Anthony Rinehart, Courtesy of Globe and Mail, Saturday, Mar. 05, 2011
Tories trying to win support from South Asians in Ontario have opened the door to remnants of a Tamil Tiger front group the federal Conservatives themselves banned in 2008. The unlikely association, forged behind a curtain of tough government talk about Tamil refugee ships and a feared terrorist migration to Canada last year, has developed since the Tigers’ separatist struggle was crushed by the Sri Lankan military in 2009.
Last month, Tim Hudak, Leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, announced Shan Thayaparan as his party’s candidate for Markham-Unionville. Mr. Thayaparan had helped run an election for a new Tamil separatist group, the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), whose key adviser, Nehru Gunaratnam, is a former spokesman for the outlawed World Tamil Movement. Federally, Tamil broadcaster Ragavan Paranchothy, who was in direct contact with the top Tiger leadership in 2009, is seeking the Conservative nomination in Scarborough-Southwest.Both ridings sit on Toronto’s northeast fringe, amid the world’s largest Sri Lankan Tamil community outside Asia, the de facto capital of the Tigers’ international support base. One Conservative MP, Paul Calandra, recently felt the heat of venturing too close to the hard-core separatist movement, of which moderate Tamils have grown increasingly weary since the war’s end. After he cut the ribbon at the NCCT’s offices, Mr. Calandra said he gave a speech urging Tamils to abandon separatism, then noticed Mr. Gunaratnam in the crowd and dashed for the exit.
“When he walked into the room, I got up and walked out in protest, and told the organizers I did not want to be in the same room as that gentleman,” Mr. Calandra said. The MP said he hadn’t known that Mr. Gunaratnam – who spoke at a Toronto-area event honouring dead Tiger “heroes” in November – was a guiding force behind the NCCT, a group that claims to be the “the democratically elected representatives of Tamils in Canada.”
Mr. Gunaratnam said the idea of the NCCT infiltrating the Conservatives is “laughable,” but others find little amusing about the closeness between the new group’s backers and party officials. Three long-time Conservative volunteers, all Tamil Canadians from different positions within the federal and provincial parties, speaking on condition of anonymity, said associates of the old Tiger support apparatus have pushed their way into the party in a bid to shore up their sagging status in the community, but that party officials have ignored their concerns.
Spokespeople for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, to whom letters of concern were sent, refused to comment without being provided copies. The Ontario PC Party was similarly unwilling to address specific questions about the nomination of Mr. Thayaparan, who attended the 2006 federal Liberal convention with Mr. Gunaratnam and sought a federal New Democratic Party nomination in 2009 before Mr. Hudak introduced him last month as a Conservative.
“Everyone who applies to be a candidate goes through a rigorous screening process,” said party spokesman Alan Sakach, who refused to grant an interview with Mr. Hudak. “This guy is crystal clear. …”
The Globe and Mail contacted Mr. Thayaparan several times this week, but he has not replied to a list of written questions or returned phone calls. Photographs obtained by The Globe and Mail show Mr. Hudak and a Tamil delegation, including Mr. Thayaparan, at a private meeting on Oct. 27 in the leader’s Queen’s Park offices. Conservative strategy for connecting with the Tamil community was discussed. The pictures show strong NCCT representation among attendees, who included:
* Rajkumar Subramaniam, an elected NCCT member who posed with Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran several years before he was killed in the war’s last days. Mr. Subramaniam’s Facebook page features photos of the Tigers’ flag flying at a Parliament Hill demonstration and a status update last month on Valentine’s Day that read, “I love you, Tamil Eelam.”