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Canada brands Tamil group as terrorist front for Tigers

Canadian assets frozen after probe finds links to Sri Lankan militants

by Paola Loriggio, Staff Reporter with files from Rita Trichur

(June 17, Toronto , Sri Lanka Guardian) The controversial World Tamil Movement has been added to Canada's list of terrorist organizations, the latest move in an ongoing investigation that links the group to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers.

The group's assets have been frozen and could be seized by Canada's attorney general, said Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who announced the decision at a Toronto news conference yesterday.

"We want to make sure any group who would help terrorist organizations is prevented from doing that," said Day. The minister would not say whether charges would be laid against the group or its members, citing a continuing government probe.

In 2006, the RCMP raided the group's office in Scarborough and seized documents that included step-by-step instructions on how to set up a front organization and indoctrinate children.

About two months ago, the federal police force sought court approval to seize the WTM's bank accounts.

In a 400-page affidavit filed in federal court, the RCMP accuses the World Tamil Movement of orchestrating a complex extortion scheme that targets Tamil Canadians and pressures them to donate money to the LTTE, a militant separatist group that has been fighting for an independent homeland in north and east Sri Lanka since the 1970s.

Published reports have previously suggested that as much as $1 million a month leaves Canada to support the LTTE. Day, however, refused to speculate on the amount when speaking to reporters yesterday.

"They (the WTM) have been collecting lots of funds," said Sri Lankan Consul General Bandula Jayasekera, describing complaints from community members who say the group harassed them for money.

"We've known for years they're the front of the LTTE – it's not a secret."

The Toronto-based Sri Lanka United Association of Canada echoed Jayasekera's stance, and said it welcomed the government decision to outlaw the group.

Executives of the World Tamil Movement describe the organization as a community services agency that focuses on settlement assistance, Tamil education and community development, with offices around the world.

The terror listing, effective retroactively to June 13, makes it illegal for Canadians here and abroad from knowingly participating in, contributing to or facilitating activities by the WTM.

It also prohibits Canadians from assisting the organization financially.

Yesterday morning, Canada's Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions placed the WTM on its terrorist financing watch list, alerting all banks, credit unions and insurance companies operating in this country to scour their client lists and immediately report any findings to the authorities.

Sitha Sittampalam, the movement's Toronto president since 2004, said he is consulting a lawyer about how to proceed with an appeal of the decision, a process allowed under Canadian law.

He would not otherwise comment on the government's move.

In an interview with the Star last month, Sittampalam vehemently denied allegations the group is a front for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers, though he supports their political goal of an independent Tamil nation.

Yesterday's announcement brought quiet joy and relief to many of the GTA's Tamil population, although few dared celebrate, said Lenin Benedict, secretary of the Canadian Democratic Tamil Cultural Association.

The organization promotes pluralism in Ontario's Tamil community and a peaceful resolution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

"Everybody is happy inside, but most people will not come out, frankly, out of fear (of retribution)," he said, noting people's concerns for family members here and abroad, or for their businesses.

It can be difficult to convince victims of the racket to come forward, he said.
(Sources: Toronto Star)
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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