Dear Chief Blair,
I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch regarding the response of the Toronto police force to activity by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Canada’s Tamil community, and to share observations and recommendations based on developments since the Canadian government’s listing of the LTTE as a terrorist entity in April of this year.
As you are aware, Human Rights Watch published a report in March 2006 documenting the LTTE’s use of extortion and intimidation against Canadian Tamils to raise funds for its operations, and to silence critics of its human rights practices (Funding the Final War: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora). The report included a range of recommendations for more effective action by the Canadian government to protect Tamil residents from harassment, threats, extortion and violence linked to the LTTE.
Since the publication of the report, we note several significant developments in the government’s response to LTTE activity:
• The April 8 proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist entity: Although Human Rights Watch does not take a position on the listing of specific organizations as terrorist groups, and we maintain concerns about possible negative effects from such listings (discussed in more detail below), our contacts in the Tamil community indicate that the proscription has had significant positive impacts. These include a significant decline in intimidation and the use of threats by LTTE fundraisers, as well as an increase in the willingness of Tamils to refuse LTTE requests for funding.
• The RCMP investigation into the World Tamil Movement: Testimony that we collected during our investigation last year indicated that representatives of the World Tamil Movement (WTM) were involved in acts of intimidation and extortion to secure funds for the LTTE. The RCMP’s investigation into the WTM and its links to the LTTE, including the recent police warrants served on the WTM offices in Toronto and Montreal, are important steps to establish accountability for illegal activities linked to the LTTE.
• Outreach to the Tamil community through advertisements: The Department of Public Safety has placed ads in major newspapers regarding the listing of the LTTE, encouraging individuals with information on criminal or illegal activity to contact the local police or RCMP. The ads also expressed support for the Tamil community and the Sri Lankan peace process. The extent to which the LTTE and its sympathizers dominate the Tamil media makes these messages extremely important as a means of communicating alternative and independent information within the Tamil community.
Despite these steps and their positive impact, we believe that they are not sufficient to respond adequately to illegal LTTE activity in the Tamil community, and that the Toronto police must take additional measures to respond to LTTE-related activities in the Toronto area.
In October, Human Rights Watch conducted follow-up interviews with community workers, businesspeople, professionals and activists in the greater Toronto Tamil community regarding recent activities by the LTTE, as well as the impact of government initiatives to date. Below we outline our key findings, as well as recommendations for further action:
1) Continued LTTE Fundraising:
Our interviews with members of the Tamil community indicate that LTTE fundraising is now much less visible and less aggressive, compared to a year ago. We found that demands for specific sums of money and intimidating behavior by LTTE fundraisers are relatively rare, and received no new reports regarding the use of threats. However, fundraising is continuing, and some sources believe that fundraising activity has increased in recent weeks. We documented several incidents that took place in October, during the two week period preceding our visit to Toronto. Some fundraisers continue to identify themselves as representing the LTTE, and in one instance, reportedly indicated that the purpose of the money they sought was to buy surface-to-air missiles for the LTTE.
Although most current fundraising is apparently taking place on a voluntary basis, we are concerned that no action has been taken against fundraisers who have engaged in intimidation and extortion to obtain funds. Some members of the Tamil community have expressed frustration that despite the RCMP’s on-going investigation against the World Tamil Movement, there have been no arrests or prosecutions to date, including of the “street-level” fundraisers that collect for the LTTE. Many of these individuals are well-known in the community and easily identified.
The failure to pursue individual arrests and prosecutions has at least two negative consequences. First, it reinforces the lack of confidence that many Canadian Tamils have in the police and its ability and commitment to protect members of the community. And secondly, it contributes to a sense of impunity for fundraisers, and raises the concern that over time, the LTTE will resume more aggressive tactics of intimidation and extortion in order to secure funds for their operations.
A significant finding of our March 2006 report is that proscription alone is not enough to curtail illegal activity by the LTTE in diaspora communities. Our investigation late last year focused not only on Canada, where the LTTE had not yet been proscribed, but also on the United Kingdom, where the LTTE has been proscribed since 2001. Yet in the absence of effective law enforcement by UK authorities, we found that intimidation and extortion by the LTTE was just as common (if not even more blatant) in the UK as it was in Canada.
• Law enforcement authorities, including the Toronto Police, RCMP, and the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) should more proactively investigate intimidation and extortion in the Tamil community, including activities by “street-level” fundraisers, and initiate arrests and prosecutions as warranted.
2) Police training:
Our meetings with representatives of the Toronto Police and individuals in the Tamil community indicate that little has been done to improve the capacity of the Toronto police to deal with LTTE activity, or to sensitize them to the dynamics within the Tamil community that affect the willingness of Tamils to make complaints.
During our investigation in late 2005 and early 2006, we found that none of the individuals who spoke to us regarding threats or intimidation by the LTTE were willing to make complaints to the police. Many Tamils who fled the war in Sri Lanka were subjected to severe human rights abuses by Sri Lankan police or were aware of such abuses from family and community members. As a result, they are often suspicious of law enforcement authorities. Others were reluctant to make complaints because they were concerned that visits by the police to their home would result in being labeled an informant, ostracism within the community, or further harassment.
During our follow-up visit to Toronto in October, we found one case of a Tamil living in the greater Toronto community who called the police when LTTE representatives came to his home in mid-October seeking funds. However, his experience illustrates a disturbing lack of awareness and capacity by the police to respond appropriately to LTTE activity. According to his account, the police officers who responded to his call did not seem to understand what the LTTE was. When he gave them the LTTE’s printed contribution form as evidence, the police returned it to the LTTE representatives, saying that they could not read Tamil. Even though fundraising for the LTTE is now a clear violation of Canadian law, the police told the LTTE representatives that they would not be charged, and simply to leave the house and not to return. They made no effort to even record the identities of the LTTE representatives until the complainant urged them to do so.
We provided a written account from the individual involved to representatives of the Toronto Police Intelligence Services at a meeting in October. They agreed that the police response in this case was inadequate.
We recognize that the reluctance of Canadian Tamils to report incidents of intimidation and threats to the police make it difficult for law enforcement to pursue investigations into illegal activity by the LTTE. For this reason, it is important for law enforcement to meet with members of the community to discuss appropriate methods of investigations. For example, such methods could include placing individual fundraisers under surveillance and canvassing the neighborhoods in which they operate, in order to ensure that individual Tamil families do not feel that they exposing themselves or placing themselves at risk by speaking to the police.
• Police operating in the greater Toronto area should receive training on the LTTE and its history of activities in the Tamil community, including the use of intimidation and extortion. Police should be trained in ways to respond appropriately to complaints from member of the Tamil community, and should meet with members of the Tamil community in private, confidential settings to discuss appropriate methods for response and investigation.
3) Public Education and Engagement with the Tamil Community:
As noted above, following the listing of the LTTE, the Department of Public Safety placed several advertisements in the Toronto Star and Tamil newspapers regarding the the listing, and providing information on how Tamils could contact authorities if they were subject to illegal activities. Human Rights Watch heard appreciation from a number of Tamils regarding these ads, particularly those that appeared in the Tamil press. Such outreach to the Tamil community is very important, particularly through the Tamil media, which is often heavily influenced by the LTTE and does not typically include perspectives that are critical of the LTTE.
However, such advertisements are needed on an ongoing basis, and should be placed not only in the Tamil print media, but in the Tamil broadcast media as well, including Tamil television and radio.
In our March report, we recommended not only public education campaigns in the Tamil community to publicize relevant laws and steps that individuals can take if they are subject to intimidation or harassment, but also direct engagement with the Tamil community. However, we are disappointed that apart from the ads mentioned above, little has been done in this regard.
From meetings with the Toronto police, we understand that there are proposals under consideration for forums in the Tamil community, including representatives of key government agencies, such as the Toronto Police, RCMP, immigration, etc. Similar forums have been held in the Muslim community, to describe the roles of the various agencies, and address questions from the community. Such a forum in the Tamil community could be very helpful and should be pursued without delay.
• Continue to place advertisements in the Tamil media regarding the rights of Tamils to live free from intimidation, extortion and discrimination, the commitment of the Canadian government to protect these rights; and avenues of complaint regarding illegal activity linked to the LTTE.
• Plan public forums in the Tamil community to include representatives from key government agencies, including the Toronto Police and RCMP, in order to communicate the government’s commitment to protect members of the community from illegal activity, steps that are being taken in this regard, the role of the respective law enforcement agencies, available avenues of complaint, and to engage in dialogue with members of the community regarding their concerns.
We are aware that the activities of the Tamil Tigers in Canada are of concern to several government agencies, including the Department of Public Safety, the RCMP, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, and the Provincial government. For this reason, we have sent a similar letter outlining our concerns to Minister Stockwell Day, and are providing copies of this letter to the RCMP, and Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
We appreciate your concern regarding these issues, and look forward to stronger actions by Canadian authorities to protect the rights of Canada’s Tamil community. We look forward to your response, and would be happy to be in further contact with you regarding our concerns and recommendations.
Ms. Deborah Newman, Deputy Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services
Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Superintendent Robert Davis, District Commander, Greater Toronto Area District, RCMP