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Immigration board to determine whether man is a member of Tamil Tigers

Police and military are seen wearing surgical masks as they board the MV Sun Sea after it was escorted into CFB Esquimalt in Colwood, B.C.,Friday, Aug. 13, 2010.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

What makes a person a member of a terrorist organization was the focus of an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing Friday.

The admissibility hearing was held for one of 492 Tamil migrants who arrived in Canada last August onboard the MV Sun Sea. All of the passengers' hearings - until now - have been detention reviews that determine whether they should be released from custody.

An admissibility hearing determines whether a person should be permitted to stay in Canada. If a migrant is deemed inadmissible, their refugee claim is rejected and they are ordered removed from the country.

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The first admissibility hearing involved a man - his name can't be published - who allegedly worked as a mechanic for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist organization banned in Canada.

The Canada Border Services Agency argued that work made the man a member of the Tamil Tigers. The man's lawyer disagreed, saying his client rebuffed offers to join the organization and was just a civilian who lived in an area controlled by the LTTE.

The man, wearing a red prison outfit and white shoes, testified on his own behalf. Friday was the first time he's been out of a Maple Ridge corrections facility in nearly six months, as the hearing was held in downtown Vancouver.

The man testified that more than a decade ago he worked in two garages, first repairing public buses in an LTTE-controlled area, and later working on motorcycles. He said at the second job, he twice worked on vehicles owned by the Tigers.

Becky Chan, CBSA's representative, argued that made the man a member of the terrorist group. She said the man also admitted to decorating his house on a day dedicated to Tamil martyrs, and to helping the LTTE dig bunkers. Ms. Chan added the man filed a refugee claim with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in which he said was a member of the Tigers.

During cross-examination, the man said he lied on the refugee claim because a friend had told him that doing so would improve his chances. He did not explain why that would be the case.

Ms. Chan said the totality of the evidence indicated the man was a member. She said he was reluctant to sign a waiver that would allow the border services to obtain a copy of his UNHCR claim.

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"The Minister (of Public Safety) believes he wanted to conceal information about his involvement in the LTTE from Canadian authorities," she said.

Eric Purtzki, the man's lawyer, said CBSA's case fell far short of proving his client should be removed from the country.

"The minister in this case has not provided any evidence that [the man's]activities furthered any violent or terrorist activities at the LTTE."

Mr. Purtzki said his client never trained with the Tigers and didn't join because he was afraid he would die.

Marc Tessler, the refugee board's adjudicator, reserved his decision. He did not indicate when it might be issued.

Mr. Tessler, at one point, had a seemingly testy exchange with Ms. Chan. The CBSA representative had made several references to interviews the migrant had with border officials when he first arrived in Canada. The interview had been translated, and Friday's hearing was also conducted through a translator.

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Ms. Chan, at several points, put questions forward that touched on minor language points. Mr. Tessler jumped in and said it would be wise for her to stop "hanging her hat" on such precise wording. He said CBSA appeared to be trying to intimidate the man, who was unable to understand a few of the questions.

The question of what constitutes membership in a terrorist organization is sure to rear its head again in the coming months, as CBSA has referred more than 30 cases to the refugee board for admissibility hearings.

Of the 492 passengers on the MV Sun Sea, 107 remain in detention, 101 of them men and six women. The ship arrived less than a year after another Tamil migrant boat, the Ocean Lady, docked in B.C. carrying 76 passengers.

The Tamil Tigers lost a decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

Supplementary budget estimates released by the federal government earlier this week said the arrival of the MV Sun Sea cost Ottawa $25-million.

The federal government introduced Bill C-49 in an attempt to prevent human smuggling, but opposition parties have vowed to vote it down, raising concerns about its constitutionality.

There were reports in January that more migrant ships could arrive in B.C. in the coming months. A source told The Globe and Mail that CBSA is considering moving passengers on any new migrant vessels in the near future to another province.

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