Ottawa Fights Order To Free Five More Tamil Migrants

Ottawa fights order to free five more Tamil migrants

By Jane Armstrong
The Globe and Mail (Canada), December 18, 2009

Vancouver — From Friday's Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 12:00AM EST Last updated on Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 3:11AM EST

Two months after a ship of Tamil migrants sailed into Canadian waters, the Immigration and Refugee Board has ordered five more of the incarcerated men released. But the federal government appears determined to keep these men behind bars as it investigates suspicions that they could be Tamil Tigers.

The men were ordered released at separate hearings on Tuesday, Wednesday and yesterday afternoon. That brings to seven the number of Tamil migrants now ordered released from detention. However, to date, all but one of these men remain in custody.

Within minutes of these release orders, Department of Justice lawyers served notice that they will fight the freeing of the migrants. Federal Court hearings were hastily scheduled in Vancouver this week.

Yesterday, one of those requests to keep a migrant in custody was temporarily upheld.

The 76 migrants arrived off Canada's West Coast aboard a disguised ship in late October. The men, all Tamils from Sri Lanka, claimed to be refugees fleeing the war-torn country. But Canadian authorities urged the IRB to keep the men locked up while they investigated allegations that the migrants – and the boat – had links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), viewed by Canada as a terrorist organization.

Two months later, government lawyers are having a harder time persuading the IRB to keep the men in custody. Increasingly, IRB members are concluding that some of the migrant men appear to have no links to the LTTE, a violent separatist group that waged a long war against the Sri Lankan government.

One member had harsh words for the government's chief adviser on the Tamil migrant issue, a Singapore-based terrorism expert who has argued that the ship the men arrived on – the Princess Easwary – was a former LTTE gun-running vessel and that some of the migrant men are Tigers.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna has warned in interviews and written briefs to the government that some members of the Tamil Tigers are bent on moving their base from Sri Lanka to Canada to regroup and revive the separatist movement.

But IRB member Otto Nuppanen, who ordered the release of one migrant on Dec. 12, took the terrorism expert to task over his testimony and credibility. Mr. Nuppanen said Dr. Gunaratna is too 'cozy' with the Sri Lankan government and is cagey about revealing his sources.

'He takes great pride in saying that because he has access to terrorists and alleged terrorists, he has better insight into that whole world,' Mr. Nuppanen said. 'In my mind, that is dangerous territory and the reliability of the information which he receives must be very, very carefully considered.

'What I'm saying is that there is an ongoing close relationship between Dr. Gunaratna and the government of Sri Lanka. Therefore, when the good doctor says that the Princess Easwary is an LTTE ship without revealing any sources, one needs to put some thought into that. Who, in fact, are those sources? How credible and trustworthy are those unknown secret sources?'

'It's been eight weeks,' said lawyer Doug Cannon. 'There [has] been more than enough time' for authorities to establish if the men pose a risk to Canadian security, Mr. Cannon said. If the government can't find the evidence, the men must be released, he said.

But the federal government appears poised to fight all the ordered releases, using a rarely used section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that permits the detention of a person if there is, among other things, a 'reasonable' suspicion the person could pose a security threat to Canada.

The names of the migrants are not being released because they are under a publication ban.