well known among Sri Lankan Tamils in Toronto and the Toronto police. A personal “donation” is CDN $ 2500 and every Tamil business is expected to “contribute” CDN $ 10,000. The latter is more than what a Toronto resident would pay as a down payment on a house in the area. Since TRO and WMT are now persona non grata, representatives of the organisations have begun to use personal identities to reserve auditoriums and other event venues, according to reports obtained by Canadian intelligence officials.

Thomas Regal is attached to the Toronto Police, where for over a decade he has been involved with monitoring Tamil criminal activity in Canada’s most bustling city. Regal has the invaluable advantage of being Sri Lankan, even though Canada has been his home for the last 22 years.
He told The Nation how the fact that Canadian politicians viewing the issue of the LTTE as being largely “Toronto problem” has hampered monitoring and curbing illegal activities in the area. “Dismantling and confronting terrorist fundraising in Canada requires a commitment at federal level.
It is an expensive process, given the intricacies of the networks and the city of Toronto does not have the resources to do it.

According to Regal, Canada has always maintained a Norway-style approach to rebel groups, preferring to keep avenues open for discussion and compromise regarding a conflict. But he recalls that when crime rates soared in the city as a result of Tamil gang violence, the country was forced to deport some 60 Tamils back to Sri Lanka in 2001.

Reprisals back home

The Toronto Police office said that information regarding LTTE activities were hard to come by, because the Sri Lankan Tamil community preferred to be tight-lipped about oppression and extortion, fearing reprisals on relatives back home. Canadian authorities are, of course, helpless to prevent these reprisals which occur outside their borders. The very nature of the LTTE itself makes voluntary information impossible, Regal says. “Sometimes it is very hard to separate yourself from an organisation that has claimed to be the only voice of Tamils worldwide – and don’t take kindly to a voice of dissent,” he points out. That said, Regal also admits that citizen’s complaints have been more frequent and forthcoming over the last few years and he says officials hope the recent proscription will further help the situation.

According to Regal, the LTTE has been careful not to be seen to be associated with any violence related to the Sri Lankan community. Keeping the authorities off their backs was vital to continue their massive fund raising campaigns in Canada.

These days, there is a massive Hindu temple project under way in the heart of Scarborough. The project is estimated to be costing thousands of dollars. There is widespread speculation in Toronto – particularly among the fraction of anti-Tiger residents, that the temple construction is being funded by the LTTE. This, they suspect, will become the centre of LTTE activity in the Scarborough area.

Lying low

There is a large Sinhalese population in Toronto, but you’d never guess. Speaking Sinhalese in Sri Lankan shops usually ensures you do not get served. Such incidents have taken place at a popular Sri Lankan restaurant called the Hopper Hut in Scarborough and I experienced it first hand when I walked into a jewellery shop at a Sri Lankan shopping centre and the salesperson, a lady, promptly asked me – “you’re from Sri Lanka. Do you speak Tamil?” I replied that I did not, only to be completely ignored as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Communal lines are drawn deep here.

Many Tamils living in Toronto belong to the floods of migrants that moved to Canada after the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka. For them, the last memories of home are coloured with racial tension. With their newspapers and their propaganda, the LTTE has done everything possible to ensure Canadians Tamils retain that image of their homeland and the “Sinhala” governments.

If Toronto is the LTTE’s North East, then Scarborough is their Kilinochchi. The difference is this. This is Scarborough, Toronto. This is Canada, ranked five times in the last decade as being the best country to live in by the United Nations no less. Canada – that holds fundamental freedoms and the right to life so very dear. Sri Lankan Tamils they might be, but they are first and foremost Canadian citizens; and they live in fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones back home. They left the restrictive conditions of home to settle continents away only to be bound and gagged by their “liberators.”

Now that is a tragedy.

Tamil regionalism raises its head in Toronto

There can be no other city in the world in which Sri Lankan situations are mirrored the way it is in Toronto. The defection of Col. Karuna from the Wanni leadership in 2004 sparked an awakening of Tamil regionalism in the east of Sri Lanka. After Karuna declared war on the Wanni, Eastern Tamils, in barely contained whispers began to voice their support of his “cause” even if they could not say much for the renegade’s methods. In Toronto too, Karuna’s split brought with it a sense that the east was being marginalised by the north. Toronto’s Tamil population comprises a large section of Eastern Tamils, hailing from fishing communities in Trincomalee.

The north east split back home which has resulted in unprecedented trouble for Kilinochchi caused the Tigers some problems in Canada as well. A group of Trincomalee Tamils, realising the fact that most of the funds raised in Canada were going towards the development of the north while the eastern people were being marginalised, started collections independently and sent it back to eastern Sri Lanka via untraditional channels.

The money is sent to Hindu priests and community leaders in the Eastern Province, a member of the Trinco Tamils movement in Toronto told The Nation. According to Regal, the LTTE was concerned about the development of the Eastern movement in Toronto. “They don’t want Tamils in Canada to have divergent voices,” he said.

Canada gets tough

Canada’s Minister for Public Safety, Stockwell Day who was instrumental in getting the legislation passed to ban the LTTE, told The Nation in an exclusive interview that measures were being taken to arrest all LTTE fundraising activity in the country. Mr. Day pointed out that the government of Canada had identified many of the LTTE front organisations whose activities were also being curtailed. Refusing to comment on ongoing investigation processes, the Minister said however that any person dealing with the assets of a listed entity, or generally assists a listed entity, may be charged under the Criminal Code.

Criminal Activity

Toronto police have been battling Tamil criminal activity since the 1990s. Back then the violence was largely between two Tamil groups, calling themselves the Velvetithurais or VVT and the A.K. Kanan group. The groups conducted retaliatory attacks against each other and had clearly demarcated territory in Toronto. According to Regal, the rise in street gangs was a result of Sri Lankan Tamils sending their teenage children to Canada en masse, to prevent them being conscripted by the LTTE. “These kids had very little secondary education, were without close family and lived with distant relatives or friends,” Regal said.

According to the Toronto cop, as these kids grew into young adults of 20 and 22 years, they started to realise how much damage they could do without weapons. One of the biggest problems facing Canadian financial institutions today is large scale debit card, credit card and mortgage fraud. Many banks have identified Sri Lankan Tamil gangs as being regular perpetrators of these scams. Convenience store money transfers are proving to be another headache for Canadian fiscal agencies. Sri Lankans living in Toronto can send money to relatives back home for 10 dollars or less, leaving no paper trail whatsoever. According to Regal, in the late 90s, certain Sri Lankan convenience stores were averaging 90,000 dollars a day in money transfers.

Tiger phone traps

An elderly Tamil lady, living in Scarborough, was forced to hand over $ 500 when fund raising agents came to her door demanding $ 2500 in early May. She told them that it was all she could afford. They took it. With a proscription in effect and federal agencies beginning to get on the job, the LTTE cannot afford to be fastidious. But to imagine their fund raising would be completely strapped as a result of the ban is wishful thinking. Over the years, the Tigers had prepared for even this eventuality. According to Canadian intelligence sources, LTTE collectors in Toronto hold in their possession a complete database of Tamils living in the area – work and residence telephone numbers, addresses and job descriptions. If the ban has stopped fundraising, it has no impact whatsoever on phone calls and door to door canvassing.

A Tamil couple living in Toronto told The Nation on condition of anonymity how strangers would call them at home, having obtained their number from the directory. “They test the waters. When we pick up the phone, somebody speaks in Tamil. When we respond in English, they hang up.” The couple, (we shall refer to them as Krishna and Jagani for purposes of convenience) have pretended to be Indian when collectors came to their door on several occasions.

Krishna has instructed his wife to refrain from speaking Tamil even in the house and especially when they enter Sri Lankan shops in the Scraborough area. They live as far removed as possible from the Tamil community in Toronto. To be a Tamil in Toronto and remain aloof from the obvious Tiger connections is no easy task. It involves cutting oneself off completely from Sri Lankans, even though it is community that migrants crave most. Refusing to sanction and accept the LTTE as their “sole representative”, these Tamils in Toronto lead lonely lives.


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