A ship carrying over 250 Sri Lankan Tamils, reportedly including members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), is set to enter Vancouver, authorities said on Wednesday.
Since the LTTE - which was destroyed last year by the Sri Lankan forces - is a banned organisation in both Canada and the US, the impending arrival of the ship has raised alarms bells here since members of banned terror organisations are not allowed to enter Canada. The LTTE was banned in Canada in 2006.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said, "I don't want to comment on the operational details, but I can assure you that we are concerned about who is on that ship and why they might be coming to Canada.
"There is reason to believe that a listed terrorist entity, the LTTE, may be involved in organizing and carrying out this activity. The LTTE, I remind you, is an organization that has engaged in the widespread use of suicide bombings against civilian targets in Sri Lanka, and used extortion and intimidation to raise funds within the Canadian Tamil community."
The Thai cargo ship MV Sun Sea carrying the Sri Lankan Tamils was within 200 nautical miles of Canadian territorial waters Wednesday, authorities said. Two jails in the Vancouver area are being readied to accommodate the asylum seekers.
This will the second ship to enter Canada bringing Sri Lankan Tamils since the defeat of the LTTE. Last October, 76 Tamil asylum-seekers landed here on board the ship called Ocean Lady. Most of them are now living in Toronto, pending their asylum case.
Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Poopalapillai said Wednesday that "as a compassionate country'' Canada should treat new asylum seekers sympathetically because of the dire situation in Sri Lanka.
Even as Canada - which has been accused of being soft on terrorism - grapples with the problem, well-know terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism in Singapore, says there are many Tamil Tigers among those on board the MV Sun Sea.
"The ship carries not just refugees, but is staffed by a Tamil Tiger crew,'' Gunaratna, who often appears on major global TV networks, has been quoted as saying in the Canadian media.
He said, "Canadian laws are exceptionally weak when it comes to terrorism. Canada's response to the Ocean Lady (in October) determined the MV Sun Sea's voyage because it was a weak response.'' Quoting sources that
two more ships carrying refugees, including Tamil Tigers, are also heading towards Vancouver, Gunaratna said the Tamil Tigers are "human smugglers," who are making money by bringing the refugees to Canada in a bid to re-form the group from a Canadian base.
Canada has more than 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils - the largest group outside the island nation. Most of them are concentrated in the Scarborough area of Toronto.