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Tamil migrant held over necklace ordered released

RCMP officers and Canadian Boarder Services onboard the Sun Sea filled with Tamils from Sri Lanka are check over before being taking off the ship at the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt near Victoria August 13, 2010.

JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

A Tamil mother who was detained for several months while the federal government investigated whether her necklace was linked to the Tamil Tigers has been ordered released.

The woman and her children - who can't be identified because of an Immigration and Refugee Board publication ban - have been at a Burnaby youth corrections facility since the MV Sun Sea arrived in B.C. last August. Of the 63 women onboard the ship, 25 were taken to the Burnaby jail with their children. The woman with the necklace was the last of the 25 remaining at the facility.

Earlier this week, the woman was ordered to spend another month in custody while Canada Border Services Agency investigated her necklace with a pendant - called a thali. CBSA said it believed the thali was the kind given to members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist organization banned in Canada. CBSA said its investigation would take up to two months.

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But at a rushed hearing Thursday afternoon, CBSA said its thali expert couldn't confirm the necklace was the type given to LTTE members. The border agency argued for the woman to remain in custody anyway, describing her as a flight risk, but she was ordered released on a $1,000 bond.

Douglas Cannon, the woman's lawyer, repeatedly blasted the government's lack of disclosure in the case. He said much the same after the latest ruling.

"Not only was no evidence led at any time that even if she was inadmissible that her detention was necessary, but at no time did CBSA fairly disclose what the basis was to their suspicions," he said.

"It is a fundamental right that detainees in Canada are entitled to know the case to be met if their continued detention is sought - in this case that evidence was consistently withheld and now, apparently, it turns out there was nothing to worry about all along."

The woman had told CBSA she and her husband purchased the thali for their wedding day. It has two tiger teeth, as well as a tiger symbol in the middle.

CBSA had also told the board the woman worked at a community centre operated by the Tigers, but Mr. Cannon said no evidence was provided on that front.

The woman told the IRB earlier this week that she was interviewed seven or eight times by CBSA officials. During one of those interviews, a border official told the woman she might have to go back to Sri Lanka. The woman said she would take her and her children's lives before she ever went back.

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