Regardless of whether or not the Canadians accept the decision by the Sri Lankan government, Sri Lanka’s denial of entry to Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and current liberal party foreign critic into the country, after detaining him for 12 hours and then un-ceremoniously deporting him along with two other Canadian diplomats at the International Airport in Katunayake, is shameful and a slap on the face of Canada. Ironically, it was Canada that funded the building of the Katunayake airport.
Sri Lanka, considered a banana republic and economically far worse than its prosperous but tiny neighbour Singapore, has chosen to challenge a country listed on the top of the lists of the Human Development Index by the United Nations. Canadians armed with Canadian passports sail through any immigration desk around the world with ease and respect. Even the Cubans who hate Americans love Canadian passports.
Canadian passport holders can enter anywhere in the world while the majority of the countries around the world need visas from Canadian consular offices in their home countries and those, too, are not easy to get because the Canadian immigration system is very strict. But, Canadians do not face such hardships in getting visas to any other country.
Recently Canadian Minister for Immigration denied entry to the maverick British parliamentarian George Galloway. His application for a Canadian visa was rejected in March 2009. Canada claimed that he was a threat to national security as he was an advocate for stopping the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and donated money to the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian territories.
Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, justifying Canada’s decision, said “I don’t see why we should make exceptions and override the decision of our professional border security agents in making a judgment about the inadmissibility of someone who provides funding and resources to an illegal terrorist organization.”
There is a saying in Tamil – “Vithai Vithaithavan Aruvadai Seivaan” (One who sowed the seed will reap the harvest). So it is poetic justice for Canada which labels even a British parliamentarian with terrorist tag to see one of her top parliamentarians booted out for the same reason! Unlike Canada, Sri Lanka is world’s most politically unstable and financially bankrupt Third World country begging for loans from IMF.
Sri Lanka tagged Canada’s much respected politician as a threat to national security. He has more than three-decades of public service experience and was the premier of Canada’s largest populated province, Ontario. Currently, he is Canada’s main Opposition Liberal Party’s foreign affairs critic. Sri Lanka has simply thumbed its nose at Canada and that too in the most uncivilized way. Canadians consider this as a great insult to their country, but the million dollar question is whether Canada will take sweet diplomatic revenge or just remain mute?
Soon after Bob Rae spent 12 hours at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, he was bundled out on a plane to England where he issued a statement. He said: “In the evening of Tuesday, June 9, 2009, I arrived on a flight from Delhi to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I had successfully applied to the Sri Lankan High Commission for a visa and had discussed my visit with the Sri Lankan Commissioner, the Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, and with officials from DFAIT.”
He stated: When I arrived at immigration in the company of two Canadian High Commission officials, I was, after some delay, told that I was being refused entry on the grounds of national intelligence. Since that time I have spent over twelve hours at the airport trying to find a reason for this decision. I have had the full support of officials here and in Ottawa. The Government of Sri Lanka is sticking to its position, and I am being put on a plane to London at 1:15 p.m. Sri Lankan time.
Further, he said: “The Sri Lankan government has made this decision because they have apparently reached some ill-conceived and defamatory conclusions about me. But, after thirty years of public service at home and abroad, 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, and the record of my actions, speeches and reports is there for all to see. 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.”
The personal statement released by Bob Rae leads us to believe that he is really fed up with the Sri Lankan government’s decision and he, too, indicates that the decision made by Sri Lanka was actually a shameful act inflicted upon Canadians, not personally against him. Sri Lanka’s stance is quite understandable when it has ignored respect for humanitarian law and calls for a political process. Instead, Sri Lanka lambasted western political and diplomatic representatives as “White Tigers” on the payroll of the LTTE. We have seen similar tendencies elsewhere—Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma—but possibly nowhere as systematic and blatant as in Sri Lanka.
Canadian Tamils don’t trust Rae
Though Tamils in Canada think Bob Rae is an opportunistic and a wily politician. When he contested the election in Toronto Centre, where a sizeable number were ethnic Tamils, he promised that he would speak in support of right to self-determination for Tamils in Sri Lanka and he would support Eelam Tamils in Canadian parliament. However, after he got elected, his promises turned out to be empty rhetoric.
He often described Sri Lanka as a “Model Democracy” and decried LTTE’s terrorism. He was quick to decry LTTE’s “extremism and violence” but was slow to condemn state terrorism unleashed against Tamils. Bob Rae will, at least now, realize the real face of Sri Lanka.
During his frequent visits to Sri Lanka since 1999, as Chairman of Ottawa-based Forum of Federations, he met the leaders of Sri Lankan political, religious, and community organizations. He took part in the peace talks held in Oslo, Geneva, Tokyo and other cities. He dined with the LTTE leadership during his visits to the LTTE’s former strong-hold and its political headquarters, Kilinochchi. He participated in all the seminars and meetings organized by anti-LTTE movements in Sri Lanka, Canada, and England.
When this writer asked Bob Rae to comment on the present plight of Internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka and other questions about Sri Lanka, he said he would not be able to answer any questions yet, except to say, “I really do believe that they are less important than ensuring better conditions in camps and a better future for all the people living in Sri Lanka.”
Another liberal party parliamentarian from Scarborough, Agincourt Jim Karygiannis, said he, too, applied for a visa at the Sri Lanka’s High Commission in Ottawa to travel to Sri Lanka. The officials told him that they would not have any problem issuing the visa, but they are not responsible once he arrived at the airport because the Sri Lankan defense ministry may or may not permit him to enter the country. He then decided not to travel to Sri Lanka.
Upon assuming power, the right wing conservative government led by Stephen Harper banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization and followed two years later placing the community based World Tamil Movement (WTM) on the terrorist list. However, the Sri Lankan government did not show gratitude to the Conservatives. When Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai applied for visa to Sri Lankan High Commission in Ottawa, the High Commissioner denied him a visa. Obhrai said he wanted to visit Sri Lanka in early June 2009 to see conditions in the internment camps. The time is now ripe for Liberals and Conservatives to become cognizant of the ultra-chauvinist Sri Lankan state and its oppression of the Tamil people. For behind Colombo’s public parade of bodies of dead rebels and tasteless celebrations of ‘victory’ over the Tamil Tigers, there hides today a horror list of unspeakable war crimes committed by the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime.
The time is ripe for Canada to review its diplomatic and political relationship vis-à-vis the failed state of Sri Lanka.