We don't give money to the Tigers, Tamil community leaders say

By: JEFF HEINRICH

    They fund ngos; 'We don't know why' RCMP raided headquarters

Denying they fund terrorism in their homeland, Montreal Tamil community leaders said yesterday the haven't a clue why the RCMP raided their headquarters two weeks ago.

"We don't know why," said Lankaratnam Thambiah, the local spokesperson for the World Tamil Movement. "We're trying to find out through our lawyers."

He and a dozen other community representatives called a news conference in LaSalle yesterday to set the record straight: They don't fund the Tamil Tigers, the armed rebel group in Sri Lanka that Canada considers a terrorist organization.

That means no direct fundraising for the Tigers, nor even any indirect financial aid, they said.

"We send money to different Tamil non-governmental organizations that look after our community's well-being in Sri Lanka," said Ramani Balendra, who heads the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Tamil Congress.

She named two of the NGOs: the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization and the Social and Economical Development Organization for Tamils.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - commonly known as the Tamil Tigers - never got financial backing here, Balendra said.

"We never supported any terrorist activities and we never tolerated any such action by anyone. Our concern is our kith and kin in Sri Lanka."

On the night of April 12, a counter-terrorism team made up of RCMP, Montreal police and Surete du Quebec officers spent 12 hours searching the WTM's offices and weekend cultural school in Cote des Neiges.

Twelve boxes of documents and seven computers were seized, Balendra said. Among other things, the files contained material for classes as well as personal information about the school's 150 students.

The raid left the community feeling like pariahs, Balendra and other Montreal Tamils told reporters.

Activities at the Van Horne Ave. school have been curtailed, as parents fear sending their children there or being interrogated themselves, volunteer teacher Jeyasegaram Kasy said.

Because all the legal justification for the raid is sealed - the search warrant, the RCMP's justification for it, and Quebec Court Judge Louis Duguay's grounds for accepting it - the Tamils are still in the dark as to why they were targeted, said Steven Slimovitch, the lawyer they've hired to defend them.

The result is they've all been "smeared with the same brush as terrorist financiers," he said, suggesting the Tamils could eventually sue the RCMP and the attorney-general of Canada for defamation.

"The entire Tamil community has been labelled as financial supporters of terrorism. When the evidence comes out, we'll see that's simply not the case," Slimovitch said.

"It's possible that money donated for one cause finds its way into the hands of another. Nobody can make assurances as to where money is eventually spent," he added.

"But in terms of raising money for the Tamil Tigers or acting as a front organization for them, the community is clear in saying that was never the case and that will never be the case."

Last weekend, the RCMP followed its Montreal raid with a raid on the WTM's Canadian headquarters in Scarborough, Ont. Both raids were done in the wake of the Conservative government's decision April 10 to outlaw the Tigers, who want independence for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.

jheinrich@thegazette.canwest.com

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