Police won't staff Tamil event after raid
- Lawyer Clayton Ruby cries discrimination Movement denies links to Tamil Tigers
When the Mounties swooped down on the World Tamil Movement's Toronto headquarters last week, it had repercussions well beyond the group that has been accused of links to the controversial Tamil Tigers.
The RCMP raid also caused the temporary shutdown of a community newspaper, the confiscation of dozens of CDs and DVDs from at least one large Tamil shop, and the cancellation of an annual community gathering today after the Toronto Police Service withdrew paid-duty officers.
More than 400 people were expected to attend a WTM-sponsored event at Scarborough's Winston Churchill Collegiate tonight featuring traditional dance, drama and music. Paid-duty police officers are required as part of the event licence.
But lawyer Clayton Ruby, who is representing the WTM, says Supt. Bob Qualtrough of 41 Division refused to assign the officers after the RCMP raids, telling him, "I don't want my officers associated with people who might be guilty of criminal offences."
Ruby cited that quote from Qualtrough in a letter of complaint to Police Chief Bill Blair on Monday. Blair's office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
"They're clearly discriminating against my client," Ruby said of the police. "They are presumed innocent under the constitution of this country. There is not even a charge laid or conviction."
The crackdown on the WTM comes after the federal government listed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — or Tamil Tigers — last month.
The weekly newspaper Ullaga Tamil, or World Tamil, was hobbled last Saturday when the RCMP removed a building computer server. Advertising files, chequebooks, bank books and subscriber and advertiser records were also taken from the premises.
Ruby claims some of these materials were removed without proper authorization under the sealed warrant.
"The judge's warrant specifically exempted newspaper files, and the materials removed all belonged to the newspaper," Ruby said. "It infringes on the freedom of the press."
The RCMP also searched at least one Tamil-owned shop and removed about 50 DVDs and CDs, on the same warrant. The Mounties shut down Ambal Trading, a prominent shop in the Little Jaffna neighbourhood near Parliament and Wellesley Sts., for three hours last Sunday, the day after the raids at the WTM offices. The shop specializes in imported household goods.
"We don't want to say much because we're scared," said the store owner, who was not willing to give his name. "If we talk to you, they (RCMP) may come again," he said.
The store owner said the confiscated disks, which he said contain "documentary style" information about the ongoing "freedom struggle" of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, as well as patriotic and folk songs, were made available at the shop without charge. Officers told the owner's brother the store was not allowed to display or sell the material in future but he could possess it at home.
"We have not laid any charges but I cannot comment further since it is a sealed warrant," said RCMP spokeswoman Michele Paradis. A sealed warrant does not allow the public to learn why the searches were conducted.
The Tamil Tigers have been locked in a civil war with the Sri Lankan government since the 1970s, which has divided the nation along ethnic lines and claimed more than 60,000 lives. They are believed to have been involved in more than 160 suicide bombings, and a recent Human Rights Watch report claimed that some Toronto supporters have intimidated people into donating.
The Canadian government has not listed any organizations or businesses as front groups, but listing the Tigers makes it illegal to raise funds for the group. Canada is home to one of the largest populations of Tamils living outside of Sri Lanka, about 200,000.
On a quiet warehouse-lined street near Scarborough Town Centre stands the WTM head office.
"We refute the allegations on the search warrant," Sinnathamby Sittampalam, head of WTM said earlier this week. "Both the Tamil community and the organization is upset about this."
Sittampalam said Canada's WTM is a local organization and has no ties to the Tigers. The WTM is labelled a fundraising front for the Tigers in the U.S.
Sittampalam confirmed the RCMP had completed the raid in less than the 72 hours allowed under the warrant. The offices reopened Tuesday.
The editor of the paper, Navaratnam Kamalavasan, said the raids last week have put future publications in jeopardy. However, an edition was published last night, Ruby confirmed.
The newspaper is considering legal action against the RCMP and will challenge the seizure of materials, Ruby said. He insisted the WTM "does not finance any terrorist organizations."
The organization does commemorate Maaveerar Naazh, or Heroes Day, each November. It is a controversial celebration of fallen Tigers and civilians killed in crossfire. In 2001, that event was cancelled because Toronto police refused to provide paid-duty officers.