Two articles on TAMIL Terrorism
- June 1, 2002
Blood money on tap
Each year, millions of dollars are funnelled from Canada through front
organizations to terrorist groups throughout the world, such as the
Tamil Tigers. In this exclusive excerpt from a new book of essays about
Canada's declining international influence, National Post reporter
Stewart Bell examines how these deadly funds are raised and distributed.
With its stately colonial buildings, ancient temples and lush tropical
gardens, Colombo seems an Earthly paradise at first look. But the scars
of two decades of ethnic conflict are not easily concealed. In the
downtown business district, the skeletons of bombed office buildings
line the streets near the Indian Ocean -- memorials to the wave of
terrorist attacks that have struck the city.
Although far from the front lines of Sri Lanka's civil war, Colombo
still has the uneasy feel of a city under siege. Military checkpoints
slow traffic at intersections, armed soldiers hang from buses to prevent
terrorists from planting bombs and government buildings are guarded like
fortresses, as are the homes of prominent politicians.
Concrete patches cover the corner of the Hotel Galidari that was bombed
in 1997 by Tamil Tiger separatists targeting the U.S. servicemen staying
there. Outside the Prime Minister's house, there is a crevice gouged in
the wall where a Tiger operative detonated his suicide vest. Across the
street, a black statue marks the spot where the Security Minister was
standing when he was blown apart by a suicide bomber.
The grass is scorched brown on the lawn where President Chandrika
Kumaratunga was giving an election speech in December, 1999, when a
Tiger suicide bomber made an attempt on her life. "Let's pray," says
Rafeeq, a Colombo banker blinded in a 1997 terrorist attack on his
downtown office building, "that these types of things will come to an
Colombo is the capital of a Commonwealth democracy that has experienced
a level of terrorism unimaginable to outsiders. It is also the most
striking example of how terrorism and insurgency around the world is
financed from Canada. Extremists within Canadian immigrant and refugee
communities send millions of dollars abroad annually to bankroll
political and religious violence, and despite warnings by police and
intelligence agents, federal politicians in Ottawa largely ignored the
problem for more than a decade.
Fundraising for terrorism was not outlawed in Canada until public
outrage at the Sept. 11 attacks and pressure from the Americans finally
forced the government into action.
The legislation came so late, however, that Canada had already become
among the top sources of foreign currency for such groups as the Tamil
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, is a cult-like band of
guerrillas that employs the gruesome tactics of terrorism. According to
Canadian security agencies, the LTTE has assassinated more than 100
politicians, carried out more suicide bombings than all other militant
groups in the world combined, and murdered the democratically- elected
leaders of two nations, India and Sri Lanka.
It is also, to a large extent, tacitly aided and financed by supporters
in Canada. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service estimates that up
to $2-million a year is clandestinely funnelled to the Tigers' military
purchasing arm from front organizations in Canada. But the total amount
could be 10 to 20 times that sum once the proceeds of organized crime
are factored in.
Since the days of Lester B. Pearson, Canadians have liked to think of
themselves as international peacekeepers, the heroes in the blue berets.
In Sri Lanka, and in countries such as Israel and even the United
States, Canada is seen increasingly as a war financier, supplying the
cash and other support that sustains political and religious violence,
keeping self-styled freedom fighters outfitted with weaponry and
ensuring a continued surfeit of misery for civilians and the soldiers
Through negligence and indifference, the Canadian government has
permitted virtually every major terrorist organization in the world to
operate within its borders. Canada's failure to disrupt the terrorists
on its soil has resulted in major security problems for Canada's
neighbours and some of its closest allies.
Canada's failure has also caused severe troubles within Canada's refugee
communities, where militants have hijacked cultural organizations and
religious institutions for their own ends. And it has helped create an
international climate in which global terrorist organizations such as
JDL (Jewish Defence League) have thrived.
Canada may not be the only nation that has been negligent on this front,
but for a country its size, Canada harbours far more terrorists than it
should, possibly more in proportion than any other Western industrial
power. As a result, even as it has sought to portray itself as tough on
terrorism, Canada's international reputation has suffered because it is
seen increasingly as a source of terrorism.
While federal politicians including Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister,
continue to deny that Canada is a terrorist "safe haven," the problem is
spelled out in stacks of Federal Court case files, immigration and
refugee files, CSIS reports, RCMP intelligence briefs, Security
Intelligence Review Committee reports and records from criminal
prosecutions in other jurisdictions, notably France and the United
Perhaps most convincing are the admissions of terrorists themselves, who
have confessed not only to using Canada as a base for violence abroad,
but also to plotting attacks within Canada. When these fragments of
intelligence are pieced together, they form a window into the terrorist
underworld that operates within the country.
Terrorist groups use Canada as a staging ground to plan and carry out
attacks, as a base for hiding out before and after operations and as a
source of recruits. Most common in Canada are terrorist-bureaucrats,
those involved in support activity, mundane but nonetheless crucial, who
feed the larger international organization. That includes the theft and
doctoring of passports, purchase of matériel with military applications,
spreading of propaganda, political lobbying and pressure and,
Terrorist fundraising is conducted partly through non-profit
organizations that purport to be involved in various types of
humanitarian or community work but that in practice serve as fronts for
extremist groups. In some cases, these organizations may be involved in
legitimate work that masks their clandestine support for extremist
Less often, the broader organization may be unaware that it is being
used as a cover for illicit activities. Relief organizations, religious
institutions, immigrant and multicultural groups and religious schools
have fronted for terrorism in Canada, as have businesses. Some have been
funded by various levels of government.
Outside the extremist core, mainstream supporters of these fronts may
have no idea the money they are donating -- or a portion of it, at least
-- is being diverted to finance political or religious violence. The
extremists convince their supporters that the money is going to widows
and orphans, or other worthy causes. While some, if not most, of the
collections may in fact end up financing legitimate work, a portion is
tacitly laundered into violence. Such blending of accounts is a
deliberate tactic designed to throw investigators off the scent of blood
In Canada, the first to make proficient use of fronts were Sikh
militants in British Columbia, who took control of temples and community
organizations in the 1980s and used them as a pulpit to advance the
cause of Khalistan, the sought-after Sikh homeland in India. Their
methods were soon mirrored by Kurdish separatists, various Jewish
militant organizations, as well as Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka.
The World Tamil Movement (WTM) office in Toronto occupies the second
floor of a strip mall, overlooking a row of shops selling South Asian
wares -- jewellery, saris, fish and meat. The red and yellow banner
draped in the window bears a distinctive emblem: the head of a roaring
tiger. The LTTE logo is the only outward hint the office is affiliated
with ethnic violence half a world away.
The WTM is the principal Tamil Tigers support organization in the world
as well as in Canada. A secret list of "LTTE front organizations in
Canada" compiled by the Canadian intelligence service lists the WTM at
the top, along with the Ellesmere Road address of the strip mall, as
well as seven other non-profit associations in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal
and Vancouver: The Tamil Eelam Society of Canada, Tamil Rehabilitation
Organization, Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils, Tamil
Coordinating Committee, Eelam Tamil Association of British Columbia,
World Tamil Movement (Montreal chapter) and the Eelam Tamil Association
The LTTE operates a taxation system in Canada that extorts money from
Tamil families and businesses. The RCMP reported in 1999 that "new Tamil
refugees in Canada are traditionally contacted by Tamil Tigers from
organizations [that] promote LTTE interests and collect funds. LTTE
sympathizers in Canada are under pressure to provide funding to the
Tigers in Sri Lanka. All Tamils are encouraged to donate 50¢ each day to
While terrorists often rely on rallies and charity events to raise
money, legitimate businesses have played an increasingly important role
in fundraising. According to Canadian intelligence, the LTTE's chief
procurement officer established two import-export companies in Toronto
to launder money raised by the World Tamil Movement and other fronts
back to his base in Thailand. "Although there are no official profit
figures available for these companies there is some indication that they
are highly lucrative and the LTTE is becoming increasingly dependent on
these types of ventures to supply their war coffers," CSIS says.
The LTTE global fundraising and weapons network is so successful that
there are fears it could become a template for other terrorist and
insurgent forces. What is unique about the Tigers is that, by behaving,
in turn, like an international corporation and an organized crime
syndicate, they have been able to build a frighteningly potent fighting
machine. And they have done so almost completely on their own, without
the assistance of a benevolent state sponsor. Aside from some initial
assistance from India, the Tigers have done it alone, and if they can do
it from the relative isolation of northern Sri Lanka, so can any other
extremist organization determined to cause mayhem.
The Canadian system has played right into the hands of such political
extremists. Migrants can be remarkably vulnerable when they first arrive
in a new country. They are disoriented, unfamiliar with the way things
work. The government directs them to heavily politicized immigrant
societies that have agendas that extend well beyond their mandate to
provide language services and foreign aid. The bulk of these non-profit
organizations are ethnic-based, serving one particular migrant group,
and as a result have been vulnerable to being taken over by those with
political agendas originating in their homelands.
As Western countries have begun to crack down on terrorist- front
fundraising activities, realizing they are the lifeblood of terrorism,
extremists have increasingly turned to organized crime to earn their
blood money and launder it overseas. Police are now finding that
organized crime investigations lead more and more to associates of
terrorist groups rather than mobsters or bikers.
Crime proceeds are a crucial source of funds for the Tamil Tigers.
Street gangs composed of former rebel fighters serve as enforcers for
the LTTE in Toronto. In the 1990s, Toronto police began noticing they
were getting called increasingly to investigate violent crimes in which
the common denominator was that both the victims and the criminals were
of Sri Lankan origin.
They suspected a new organized crime group was emerging, bringing with
it the same problems they had encountered when Asian-based crime first
came to Canada in the 1980s. Motives, witnesses and suspects were
elusive and language and cultural barriers were frustrating
investigators. In response, the Tamil Task Force was established, at
first as a pilot project but then as a regular part of the police
intelligence unit, working closely with the RCMP and Citizenship
The task force soon discovered that Sri Lankan organized crime had its
roots in South Asia. The key players, rival gangs called the VVT and
A.K. Kannan, were aligned with warring Tamil factions back in Sri Lanka.
A.K. Kannan, which has an estimated 300 members, derives its name from
the AK-47 military assault rifle, the preferred weapon of Tamil
A.K. Kannan's main rival is the VVT, short for Valvedditurai, the
birthplace of the Tigers movement as well as its leader, Vellupillai
Prabhakaran. The VVT is the principal pro-LTTE gang in Canada, with a
strength of 350 to 500. The gang leaders are current or former Tiger
guerrillas and remain loyal to the rebels, serving as their
money-collectors and street muscle in Tamil neighbourhoods of Toronto.
"Members of the VVT will act as enforcers for the political
representatives of the LTTE in Canada," the Tamil Task Force said in its
February, 1998, report. "Extensive links and associations between the
VVT and LTTE are common knowledge in the Tamil community." The officer
in charge of the RCMP's Immigration and Passport section in Milton,
Ont., said the "Tamil Tigers control every aspect of Tamil gang life in
In addition to the two main gangs, there are a number of smaller ones.
RCMP Sergeant Fred Bowen alone has referred more than 200 Tamil gang
members to the Immigration Department for deportation. All told, there
are an estimated 1,000 gang members. Toronto police and the RCMP
estimate there are from 5,000 to 8,000 trained Tamil guerrillas in
Toronto. "These persons are known to have had extensive paramilitary
training in the use of automatic weapons, hand-to-hand combat, Russian
RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and other offensive weapons and
substances," the Task Force said. "Many of these have been used in the
Greater Toronto Area to carry out their projects."
The gang extortion racket in Canada, in which pro-LTTE crime groups
collect "donations," is imported from the homeland, where the Tigers
initiated a taxation system on families, businesses and criminal
enterprise in the areas under their control. Tamils in Toronto often
complain about gang youths who go door-to-door at night collecting
money, often with threats.
Aside from extortion, the Canadian gangs have been involved in home
invasions, kidnapping, attempted murder, passport theft, counterfeiting,
fraud, auto theft and murders. The gangs take turns attacking each
other's hangouts in drive-by shootings, usually using sawed-off
shotguns, a deadly turf war that has turned parts of Toronto into a
Police have had poor success tackling the gangs. The gangs respect what
one officer describes as a "bond of silence," a tacit agreement that
neither side will go to police if they are victimized. As a result, gang
members are charged but seldom convicted. Non-gang members are also
unwilling to come forward or testify as witnesses. Those that do are
Tamils in Toronto are told explicitly not to go to police to report
crimes because doing so might hurt the cause of Tamil separatism, both
politically and financially, and could result in the withdrawal of
government funds to non-profit organizations, the RCMP says. One gang
circulated a flyer in the Tamil language offering a reward to anyone who
could help locate Crown witnesses.
On the few occasions witnesses have testified against gang members,
other gangsters have sat in the courtroom holding up photos of the
witnesses' children and elderly relatives. "Many of the Tamils in the
Greater Toronto Area live in fear of the gangs and the various extremist
groups residing in their communities and few will testify or complain to
the police," says an RCMP report.
This silence in the name of self-preservation is a trait imported from
Sri Lanka, where Tamils dare not speak up for fear of retribution from
the LTTE. The gangs, particularly the VVT, have served to keep a lid on
community opposition to the LTTE and its front activities in Canada. The
Tigers want to keep the appearance that Tamils are united in their
support for the Eelam separatist struggle.
But like any ethnic group, Sri Lankan Tamils are divided over such
issues as independence and the use of violence. The threat of gang
violence, however, has succeeded in silencing dissent. The other role of
the gangs has been, of course, to raise money for the cause. The
consistent pattern of Tamil gang activity has been its unflinching
devotion to money-making schemes. "The gangs are doing anything for
money," Sgt. Bowen said.
One of their most-shocking money-making schemes surfaced in May, 2001,
when the Ontario Labour Relations Board revealed that two VVT members
with criminal records had been hired by a metal works company shortly
before its 90 employees were to vote on whether to form a union. Gang
members known as Kuti and Kodi began working at the company, which makes
steel doors and frames, on Nov. 6, 1998, the day the union filed notice
it was holding a certification vote. The two gangsters threatened to
kill employees if the union vote was successful.
"If the company wins, no problem," Kuti told one worker. "If the company
loses, you will not live thereafter. You will not be alive. Tell the
"You don't know me," he went on. "I will do what I've said."
"If the union wins you, will be killed outside. We won't do anything
now, but if the union wins we will do it."
Following a complaint by the United Steelworkers of America, the Labour
Relations Board did not determine who was responsible for the "brief
campaign of terror" but said "at the end of the day it does not
particularly matter who specifically in management was involved. What
matters, and what I think is obvious from the evidence, is that Kuti and
Kodi were recruited by the company's management to discourage the Sri
Lankan employees from voting for the union."
The LTTE's willingness to engage in union-busting shows that
terrorist-affiliated gangs are a threat not only to the democratic
institutions of Sri Lanka, but also those of Canada. When terrorist
extremists become guns for hire, renting their reputations and ruthless
tactics to the highest bidder, that constitutes a startling attack on
To make matters worse, some Liberal MPs openly support groups such as
the Tamil Tigers. Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis has attended Tamil Tigers
support functions. Paul Martin and Maria Minna were guest speakers at a
May, 2000, dinner hosted by the Federation of Associations of Canadian
Tamils, despite warnings the group was a front for the Tigers.
Citizenship Immigration Canada gives $2-million annually to the Tamil
Eelam society, which CSIS considers a terrorist front. When the deputy
minister of Immigration tried to cut off the group's government
financing in 1997, she was overruled by Lucienne Robillard, then
minister of Immigration. "We are to forget everything," an Immigration
official later advised colleagues.
"I do not believe that Canadians want their country to be known as a
place from which terrorist acts elsewhere are funded or fomented," Ward
Elcock, director of CSIS, testified in 1998. "We cannot ever become
known as some R and R facility for terrorists. In other words, and I
will be as blunt as I can be, we cannot become, through inaction or
otherwise, what might be called an unofficial state sponsor of
terrorism." But one might argue that Canada, through its longstanding
parliamentary inaction, has already become an unofficial terrorism
Public outrage over the Sept. 11 sbell@...; Abridged from
"Blood Money: International Terrorist Fundraising in Canada," by Stewart
Bell, a chapter in Canada Among Nations 2002: A Fading Power, edited by
Norman Hillmer and Maureen Appel Molot. Copyright © Oxford University
Press Canada 2002. Reprinted with permission
Minister vetoed bid to stop Tamil funding Secret memo: Group says audits
show no misuse of public money
May 29, 2002
Federal officials tried to cut off government funding to a Toronto
non-profit group because of suspicions it was financing terrorism but
were told to back off after the matter went to a Cabinet minister,
internal documents reveal.
In a memo stamped "secret", the deputy minister of immigration asked the
immigration minister to approve the department's decision to stop
financing the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada over concerns it was tied to
But the matter was declared "dead" soon after it went to Lucienne
Robillard, then minister of immigration. "We are to forget everything,"
one official wrote. Another called the turnaround "strange."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) subsequently audited the group
and could find no misuse of money. It has since increased federal
contributions to the agency, named after the independent state sought by
Sri Lankan guerrillas. But the head of immigration intelligence
continued to argue there was ample evidence to connect the group to the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan insurgent group
that specializes in suicide bombings.
The case hints at tensions between bureaucrats and politicians in Ottawa
-- as well as between federal agencies -- over how to deal with
terrorism concerns within Canada. Such divisions are said to be heated
at the moment as the government is compiling its list of groups to be
designated under Canada's new counter-terrorism laws.
Although the Immigration Department is the Tamil Eelam society's main
source of money, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has listed
the group as a front for the Tamil Tigers terrorist group. The RCMP,
too, has tied the society to the Tamil Tigers.
The society has shared offices with the Federation of Associations of
Canadian Tamils (FACT), which the Canadian government argues is a
terrorist front. The society's leader was also until recently the FACT
leader. The society is a member of FACT.
The Immigration Department has consistently defended its financing of
the society. But newly released internal documents show the department's
top civil servant urged a Liberal minister to cut the group's government
In February, 1997, Janice Cochrane, the deputy immigration minister,
sent a secret memo to Ms. Robillard, who was then the minister,
requesting "your approval to not renew the settlement contribution
agreements with the Tamil Eelam Society of Canada (TESC)."
The memo said the society, which was getting more than $1-million a year
from the Immigration Department to run language and settlement programs
for new immigrants, had been accused of financing ethnic Tamil
"There have been third party allegations made that TESC was diverting
public funds to terrorist activities," the memo said. "Initial
monitoring and review of TESC activities indicated that it was operating
within the terms of the contribution agreements and did not reveal any
After sections of the memo that were censored by the Immigration
Department, Ms. Cochrane writes: "Given the above, it is recommended
that CIC cease to be involved with TESC through contribution
The memo further advised that the government of Ontario, Human Resources
Development Canada and Heritage Canada, which were also funding the
society, should be informed of the decision.
"Should the decision be made not to renew CIC funding, I recommend that
you apprise your Honorable colleagues Pierre Pettigrew and Hedy Fry of
your decision on this case. Two letters are attached for this purpose."
The deputy minister concluded her memo by again urging the minister to
permanently stop government funding of the society. "I recommend that
CIC let the current contribution agreement expire and that CIC not enter
into new agreements with TESC in the future."
She further asked Ms. Robillard to act quickly so the Tamil agency could
issue notices of termination to its employees.
Despite the recommendation of the top civil servant in the Immigration
Department, the matter was dropped after it went to Ms. Robillard's
Details of the Minister's response to the recommendation were not
released. But on April 28, an official sent out an e-mail saying he had
"just received word that we are to forget everything and that it is
business as usual."
"It has been a very hot and complex issue right from the beginning, with
strange turnarounds," another official wrote. "The issue may one day
resuscitate, but yes, the group for now can continue to be funded
without cause for alarm." Another official wrote: "CIC's position now is
that it's business as usual and that this issue is dead."
No explanation is given in the documents for the abrupt decision to back
off the group. But four months later the top intelligence official
within the department was still calling for action. "Apparently, Gary
Blachford [the head of immigration intelligence] is convinced that there
is enough evidence to cease funding of the organization," an e-mail
Another official responded that the evidence was based on
"association.... The issue that Gary apparently is concerned about is
what do we do if it hits the press. We have had concerns about this all
along but the same can be said if our ducks are not all in a row and we
cease funding. It may very well hit the press then too.
"We also have to remember that the person who sent the letter originally
[making the allegations] provided no proof when interviewed."
Ms. Robillard's office declined comment yesterday on the grounds she is
no longer immigration minister.
Secret documents concerning the bureaucracy's attempt to strip the
society's government funding were recently released to the National Post
under the Access to Information Act. The Immigration Department took
more than a year to comply with the newspaper's request for the records.
An immigration spokesman said the change of course reflected a
difference of opinion between the department and the minister's office
over how to handle the "serious allegations" of the society's
involvement in terrorism.
The main issue was whether the department should take pre-emptive action
against the society or await the outcome of an audit. In the end, the
department opted for the latter course, he said.
"It's not unreasonable that there would be differing viewpoints from
people," said Doug Kellam, an immigration media officer. "The audit did
follow and the audit did conclude that there was no misuse of funds."
The Tamil Eelam society provides government-funded settlement services,
such as language and employment training, for Sri Lankan immigrants. But
it is also openly supportive of the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group in
Sri Lanka that has orchestrated many terrorist attacks.
Sita Sittampalam, the society president, and until recently the FACT
president as well, said the group is careful to separate its political
activity from its function as a contractor providing government
He said he was not aware of the memo, but said his group had been
audited twice and no misuse of money had been found. If the auditors had
discovered any problems, the government would have ceased its funding,
he said. "If there was something wrong, they would stop."
The Immigration Department, however, has put the group on a three-month
contract rather than an annual one, which Mr. Sittampalam said was a
response to complaints by those trying to "tarnish" the society with
The society has long faced accusations of links to the Tigers. Two years
ago, an RCMP intelligence report claimed a Tamil Eelam society leader
arranged for a European LTTE representative -- an assassin known as
Shukla -- to visit Canada in 1998 to broker a peace deal between rival
"We do support the LTTE," Mr. Sittampalam said in an Australian
television documentary broadcast in October, 2000. "We support it as a
means of getting our rights and our right to self-determination -- we
support the LTTE."
The recommendation to the minister to end the group's funding was
preceded by a heavy volume of meetings and reports involving several
federal agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The Immigration Department made preparations on the understanding the
minister would approve the recommendation -- even to the extent of
preparing a communications plan to respond to the Tamil society's
"We are vulnerable on two fronts," the media plan said. "The NGOs
[non-governmental organizations] and ethnic community may feel that our
action is not supported ... while the Reform party may complain that we
have not done enough early enough in view of the period over which we
have continued to fund TESC."
A briefing note for the solicitor-general warned that, because no
evidence of financial impropriety or mismanagement had been found, the
government's decision "could be viewed as discriminatory and biased
against the larger Tamil community."
Three days after the memo was sent to the minister, one official warned
that the Tamil society "and other advocacy groups associated with it
would take a very aggressive public stand to the minister, to the
department and to the media in challenging CIC's decision."