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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper shakes hands with a supporter at a campaign rally in Beaupre, Que, on April 14, 2011. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper shakes hands with a supporter at a campaign rally in Beaupre, Que, on April 14, 2011. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

Candidate made it 'crystal clear' he had no sympathy for terrorists, Tories say Add to ...

We asked, and he said no.

That's how the federal Conservatives screened candidate Gavan Paranchothy for any sympathies to the Tamil Tigers, who were listed as a terrorist group by Stephen Harper's government in 2006.

Mr. Harper faced questions about Mr. Paranchothy during a Quebec campaign stop Thursday, after The Globe and Mail reported that the Scarborough-Southwest candidate hosted a televised tribute to the Tigers last fall.

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The Conservative Leader affirmed the party's stand against the Tigers, but did not answer when asked how Mr. Paranchothy became a candidate or whether he would remain one. Mr. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said Mr. Paranchothy cleared pre-nomination screening.

"Prior to becoming a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada, he had to make it crystal clear - and he did - that he had no support or sympathy for the Tamil Tigers," Mr. Soudas said.

Last November, Mr. Paranchothy hosted a sombre TV special to mark Heroes Day, an annual commemoration of dead Tiger fighters, whom he called "strong and faithful people who stood guard for the Tamils, fought for freedom and peace."

The Tamil Tigers became infamous for using suicide bombings, child soldiers and political killings during their 26-year war for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, which ended in their defeat in May, 2009.

Mr. Paranchothy, well-known to his broadcast audience as Ragavan, changed his first name to Gavan for the election, and removed all references to his Tamil background from campaign materials after he was nominated March 12.

He cancelled a news conference scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, but later issued a written statement: "A recent media story has made insinuations that I am a supporter or sympathizer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)," or Tamil Tigers. "I must make clear that it is not true and that I absolutely condemn terrorists and terrorism."

The candidate said "these insinuations are based on my work as a journalist," and went on to name politicians he has interviewed, including several Liberals. "As a journalist, I had every right to interview whoever I wanted," the statement said, adding that "when Robert Fisk interviewed Osama bin Laden, or when Christopher Hitchens interviewed Abu Nidal, nobody accused them of being terrorists themselves."

The statement does not mention Mr. Paranchothy's extensive activities outside of journalism. He is a Tamil community contact for politicians, was identified as a spokesman for organizers of a Tamil protest in 2009, and served as director of public relations and community development at the stations where he worked as a journalist.

He has said in past interviews that the stations - Tamil Vision International television and its affiliate, Canadian Multicultural Radio - cater to the Tamil community and therefore "can't come out and be very critical" of the Tigers.

On his website while seeking the nomination, Mr. Paranchothy described himself as a "go to guy" who "has represented the [Tamil]community in numerous round table discussions with Ministers of the Government in matters such as relationship building, immigration, public safety, image building and the community's legitimate political aspirations."

The Globe has previously reported Mr. Paranchothy's involvement with a small group of Toronto-area Tamils, some with links to a Tamil Tigers remnant organization, who recently forged ties with the federal Tories and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Bret Snider, Mr. Paranchothy's campaign manager, said the party's screening process goes beyond verbal questions and is conducted before anyone can seek a nomination. "All candidates at the federal level and the provincial level go through an extensive interview process, they go through security checks, everything about their lives is up for grabs," Mr. Snider said, adding that a written application is "reviewed by several people."

Internet checks are the first step in the process, Mr. Snider said, though he did not see the YouTube video of Mr. Paranchothy's Heroes Day broadcast until Thursday. He called the program "a documentary," not a tribute to the Tigers.

"He does not support terrorism, he is not a terrorist, and he believes in the rule of law and democracy," Mr. Snider said. "And he's running as a Conservative because he's a loyal Canadian."

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Harper told reporters, "Our position on the Tamil Tigers has been strong and unequivocal. This is the party that listed the Tamil Tigers [as a terrorist group] previous governments have refused to do so, and our position on that is not going to change."

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