Skip to main content

Tamil families in Toronto are faced with extortion from Tamil Tigers of up to $10,000 apiece, and Tamil entrepreneurs up to $100,000 each, according to a new report released by Human Rights Watch.

The New-York-based group says that Tamil Tiger fundraisers are increasingly strong-arming the Toronto Tamil community -- the largest diaspora outside war-torn Sri Lanka -- as their island nation once again girds for civil war.

Canadian Tamils who don't give money to the separatist cause, according to the group, face the prospect of being beaten or having family members abused abroad.

"Canada is not actually a democracy because we can't open our mouths against the [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]" one Toronto Tamil told Human Rights Watch.

Some Toronto detectives have long suggested the Tamil Tigers have "tithed" members of Toronto's 200,000-strong community, though few community members have spoken out about this practice.

Human Rights Watch says the fundraising is real, widespread, and has lately kicked into overdrive, as the Tamil Tigers prepare to wage a "final" war meant to win Sri Lankan Tamils' independence.

Some Tamil leaders in the Toronto community deny widespread extortion exists, charging instead that Human Rights Watch is bent on smearing Tamils.

"This report makes me sick," Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Poopalapillai said in a statement yesterday. He said that Human Rights Watch "has its facts wrong."

Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is studying the issue as the new Conservative government prepares to follow the lead of the United States and Britain in formally declaring the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam a terrorist group.

"We are aware of this report. The minister has a copy and he will review it for sure," said Mélisa Leclerc, a spokeswoman for Mr. Day.

The Tamil Tigers control much of Sri Lanka's north and east. The group's ruthless leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, claims his group is the sole representative of the Tamil separatist cause, and has quashed all rival groups who would oppose him.

A ceasefire in 2002 gave Sri Lanka a respite from two decades of civil war, but the peace has looked to be increasingly fragile in recent months.

Human Rights Watch says that as the drums of war began beating more loudly in Sri Lanka, the knuckles of Tamil Tiger henchmen began to rap more frequently on the doors of Tamils in Toronto.

"In Canada, families were typically pressed for between $2,500 and $5,000," the report says, "while some businesses were asked for up to $100,000."

Fundraisers are said to be candid as to why they need money now. " 'This is your duty. You have to help your community from here. This is Mr. Prabhakaran's request. You need to help start the war,' " is what one Toronto businessman recalls LTTE men saying when they asked him for $20,000.

He told Human Rights Watch he is too afraid to go to police.

"The people are living in fear in Toronto for two reasons. One is the fear of the LTTE, even in Toronto, the other is the fear of what will happen to relatives back home," said Namu Ponnambalam, a 40-year-old man who is one of the few Toronto Tamils who allowed his name to be published in the report.

In an interview, Mr. Ponnambalam said he had been asked to pay $2,500 to the cause but refused. He said he was threatened and told police, but was informed the force lacked the manpower to investigate.

Human Rights Watch suggests that police set up a task force to investigate extortion. But a spokesman for the Toronto Police said the force has not received complaints.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe