A former member of a Canadian Tamil organization described as "a peaceful separatist group" by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives attended a weapons training session with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in 2003.
A photograph of the training session, used by U.S. authorities to convict a Toronto man who tried to buy arms for the Tigers in 2006, raises new questions about the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), a group linked to a Tory candidate from the Toronto area.
A man shown in the weapons-training photo, Thiva Paramsothy, won a seat on the NCCT in an election last June but has since stepped down. The election was supervised by Shan Thayaparan, who was recently named the PC candidate for Markham-Unionville.
On Monday, PC Leader Tim Hudak denied that Mr. Thayaparan is linked to remnants of the Tigers through the NCCT and encouraged anyone with evidence to the contrary to bring it forward. A party spokesman, Alan Sakach, said background checks on the candidate found "nothing out there that suggests that there is a problem with the National Council of Canadian Tamils," which he described as peaceful despite its goal of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka.
The Tigers' armed pursuit of the same goal was crushed by the Sri Lankan military in 2009 after 26 years marked by suicide bombings, assassinations and Tiger killings of their Tamil rivals.
Two Tiger fighters in striped camouflage, along with Mr. Paramsothy and his rifle-toting Toronto friend, Satha Sarachandran, are clearly visible in U.S. Government Exhibit F2, a photograph used by American prosecutors to send Mr. Sarachandran to prison for 26 years in early 2010.
Mr. Sarachandran, a one-time national president of the Canadian Tamil Students Association, had travelled to New York with three other men in August of 2006 in a bid to buy about $1-million worth of anti-aircraft missiles and AK-47 assault rifles to be sent to the Tigers in Sri Lanka. The arms dealers he met turned out to be undercover FBI agents, who had conducted a joint investigation with the RCMP.
At the time of his friend's arrest, Mr. Paramsothy, a youth worker in Toronto's Tamil community, told The Globe and Mail, "My understanding is he got mixed up with the wrong people at the wrong time."
Mr. Paramsothy and Mr. Sarachandran had travelled to Sri Lanka in 2003, during a ceasefire in the civil war, and attended a Tiger shooting range together.
The photo, found in an RCMP search of Mr. Sarachandran's Toronto home, shows Mr. Paramsothy in a white shirt and dark pants, with his hands on his hips, standing behind the armed Mr. Sarachandran as the Tiger soldiers look on.
Asked Wednesday about the weapons training, Mr. Paramsothy, who is in his early 30s, said he and his friend were among young Tamils from around the world who used the ceasefire as a chance to return to Sri Lanka and learn "what the struggle is about." During a visit to what was then Tiger-controlled territory, he said, some in the group indicated a desire to test Tiger firepower.
"Not everybody was doing it," Mr. Paramsothy said. Asked if he fired any weapons, he said, "No, I didn't."
Mr. Paramsothy, volunteer chairman of the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre (CanTYD), described the trip as "a journey … to go back home and see the country where my parents were born, and experience it," he said.
Last year, Mr. Paramsothy ran successfully for the NCCT on a slate of candidates that included a man photographed at a private meeting with Mr. Hudak last October. That man, Rajkumar Subramaniam, had previously been photographed with the now-dead leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The NCCT formed in the wake of the Tigers' defeat in May of 2009. Later that year, an NCCT precursor group called the Coalition for Tamil Elections Canada held a referendum in which Tamil Canadians reportedly voted 99.82 per cent for a separate homeland. This paved the way for the establishment of the NCCT.
The new body was steered by Nehru Gunaratnam, a former spokesman from the World Tamil Movement, which the federal government banned as a Tiger front in 2008. The Tigers were outlawed in 2006, and the World Tamil Movement's offices were raided by the RCMP shortly after that.
Mr. Gunaratnam's name and phone number appear on a list of officials found among scores of documents seized in the police raids.
In a recent interview, Mr. Gunaratnam said he helped found CanTYD, the youth centre where Mr. Paramsothy is chairman, in 1997. He is also a long-time associate of Mr. Thayaparan, the PC candidate, with whom he attended the 2006 federal Liberal leadership convention.
Mr. Thayaparan's role in last year's NCCT vote was to make arrangements for a "fair and free election," but there were complaints of irregularities and the proceedings were unorthodox.
Mr. Gunaratnam appeared on Tamil-language television beforehand to explain that voters would be issued "sample ballots" in advance, to fill in and carry into the voting booth as voting aids, due to the large number of candidates and categories. He reminded viewers not to leave these extra ballots behind in the booth when they finished voting.
Campaigning was allowed near polling stations and the minimum voting age was 16.
In announcing the final results exclusively last June 24 on Canadian Multicultural Radio, a Tamil station known for its uncritical coverage of the Tigers, the NCCT's unnamed "chief returning officer" said a review of the process "concluded the election was largely fair and free. Some of the minor irregularities identified by the commission during the election process have not affected the overall results, when considering the number of the votes and the winning margin of the candidates."
Mr. Thayaparan has not responded to repeated requests for comment.