Tamil migrant says he just worked in Tiger-run garage
Published Friday, February 11, 2011 7:55PM PST
The MV Sun Sea is seen here with Tamil migrants on board in this image provided by the Department of National Defense.
Does working for a business owned by Tamil Tigers, attending a celebration of martyred Tigers and watching a street show in a Sri Lankan town put on by the Tigers, make someone a member of the banned terrorist organization?
That's the question facing an immigration and refugee board adjudicator.
The details were the first to be heard in what could be upwards of 32 inadmissability hearings for Tamil migrants accused of terrorism, war crimes and human smuggling among those who arrived on the MV Sun Sea last August and claimed refugee status.
It was also the first time the man, who can't be identified because of a publication ban, left detention at British Columbia's Fraser River Correctional Centre since he was taken into custody with 491 other migrants.
Six months have now passed since the massive group arrived on Canada's West Coast on a freighter, claiming to be fleeing persecution in their homeland after a protracted civil war. About 107 people still remain in detention, including six women.
The man testified Friday that although he worked for a Tamil Tiger-owned garage, he was never a member of the organization or even got paid.
During that time, he also confirmed having stopped one time to watch a roadside drama put on by the Tigers, where they depicted the difficulties for civilians living in army-controlled areas.
He said he held the position in 1996 for less than six months as a trainee after he was forced to leave his hometown because the army was advancing.
The man admitted that he had tried to make a refugee claim in another country, but said he was coached into telling officials he had helped decorate for a Tamil Tiger celebration.
He now says the claim was false, but he made it because he was told it would help him get status on the grounds that he feared persecution.
When asked Friday if he sympathized with the Tigers, the man said he believed the group was "trying to help" the Tamil population, but that he never joined when asked and didn't want to "encourage" their activities.
"I'm afraid to die, so I did not," the man said through a translator.
The man's lawyer argued his client was living what amounted to normal civilian life for any person in an area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.
"(My client) did not enjoy any benefits of working for the LTTE," said Eric Purtzki.
But a federal government lawyer said while the man's activities did not individually equate to membership, "cumulatively" they helped to "further" the Tigers' goals.
"Clearly he was not a formal member or a sophisticated member or even a deeply committed member," said Becky Chan, noting the legal definition of membership is broad and has a relatively low proof threshold.
"But when you look at the totality of the evidence, he contributed to the LTTE through his informal participation."
During the hearing, adjudicator Marc Tessler questioned Chan's suggestions that working in a garage where the Tigers later brought vehicles for repair meant he was a member.
"It's a service industry, and they're a client," Tessler said.
When Chan asserted the man had downplayed his links to the Tigers, Tessler suggested it was possible the man felt intimidated by initial interviews with officers from the Canadian Border Services Agency.
"He may minimize it because he may be scared we're going to maximize it," Tessler said.
All of the 76 Tamil migrants who came in on the Ocean Lady in October 2009 were released within a few months of landing in Canada.
Tessler has reserved his decision on whether to release the man.