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Champion of Tamil Tigers booted out of Canada

Federal agents arrested and kicked a firebrand Tamil speaker out of Canada just ahead of "Martyrs' Day" celebrations set for today in the Toronto region, which is fast becoming the home of the vanquished Tamil Tiger movement.

With the Sri Lankan civil war over after 26 bloody years, a continuing cat-and-mouse game is playing out between Canadian federal agents and supporters of the Tigers, a banned terrorist group in Canada.

Authorities made sure to get film director Sebastian Seeman onto an outbound plane late Thursday, before he could bring his message of vengeance against Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority to a large remembrance celebration for dead Tiger militants Friday night.

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The location of the event is kept secret until just before it starts.

Mr. Seeman, touted as a keynote speaker at several Tamil rallies this week, was sent packing to his native India - where he is on bail facing sedition charges - just days after arriving in Toronto. On Wednesday, a crowd of Toronto Tamil students cheered as he lionized his late friend "Praba" - slain Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

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"I welcome the Canadian intelligence who are here to take note of my speech," Mr. Seeman told the audience, but the feeling was not mutual.

Within hours of his taunt, he was arrested, deemed inadmissible and flying home. It wasn't clear why Canadian authorities granted him a visa in the first place.

A Canada Border Services Agency official said Mr. Seeman "left the country voluntarily."

Just last month, Canada's top Mountie, William Elliott, said "Canada is one of the few places in the world where [Tamil Tiger]terrorists and supporters might seek to hide in plain sight."

Toronto is the largest home to Tamils outside of South Asia. The ranks of the refugee community swelled as members of the minority group fled the interethnic civil war in Sri Lanka.

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Now, the question is where Canadian authorities will draw the line between free speech and other rights and abuse of those rights by supporters of a blacklisted group. Federal laws criminalize giving financial and material support to designated terrorist groups, but stop short of punishing those who merely glorify the cause.

Despite the war's end in May, the Tamil Tiger freedom fighter mystique persists.

The Nov. 27 Martyrs' Day effectively beatifies the fighters, including suicide bombers, who died in the struggle.

Today, it is difficult to tell on the streets of Scarborough that the Tigers are a banned organization. Tamil eateries that remain open on Canada Day are closing to mark what some call a "national holiday."

Singers on Tamil radio suggest Praba, whose 55th birthday was celebrated last night, is not dead.

The ruthless leader who spent decades building a cult of personality still smiles from the covers of local Tamil-language newspapers. Headlines say: "His Braveness is Never Defeated" and "the Defeated Homeland Will Rise Again."

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Tickets for tonight's banquet-hall event depict mausoleums for Tamil fighters and the Tamil national flower - the lovely but lethal gloriosa lily - but give no times or locations because of fears police will disrupt celebrations.

A persecuted minority in Sri Lanka, many Tamils think the war is over only until the Tigers can rise again. And many of the militants are promoting that idea.

Mr. Seeman, for example, does not mince words.

His Toronto rally contained "a very inflammatory speech, allegedly saying that all Sinhalese should be killed," said David Jeyaraj, a Toronto-based Tamil journalist.

Vithu Raman, who attended Mr. Seeman's speech at the Metropolitan Centre in Scarborough, had a different view.

"It was a great event," said Mr. Raman, who is president of the York University Tamil Students Association. "I think it's good for Canadians to hear another side of the story."

Asked whether Mr. Seeman called for the deaths of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, he said "not that I know of."

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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