Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne traded pleasantries this month with a onetime spokesman for a federally listed terrorist organization while on a visit to a Toronto temple, the premier’s office confirmed on Tuesday.
Mrs. Wynne stood alongside Nehru Gunaratnam, a former spokesman for the World Tamil Movement, on Jan. 14, and a photo of the event was posted on a photography company’s Facebook page.
The two – along with city councillor Michelle Berardinetti and Liberal MPP Lorenzo Berardinetti – attended the event at the Kanthasamy Hindu Temple to celebrate Thai Pongal, a Tamil festival that celebrates the end of the harvest season.
“This is a temple where families and community comes together to celebrate this and many other occasions,” Zita Astravas, press secretary for the premier, said in a statement. “Premier Wynne meets many Ontarians in her public events.”
Ms. Berardinetti said she had been to the temple, which is located in her ward, several times before. She is currently working with its members on a planning application to build a new temple in its place.
“I don’t know who he is … It’s not fair for me to judge somebody” she said, stating that she only saw him speaking at the event. “It’s not like we get a list [that says] ‘These are all the people here and these are their biographies.’”
According to temple representative who identified himself only as Balasingham, Mr. Gunaratnam is a member of the Kanthasamy temple.
“He helps the people and works with the community,” he said.
The WTM – which was formed in 1986 – is labeled as a “front organization” for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Canada, according to the Canadian government website.
The site lists “terrorist entities” that publicly identify a person or group associated with terrorism. The federal government added the WTM to the list on June 16, 2008, but it has since dismantled.
“WTM representatives canvas for donations amongst the Canadian Tamil population, and have been involved in acts of intimidation and extortion to secure funds,” the Government of Canada website states. The RCMP raided WTM’s offices in 2006 and the Federal Court ordered the WTM’s assets seized in 2011.
In 1995, the RCMP arrested former WTM leader Manickavasagam Suresh, but he appealed against deportation to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2010, Prapaharan Thambaithurai, a former WTM Vancouver member, pleaded guilty to fundraising for the group.
Amarnath Amarasingam – a PhD student in refugee studies at York University and active member of the Tamil community – said Mr. Gunaratnam acted as a media relations spokesperson for the WTM.
According to Mr. Amarasingam, Mr. Gunaratnam also handled activism and keeping Tamil separatism alive in the diaspora.
Mr. Gunaratnam has been a presence in the Tamil community for some time and his attendance at this event is not surprising, Mr. Amarasingam said.
“Politicians from all parties have courted the Tamil vote and benefit at times from the WTM networks and influence. No biggie,” he said. “It’s largely an optics issue and a question of how legitimizing certain voices has a ripple effect in diaspora politics.”
Similarly, Krisna Saravanamuttu – media representative for the National Council of Canadian Tamils, a group of elected delegates from the Tamil community – did not see Mr. Gunaratnam’s attendance as a problem.
“Our community is a big community and it’s a diverse community,” Mr. Saravanamuttu said. “Just because two people happen to be together, in the same place at the same time, we can’t necessarily make inferences about that.”
In 2000, Paul Martin, then the Minister of Finance, came under fire for attending a $600-plate fundraiser organized by the LTTE. Former MP Maria Minna also attended the event. (National Post)