Fire destroys car of outlawed Tamil group’s former leader

A former director of an organization outlawed by the Canadian government over its ties to Sri Lankan rebels said Thursday he was living in fear after his car was destroyed in an unexplained fire.

Kamal Navaratnam’s 2002 Honda CRV was parked in his Toronto driveway when it went up in flames at about 3 a.m. Monday.

“The car was completely destroyed,” said Constable Tony Vella, a Toronto police spokesman. The cause of the fire was listed as undetermined. “Officers are looking into it but foul play is not suspected at this point.”

But Mr. Navaratnam said his life had been threatened twice over his weekly newspaper, Canada Ulahathamilar, and its stance on Sri Lankan issues. He speculated Sri Lankan government agents might have been behind the fire. “But I don’t really know,” he said.

The fire may have been started using a piece of wood he found under the passenger side of the car, he said, although there was no mention of it in the police or fire reports. “I am scared, my wife is scared.”

He said the incident could also be linked to his role in the World Tamil Movement, a Toronto-based group that was investigated by the RCMP over its financing of the Tamil Tigers rebels — an allegation the group denies.

An RCMP affidavit alleged Mr. Navaratnam was involved in “terrorist fundraising activities.” It said he was a signatory of several WTM bank accounts that were used to raise money in Canada. The WTM sent millions overseas, mostly to rebel-controlled accounts, police alleged.

Mr. Navaratnam was also named as the “key organizer” of a 2006 event in Mississauga, Ont., where the militaristic Tamil Tigers flag was raised and a 50-minute speech by the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was broadcast.

When the RCMP raided the WTM headquarters in Toronto in 2006, officers found rebel propaganda, details of fundraising campaigns and a list of military items needed by the rebels, such as anti-aircraft missiles and artillery. “With this in mind, please speed-up and undertake your fundraising initiatives,” it read.

The federal government added the WTM to its list of designated terrorist organizations in 2008, and last year, the Federal Court of Canada ordered the group to forfeit its property to the government. The WTM is now defunct, as are the Tamil Tigers, also known by the acronym LTTE.

“The leadership of the WTM acts at the direction of the LTTE and has been instrumental in fundraising in Canada on behalf of the LTTE,” reads the group’s profile on the Public Safety Canada website. “WTM representatives canvass for donations amongst the Canadian Tamil population, and have been involved in acts of intimidation and extortion to secure funds.”

Mr. Navaratnam said he had quit the WTM and denied any involvement in fundraising. “I never do that. I was one of the directors of the World Tamil Movement, that’s true, but I never fundraised,” Mr. Navaratnam said. “I was in the newspaper department.” He said he was only a signatory to the accounts because he was on the board of directors. “But I don’t do that fundraising,” he said. He was never charged with terrorist fundraising.

The Tamil Tigers, which fought a 25-year war for independence for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority, were defeated by government forces in 2009. Since then, divisions have emerged within Canada’s large Sri Lankan community over whether to continue to advocate for Tamil independence. (National Post)