The unsteady sand of who is considered a terrorist in Canada has once again shifted in favour of a Tamil woman living in Toronto, whose politician husband was assassinated in Sri Lanka while attending Christmas Eve mass in 2005.
Weeks after Joseph Pararajasingham, a member of parliament in Sri Lanka, was shot dead, Canada granted residency to his widow, Sugunanayake Joseph, who was injured in the attack, to protect her safety. Bill Graham, Canada’s former foreign affairs minister, praised her husband at a memorial service as a “man of peace.”
In 2011, however, the Immigration and Refugee Board concluded that Ms. Joseph was a member of a terrorist group and should be deported because of her ties to her husband, who had ties to the Tamil Tigers.
Now, a judge has ruled that this summer’s Supreme Court of Canada decision — starkly redefining how Canada defines membership in a terrorist organization — means the 76-year-old widow would likely no longer qualify for that dark designation, suggesting a reprieve from deportation may be the best option
“In the immigration law system, there has been a pendulum that has swung back and forth [on who is considered a terrorist] and right now, the Supreme Court is saying what we’ve said throughout this,” said Raoul Boulakia, Ms. Joseph’s lawyer in Toronto.
Ms. Joseph was with her husband at a mass in a Catholic church in the eastern town of Batticaloa on Christmas Eve in 2005 when he was shot dead by unknown gunmen in front of a packed church as he returned to his pew after receiving communion.
She and several others were also wounded in the fusillade.
Weeks later, she was granted a temporary visitor’s visa to allow her to flee to safety and she has since lived in Canada, where her son and daughter are Canadian citizens.
Her husband’s legacy is seen, in the fractured politics of Sri Lanka, either as a political mouthpiece of the Tamil Tigers or as a martyr for the peace process.
Mr. Pararajasingham was one of 22 parliamentarians who formed the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a pro-separatist faction, but he also advocated for a negotiated peace settlement and human rights.
Mr. Graham had met with Mr. Pararajasingham on a visit to Sri Lanka in 2003 when Canada was working to push the peace process forward after a vicious war pressed by separatist Tamils in the island country
After Mr. Pararajasingham’s slaying, Mr. Graham publicly praised his peaceful intentions.
The Immigration and Refugee Board, however, focused on the other view, considering the TNA a “proxy” for militant Tigers who engaged in suicide bombings and assassinations. The Tigers are designated as a terrorist organization by Canada and the IRB said the politician’s platform corresponded with the goals of the Tigers.
Further, the IRB said, Ms. Joseph, as his wife, attended conferences and meetings with him and acted as his secretary. Her role indicates her support for her husband’s position and activities.
The IRB said that gave reasonable grounds to believe she furthered the aims of the Tigers and amounted to her being a member of a terrorist group, making her inadmissible to Canada. She appealed that decision in court, but lost.
She then requested a pre-removal risk assessment which would assess whether removing her to Sri Lanka would put her life in jeopardy or at risk of persecution. No risk decision has been made by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Claiming it is inhumane to leave her in limbo with her fragile physical and mental state and calling it “state-imposed stress,” Ms. Joseph went to the Federal Court of Canada to order the CBSA to make a decision.
Justice James W. O’Reilly denied her request, saying she did not meet the threshold of being in an exceptional circumstance involving serious prejudice. But Judge O’Reilly did take clear judicial notice of changes to how terrorists are branded in Canada.
This summer, the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of former Congolese diplomat Rachidi Ekanza Ezokola, that mere association with an organization that commits war crimes does not make a person complicit nor excludes them from refugee status.
In his ruling on Ms. Joseph’s case, Judge O’Reilly extended that protection to cases of immigration inadmissibility. While not ordering CBSA to drop its deportation plans, he noted the discrepancy.
“In light of Ezokola, it seems highly unlikely that Ms. Joseph could now be found inadmissible to Canada based on membership in a terrorist group,” Judge O’Reilly ruled. “I would expect that her PRRA application, post Ezokola, could be dealt with reasonably expeditiously.” (National Post)