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Before becoming the Conservative candidate in Scarborough Southwest, Gavan Paranchothy was known as Ragavan Paranchothy.
Before becoming the Conservative candidate in Scarborough Southwest, Gavan Paranchothy was known as Ragavan Paranchothy.

Conservative candidate takes pains to obscure his Tamil background Add to ...

A month ago, a Tamil television personality named Ragavan Paranchothy won the federal Conservative nomination in Scarborough Southwest.

Almost immediately, he changed his name to Gavan Paranchothy, with a new Twitter tag (@gavanp), Facebook page and fresh websites that no longer mention his Tamil background.

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It's not the first time Mr. Paranchothy has adopted a different first name. When he travelled with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Asia in 2009, he was T. Raghavan Paranchothy, the T standing for Thayan, the legal name by which he is also known.

But it was as Ragavan Paranchothy that he hosted broadcasts on Tamil Vision International television and Canadian Multicultural Radio in Toronto. And it was as Ragavan that, just last November, Mr. Paranchothy hosted a televised tribute to the Tamil Tigers.

The federal Tories, for whom Mr. Paranchothy is now running, banned the Tigers as a terrorist group in Canada in 2006, and its key Canadian support group, the World Tamil Movement, in 2008. The Tigers used suicide bombings, forcibly recruited child soldiers and assassinated politicians in an ultimately fruitless 26-year war of independence in Sri Lanka, which ended in 2009.

Now the Tory candidate for Scarborough Southwest is part of a small group of Toronto-area Tamils, some with links to a Tamil Tigers remnant organization, who recently forged political ties with the federal Tories and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Mr. Paranchothy said he changed his name for a simple reason: to help voters. "I'm obviously trying to meet a lot of people and … the "Ra" seems to be something that's kind of hard for people to pronounce," he said, adding that family and friends call him Gavan.

Liberal candidate Michelle Simson called the name change "odd," and said Mr. Paranchothy's TV profile as Ragavan "makes it odder."

"Name recognition is everything," said Ms. Simson, a one-term incumbent. "I don't understand why he wouldn't want to capitalize on that. To me, that's a no-brainer."

Mr. Paranchothy's campaign manager, Bret Snider, said there was "some blowback on the name" from voters, so the change was made. As for the removal of the candidate's Tamil background from campaign materials, Mr. Snider said Mr. Paranchothy "didn't want to be seen as an ethnic candidate. … He is more than a Tamil."

Before his March 12 nomination, Mr. Paranchothy's website described him as "a moderate voice" who "has been in the forefront of building a bridge between the Government of Canada and the Tamil Community."

Mr. Paranchothy won the nomination days after The Globe and Mail reported his participation in Tory efforts to connect with Toronto's 200,000-plus Sri Lankan Tamil community, the largest such group outside Asia. He attended meetings with MPs including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, and was among a delegation who met privately last October with Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Others with him at the Hudak meeting had links to the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), a group guided into being by a former associate of the World Tamil Movement, which Mr. Harper's government banned for collecting money for the Tigers, sometimes coercively, from Tamils in Canada.

Mr. Paranchothy is not an NCCT member, but his TV and radio stations promoted the NCCT's elections last June.

Last November, Mr. Paranchothy hosted a solemn TV special to mark Maveerar Naal, or Heroes Day, an annual commemoration of dead Tiger fighters. Dressed in black, he described the fallen as "strong and faithful people who stood guard for the Tamils, fought for freedom and peace."

As the Sri Lankan military conducted its punishing final campaign against the Tigers in early 2009, reports of massive Tamil civilian casualties prompted protests in Toronto and Ottawa. At a Toronto rally attended by an estimated 50,000 Tamils in January that year, Mr. Paranchothy was identified as a "spokesperson for the organizers" in a news report.

In interviews since he entered politics, Mr. Paranchothy has said he was misidentified as a spokesman and attended the protest only as a reporter. Gurmukh Singh, a Toronto-based correspondent for the Indo-Asian News Service who wrote the protest report, said he stands by his story, and said the broadcaster "self-identified" as a spokesman.

Regarding his uncritical coverage of the Tigers, Mr. Paranchothy said he did not have the "luxury" of stating his own views, but had to adhere to his stations' policy of remaining "neutral" in the Sri Lankan conflict. "The media I work for obviously cater to the Tamil community. … We can't come out and be very critical," he said.

Asked if he supports the Harper government's ban on the Tigers, Mr. Paranchothy answered, "Yes."

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