The beautifully intricate paintings of Hindu gods inside the Canada Kandasamy Temple are a sacred backdrop for worshippers who come to pray, as well as for the politicians who pass through to have their pictures taken.
A garlanded Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was photographed at the temple last year, and then-defence minister Jason Kenney stopped by during the federal election campaign with local Conservative candidate Roshan Nallaratnam.
“Pleased to visit new Canada Kanthaswamy Temple in Scarborough,” Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown posted on Twitter in June. Facebook photos show two then-NDP MPs at a temple event in 2012.
But according to a “Secret” Canada Border Services Agency report filed in Federal Court, the Kandasamy temple, in east-end Toronto, is controlled by the World Tamil Movement, which is on the Canadian government’s list of terrorist organizations.
The allegation surfaced publicly two weeks ago during court proceedings over one of the temple priests. The CBSA’s National Security Screening Division concluded the Sri Lankan refugee had been a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also a listed terrorist group.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is still reviewing his case but the CBSA’s July 2013 Inadmissibility Assessment noted his employment at the Canada Kandasamy Temple (CKT), which it said “is controlled by the World Tamil Movement,” the Canadian front organization for the LTTE.
“The WTM took forcible control of the CKT,” the CBSA wrote. “This temple with many facilities for public functions has become a cash cow for the LTTE and continues to function as one even now. The premises are also used indiscriminately for the LTTE and WTM propaganda and other meetings overlooking the fact that it is a place of worship.”
Thanabalasingam Kanagasabpathy, a longtime volunteer and director of the Scarborough temple’s governing society, said the CBSA was wrong. “This is not LTTE,” he said, as the candle smoke cleared following a recent weekday service.
The WTM’s former spokesman, Nehru Gunaratnam, was photographed at the temple last January, holding a microphone as he addressed the Ontario premier, one of her caucus MPPs and a Toronto city councillor. A video of the event showed Gunaratnam saying he was speaking on behalf of the temple. He then read out the text of an award from the temple, which he handed to the temple president, who gave it to the premier.
A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch, Funding the Final War, alleged the LTTE had “sought control” of temples in Toronto and London because they “provide both ready access to the Tamil community and to a potential source of funds.”
The rebels made “systematic efforts” to take over temple management structures, it said, adding that a Toronto temple trustee had described how his group was approached by the LTTE for $1 million to finance the Tamil independence war.
But the Sri Lankan conflict ended in 2009, and Kenney said in an interview that when he attended an August prayer service he saw no WTM or LTTE symbols. “I’m surprised to see this information,” he said when told of the CBSA’s concerns.
Aside from a poster at the front entrance advertising Tamil Heroes Day on Nov. 27, an annual commemoration of fallen rebels that usually features the militaristic LTTE flag, a reporter who dropped by unannounced saw no rebel insignia. And despite the CBSA’s assessment, the temple is a charity in good standing. The Canada Revenue Agency declined to comment.
“The temples are serving as a community hub especially for seniors and young families,” said Markham city councilor Logan Kanapathi. A photo of Kanapathi at the temple appears on the Kandasamy Facebook page, although he is not involved in the administration.
“I go to almost every temple, especially Canadian Tamil places of worship, because I respect the people and devotees who invite me. As a first elected representative from the Canadian Tamil origin I have a social obligation,” he said.
The CBSA’s appraisal of the temple could prove politically awkward for some visitors. The Conservatives, who outlawed the WTM following an RCMP investigation that uncovered its role in fundraising and extortion for the LTTE rebels, have “always sought to maintain a no-contact policy with individuals or groups affiliated with the LTTE,” Kenney said.
During the recent election campaign, however, Kenney and his staff could not consult federal security agencies “so our vetting process had to rely on signal checks with credible people within relevant communities, he said. “In this case, we were told that this temple had no problematic political affiliations,” he said. “I obviously would not have attended had I been aware of the CBSA information beforehand.”
Responding to questions about his visits, Brown said he had been to many temples. “I have met the families at this particular temple and, while we can’t speak to any particular case, we can say the families are law-abiding, hardworking and caring at this temple.”
Pirabakaran Kanthasamyiyar arrived in Canada in 2005 and immediately went to work at the temple, first as a volunteer and then as a paid priest. His refugee claim was accepted in 2006 but his application for permanent residence has been in limbo ever since.
He told the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2008 that before coming to Toronto he had been forced to help the LTTE by digging bunkers and filling sandbags. He also said he had taught computer courses to the LTTE.
He denied ever belonging to the rebels or their Canadian front, “and also denied having any knowledge of the LTTE/WTM in Toronto or of any fundraising efforts on their behalf at the CKT,” wrote the head of the CSIS security screening branch.
But CSIS found his statements inconsistent, contradictory and lacking in detail, and noted he had arrived in Canada with an Ontario driver’s license, health card and department store credit cards in someone else’s name. “Although he came to Canada as a refugee, the amount of fraudulent documentation in his possession is cause for concern.”
Two “poison pen” letters sent to the Canadian High Commission in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, alleged he had collected money for the LTTE and was involved in a dispute between Toronto templegoers that resulted in tire slashings, although no evidence was provided to back the claims.
The 39-year-old priest’s application for permanent residence has dragged on for so long now that he filed a case against the government in Federal Court. On Nov. 4, the court ruled that Ottawa had provided no valid explanation for the delays aside from saying the investigation was ongoing. The judge gave immigration officials until March 31, 2016 to decide whether to grant him residence.
Temple president Muthu Subramaniam said Kanthasamyiyar was still employed at the site but said there was no indication he was with the “movement.” He denied the WTM controlled the temple and blamed jealous rivals for spreading false rumours.
“This is a pure, pure, pure religious temple and we are here to give service to the people,” he said. The temple is controlled by 11 trustees, he said. All the money collected goes towards the temple itself, he added.
To prove his point, he led a reporter into the office and opened a ledger book. He demonstrated how money was receipted and recorded. He then opened a filing cabinet to show the annual audit reports submitted to the Canada Revenue Agency.
The temple’s finances are “clean,” he said.
Besides, he said, the war in Sri Lanka ended six years ago. The LTTE rebels were defeated on the northern beaches. Their leaders were killed by the army. If anyone was collecting money for the rebels, where would they even send it? (National Post)