Canadian Tamils protest against HRW charges

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 11:00 GMT]
Expatriate Tamils in Canada reacted Wednesday against a report by Human Rights Watch alleging extortion by the Tamil Tigers, saying the report had characterized their entire community as one moribund by fear and questioned its integration into Canadian society. Pointing out there has not been a single prosecution for extortion in Canada amongst the Tamil community, they said anecdotal evidence and assumptions, not sound social science research, formed the basis for HRW’s allegations.

They were reacting to a HRW report titled "Tamil Tigers Extort Diaspora for 'Final War' Funds" which alleged, citing largely unnamed sources, alleges that Tamil community members are being extorted and intimidated, thereby challenging "an entire community's right to live without fear."

The author, Ms. Jo Becker concluded that the Canadian legal system as a whole has failed to protect the rights of the Tamil community.

But the Canadian Tamil Congress, a prominent expatriate organization, slammed the report as having far reaching implications for Tamils and as being based on anecdotal evidence and misguided assumptions.

"The report makes disparaging conclusions about our community's ability to report extortion and casts doubts about our integrity as law abiding citizens of Canada," said David Poopalapillai, spokesperson for the CTC.

“This report makes me sick because it is saying that we are covering something up and our community is living in fear. In Toronto alone, there are 30 independent Tamil newspapers, three 24 hour radio stations, and three 24 hour Televisions stations. There is no veil of silence – Ms. Becker simply has her facts wrong,” he said.

"Not only are the report's findings completely false– they seem to be based on anecdotal evidence and misguided assumptions," said Ashwin Balamohan, incoming Vice President University Affairs for the Students' Administrative Council at University of Toronto.

HRW also suggest that Canadian police set up a task force to investigate extortion. But a spokesman for the Toronto Police told the Globe and Mail that the force has not received complaints.

Ms. Becker, who some Tamil organizations said had conducted telephone interviews in an aggressive and inquisitorial manner, alleges in her report that Tamils are silent about what she claims is widespread extortion, because of fear of reprisals against them or relatives in Sri Lanka.

Nehru Gunaratnam, a spokesman for the Tamil community in Toronto, also told local reporters the report creates a skewed and offensive image of the Tamil people.

Neither he nor other prominent community leaders were interviewed by Ms. Becker, the Canadian Press news agency quoted him as saying.

The HRW report, which appeals to Canadian and British authorities to take action on behalf of the Tamil Diaspora, was condescending towards long-settled community, the CTC said.

More seriously, by tarring the entire community as somehow distinct from Canadian society, the HRW report “potentially place Tamil Canadians at great risk of racial discrimination and harassment,” CWC protested.

"Extortion is already a criminal code offence in Canada – why has no one been charged?" the CWC asked. "If no one has been charged, how can it be determined that they belong to a particular group?"

Questioning the soundness of HRW’s research techniques in which an entire community could be implicated, CTC urged the New York based organization to explain the basis for its findings.

"What was the sample size of the survey or interviews? What was the methodology used to conduct the survey? How were interview subjects chosen and how did they come forward? Did the researchers have training in interview techniques in multicultural settings?" are among the questions CTC urged reporters to press HRW on.


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