A man who worked as a tax collector in the Tamil Tigers’ finance department while the terrorist group engaged in crimes against humanity has been branded a war criminal and ordered out of Canada in a court ruling that holds office clerks just as culpable as the armed insurgents they enable.
Puvanesan Thurairajah, 36, is a citizen of Sri Lanka and of Tamil ethnicity who, before coming to Canada, worked for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group on Canada’s official list of designated terrorist organizations, the Federal Court of Canada heard.
After finishing school, he worked for his brother in a factory in Jaffna. The factory was charged a tax by the LTTE and when Tigers came to collect they tried to recruit him but he refused, Mr. Thurairajah told Canadian officials.
In late 1992, the LTTE took him to a camp by force, beat him and threatened to kill him, he said. After being held for three weeks, he agreed to work for them. He worked in the records office at an LTTE camp in Tinnevelly for a year and was paid a salary. He was then promoted to the finance department at the camp in Chankanai for two years, where he was responsible for collecting taxes for the Tigers, which funded the civil war.
While working in these camps he was always allowed to go home in the evenings, court heard. He stopped working for the LTTE when the Sri Lankan army won control of the Jaffna peninsula. In 2000, on a trip to the capital Colombo, he was arrested and accused of supporting the Tigers. He was released after six days after paying a bribe, he said.
He fled to Britain where his claim for asylum was rejected. In 2007, he arrived in Canada using a fake Canadian passport, settled in Montreal and claimed refugee protection.
That claim was rejected by the Immigration & Refugee Board (IRB) after an adjudicator found reasonable grounds to believe he committed a war crime or crime against humanity under Article 1F of the United Nations’ convention on refugees.
Mr. Thurairajah appealed that decision in court, arguing it was unreasonable to hold him to account for the actions of a group he was forced to join.
“The position he held within the Finance Department for the Tigers was by and large negligible. He never carried a weapon or participated in the commission of crimes against humanity,” say court documents summarizing his position.
His plea drew little judicial support. “An exclusion based on Article 1F of the Convention is a serious matter which could affect the refugee claimant for the rest of his life,” Justice Luc Martineau acknowledged before doing just that.
“The applicant admitted that the Tigers participated in many crimes against humanity and that they are an organization directed to a limited, brutal purpose,” the judge wrote in his decision.
“The [IRB] panel found the Tigers committed crimes against humanity at the time when the applicant belonged to it; that is, between 1992 and 1995…. The panel also found the applicant was complicit in crimes committed by the Tigers.”
Justice Martineau found the IRB’s decision to be reasonable.
“The collection of taxes financing the Tigers cannot be qualified as a negligible or passive participation in the organization,” he wrote.
Myriam Harbec, Mr. Thurairajah’s lawyer, said she was disappointed with the decision but not entirely surprised.
“No matter what involvement they had with the LTTE, that’s the way the Federal Court is thinking right now,” Ms. Harbec said in an interview.
“But in Sri Lanka and in some African countries, people were forced to cooperate with these groups.”
Luc Labelle, spokesman for Canada Border Services Agency, declined to discuss the case, but said crimes against humanity cases are among the agency’s top priorities.
(Source: National Post)