In a rare act of dissent in the midst of an election campaign, Conservative cabinet minister Peter Kent has criticized his own party for allowing a man who hosted a tribute to the Tamil Tigers to run as a candidate.
"It is certainly a reflection on the party's lack of due diligence," Mr. Kent told The Globe and Mail on Thursday, referring to the candidacy of Gavan Paranchothy, a Tamil broadcaster running in Toronto's Scarborough-Southwest riding. "Someone's obviously dropped the ball."
Last November, Mr. Paranchothy hosted a sombre program to mark Heroes Day, an annual commemoration of Tiger fighters killed in the Tamils' bloody separatist war in Sri Lanka. He called the dead militants "freedom fighters" and "heroes," though Stephen Harper's Conservative government labelled the Tigers terrorists in 2006.
"This program … is unacceptable and it flies in the face of the fact that our government listed the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization," said Mr. Kent, a former foreign correspondent and the current Environment Minister, after he watched the program on YouTube, where it has been displayed for nearly five months.
His criticism came a full week after The Globe reported Mr. Paranchothy's involvement in the controversial program. At that time, Mr. Harper brushed aside questions about the broadcaster's candidacy, while his spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said Mr. Paranchothy had been "crystal clear" in denying any Tiger sympathies during prenomination screening.
Mr. Kent, who said he completely missed the story last week due to a heavy campaign schedule, provided an endorsement to Mr. Paranchothy this week based on assurances he had been properly vetted by party officials. Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister and a key Harper lieutenant, provided a similarly glowing testimonial.
Both ministers' comments were circulated in an e-mail from Mr. Paranchothy's campaign manager, Bret Snider, to potential party volunteers this week.
When The Globe questioned him about his endorsement Thursday, Mr. Kent withdrew it and said Mr. Paranchothy should no longer be a candidate.
"The Tamil Tigers, in no context, can be portrayed as freedom fighters and heroes; they were terrorists," Mr. Kent said, adding that he was unaware of the video until The Globe sent him a link to it Thursday morning. "It was a tribute, and it's unacceptable even if he didn't write it, even if he didn't believe it."
Neither Mr. Kenney nor Conservative Party officials in Ottawa responded to requests for comment.
Reached Thursday afternoon, Mr. Paranchothy said he hadn't seen Mr. Kent's remarks and asked for "time to look that up." He did not answer subsequent calls.
The 36-year-old's first foray into politics has been marked by curiosities. After he won his nomination on March 12, he shortened his first name from Ragavan to Gavan, even though he was familiar in the Tamil community under his old name. He has said that voters found Ragavan difficult to pronounce.
He also removed all references to his Tamil heritage and community involvement from his campaign materials. While he worked simultaneously for two affiliated stations, Canadian Multicultural Radio and Tamil Vision International, only the first station is mentioned in brochures and on websites.
Mr. Kent, who had a lengthy, high-profile career as a TV journalist, said he only had to view the opening frames of Mr. Paranchothy's TV special to find it "outrageous."
The Tamil Tigers were notorious for using suicide bombings, child soldiers and political assassinations in their failed 26-year war for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Since the war ended in 2009, remnants of the Tigers' large Canadian support base, based mainly in Toronto, have aligned themselves with the federal Tories and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
In his endorsement of Mr. Paranchothy, Mr. Kent wrote, "As a fellow journalist and Broadcaster, I have great respect for Gavan. He has a moderate, balanced world view and has had the courage to take on tough subjects in his career."
Asked why he provided the recommendation, Mr. Kent said, "I assumed and I was told that the party had vetted Mr. Paranchothy."