Tamils' ship alleged to have traces of explosives
Published: Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Immigration officials are alleging that trace amounts of explosives were found aboard a cargo ship that smuggled 76 Sri Lankans to Canada's West Coast last month, a lawyer representing some of the men said yesterday.
Lee Rankin said the “slight bit of residue found on a couple of items,” together with news clippings linking the vessel to the Tamil Tigers rebels, were being used by the Canadian Border Services Agency to justify detaining the men.
“They are alleging that this was a ship for transporting explosives,” Mr. Rankin said. “But I guess my comment is, if that boat had been used in that fashion in the past, there was no way of knowing it. Let's put it this way, apparently 80% of U.S. currency tests positive for cocaine.”
He said tests had detected explosive residue on clothing belonging to “one or two” of the ship's passengers but called the matter irrelevant.
“What's relevant is who these people are and getting a detailed understanding of why they left their country,” he said.
Since the Cambodian-registered Ocean Lady arrived in Canadian waters on Oct. 17, police and immigration officials have been investigating the identities and backgrounds of its human cargo, members of Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.
One of the men who made the month-long voyage from Southeast Asia has been identified as Kartheepan Manickavasagar, who is wanted by Sri Lanka for his alleged role in a procurement ring that smuggled electronic equipment to the Tamil Tigers, but his Toronto lawyer has denied the charge.
The Immigration and Refugee Board held detention reviews for most of the men last week but a dozen cases were adjourned until this week after the CBSA indicated it would be seeking their detention on grounds of security.
Mr. Rankin said the CBSA's security argument is based on the explosive residue found by police and allegations by Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert and author of several books on the Tamil Tigers, that the ship had been part of the weapons-smuggling fleet of the Tigers.
Mr. Rankin called the allegations laughable and accused the CBSA of attempting to “poison the well” by disclosing information that puts the men in a negative light. He said many of the refugee claimants have family in Canada to support them and arrived carrying authentic identity documents.
He said they appeared to have left Sri Lanka before the long-running conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels ended in May.
They may have boarded the ship in Malaysia, since some mentioned paying for their passage in Malaysian c urrency and others had doc umentation issued in Kuala Lumpur, he said.
In a speech in Ottawa on Friday, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said while it was too soon to conclude whether any of those who arrived aboard the ship posed a threat to Canada “the fact of their arrival, and the potential for others to follow, does raise security concerns.”
He said the defeat of the Tamil Tigers had ended the insurgency but that the rebels remained a terrorist group that “could potentially have a significant impact on Canada.”
Canada is “one of the few places in the world where LT TE terrorists and supporters might seek to hide in plain sight, and potentially launch terrorist operations,” he said.
Even if the Tigers did not target Canada specifically, “the outcomes could still be devastation,” he said, adding the 1985 Air India bombings that killed 329, the majority Canadians, had been committed by Sikh extremists with no apparent grudge against Canada.
The commissioner said violence and intimidation had been used to collect “war taxes” in Canada for the Tamil Tigers.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam