Flashback: Oppressive anti-terror laws stay despite end of Sri Lankan civil war, Canadian embassy defaced by govt supporters | UN chief flies into Sri Lanka as Tamils herded into camps | Quarter of a million Sri Lankans face two years in camps | Tamil Tiger leader killed, insurgency crushed: officials | Tamil protesters blockade Gardiner expressway to highlight Sri Lankan plight | Cars moving, but Toronto Tamil protest questioned | UN satellite imagery attests to shelling of Tamil ’safe zone’ | Tamil civilians slaughtered as army shells ‘no-fire zone’ | Seventh Tamil suicide by self-immolation to protest Sri Lankan genocide | Sri Lankans protest genocide at Toronto’s Union Station
Allan Woods, Toronto Star
June 11, 2009
With visa in hand, he’s halted by border guards, refused entry and forced to sleep at airport
OTTAWA—Bob Rae says he was asked to sign a document disavowing comments the Sri Lankan government deemed sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers shortly before he was ejected from the war-ravaged country.
A foreign affairs department spokesperson said the federal government has expressed its “dismay and displeasure” to Sri Lankan officials over the expulsion, adding that “it is absurd to suggest that Mr. Rae represents a threat to Sri Lankan national security.”
The Toronto Centre Liberal MP and former Ontario premier arrived in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, late Tuesday armed with an entry visa and flanked by two officials from the Canadian High Commission.
But the Liberal foreign affairs critic was flagged by a border agent upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport. Fifteen minutes after the customs official took his Canadian passport for further investigation, Rae learned he was being denied entry to Sri Lanka.
There was no reason given. Appeals to senior immigration officials were fruitless. Since it was close to midnight, Rae, who spent his 25th wedding anniversary travelling with his wife through Sri Lanka in 2005, went to sleep in the airport, waking a few hours before his forced departure.
“We finally got a message saying that if I admitted that I had made statements that were ill-informed or something like that — and they gave me a thing I could sign — that they might reconsider the decision,” Rae, who has travelled 10 times to the country in the past decade, said by telephone from London.
No one would tell him what specific statements had offended the government, so he refused to sign the document, securing his seat on the afternoon flight to London.
“I said that that’s completely Orwellian.”
Rae was travelling to Sri Lanka to meet with aid groups and officials from the United Nations’ refugee agency, as well as to assess the physical and emotional wreckage one month after the end of a 25-year civil war with Tamil separatists.
The incident has made headlines around the world and sparked revelations from other legislators who have been refused entry to the country, including Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in Ottawa, C.A.H.M. Wijeratne, confirmed that Rae’s visa received a “green light” from officials in Colombo. But the country’s Daily Mirror newspaper quoted a defence ministry official saying that the army has intelligence reports indicating Rae supported the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, the Sri Lankan high commissioner to Canada, Daya Perera, said it “might have been advisable” to allow Rae into the country to see for himself the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war.
“The country has nothing to hide,” Perera said.
Rae said Perera phoned him to apologize for his expulsion.
The 25-year Tamil insurgency to create a separate homeland in the north and east of the island nation led to the Tigers being branded a terrorist organization in many countries, including Canada.
The civil war ended last month with the Tigers’ surrender and the death of their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, on May 18. The Sri Lankan government has faced criticism for failing to protect innocent civilians caught in the fighting.
Rae had called on Canada to be more outspoken in its criticism of the recent offensive by the Sri Lankan government against the rebels, which left thousands of civilians dead. He had also urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government forces negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.
On his website, Rae said the celebration over the end of hostilities should also be marked by sadness.
“There is a difference between a war ended by agreement and a war ended by death and destruction. If there is no magnanimity in victory, there is no victory,” he wrote. “It is hard not to cry at what has been lost, how much life has been destroyed. And what must still be done to bring justice to the peace that is being proclaimed so loudly.”
In a written statement, Rae said Sri Lanka’s decision to expel him was based on false and defamatory conclusions officials appear to have reached about his sympathies in the conflict.
“I have to say this decision reflects on them and not on me. I have fought against violence and extremism all my life. Everyone knows that,” he wrote. “What they now also know is that the government of Sri Lanka is afraid of dialogue, afraid of discussion, afraid of engagement. All I can say is shame on them. If this is how they treat me, imagine how they treat people who can’t speak out and who can’t make public statements.”
This marks the second time in recent weeks Canada has officially complained to Sri Lanka. In late May, the federal government reacted angrily after hundreds of protesting Sri Lankans vandalized the Canadian High Commission in Colombo, pelting it with stones, and spray-painting it with graffiti.
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