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Sri Lanka deports Canadian MP

Sri Lanka denied entry to Bob Rae, a prominent Canadian politician outspoken in his criticism of Colombo’s military campaign and then Chair of the Forum of Federations, the constitutional NGO advising the Norwegian peace process during 2002 and 2003.

 

Sri Lanka’s Immigration Commissioner P. B. Abeykoon said “intelligence reports” meant Mr. Rae should not to be admitted and was therefore detained when he arrived at Colombo airport and put on a leaving flight on Wednesday June 10.

 

"We got some intelligence reports on this gentleman and the instructions were not to allow him into the country, so he is detained at the airport and he will be deported by the next available flight," Abeykoon told Reuters.

Sri Lanka's intelligence services deemed Rae's visit "not suitable" and former Ontario premier was forced to leave on another flight, AP said.

Rae said he was given a paper to sign agreeing that he made statements about the Sri Lankan situation without full knowledge of the facts, but wasn’t told which statements it referred to.

 

“I refused to sign such an Orwellian document,” he said.

 

The Toronto Centre Liberal MP and former Ontario premier arrived in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, late on Tuesday June 9 armed with an entry visa and flanked by two officials from the Canadian High Commission.

 

But he was flagged by a border agent upon arrival at BandaranaikeInternationalAirport. Fifteen minutes after the customs official took his Canadian passport for further investigation, Rae learned he was being denied entry to Sri Lanka.

 

There was no reason given. Appeals to senior immigration officials were fruitless.

 

"We finally got a message saying that if I admitted that I had made statements that were ill-informed or something like that – and they gave me a thing I could sign – that they might reconsider the decision," Rae, who has travelled 10 times to the country in the past decade.

 

Rae was travelling to Sri Lanka to meet with aid groups and officials from the United Nations' refugee agency, as well as to assess the physical and emotional wreckage one month after the end of a 25-year civil war with Tamil separatists.

 

Rae had called on Canada to be more outspoken in its criticism of the recent offensive by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil Tigers, which left thousands of civilians dead. He had also urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government forces negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.

 

In a written statement, Rae said Sri Lanka's decision to expel him was based on false and defamatory conclusions officials appear to have reached about his sympathies in the conflict.

 

"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," he wrote.

 

"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."

 

Canadian government called the decision to bar Rae "unacceptable" and absurd. It is that, and more. It also follows an incident in which a Colombo mob vandalized Canada's high commission office while police stood by.

 

 “It is absurd to suggest that Mr. Rae represents a threat to Sri Lankan national security, or is a supporter of the Tamil Tigers,” Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Emma Welford said in an e-mail.

 

“We have registered to the Sri Lankan government our dismay and displeasure concerning this unacceptable treatment of a Canadian parliamentarian.” A Canadian government statement read.

Politicians of all parties called the incident an insult to Canada.

 

A spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, David Poopalapillai, said the Sri Lankan government is trying to hide widespread human-rights abuses from both sides, and the fact that it barred an MP who is an acknowledged expert on the country should finally sound alarms.

“We see it as a slap in Canada’s face,” he said. “We urge our government to take strong measures to retaliate.”

 

Some believe, however, that that is unlikely to have any effect. Former Conservative foreign minister Barbara MacDougall said Canada will have to work with other countries to put international pressure on Sri Lanka to listen.

 

“The Sri Lankan government is flexing its muscle. It doesn’t feel any need for international approval of any kind,” she said.