Irwin Cotler on Tamil Terrorism
Canadian Coalition for Democracies
Posted by Al Gordon on 09:51:10 2005/01/21
Below is one of the most disappointing editorials I have read. I have always admired Irwin Cotler as a man of principle, a near extinct species in the party to which he belongs.
Today, we read about his defense of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organization that has murdered over 60,000 people.
Most disturbing is his virtual admission that Canada is willing to be party to the murder of Sri Lankans, as long as it keeps the Tamil community in Canada voting Liberal. It would appear that Mr. Cotler's inherent honesty makes him less skilled at the lies required to defend Liberal foreign policy than many of his colleagues, and he let slip the following truth:
"The Sri Lankans who are living in Canada are ... Tamils, for the most part, I'd say about 80%. And you know, Toronto I think has the largest number of Tamils in the Tamil diaspora than anywhere else outside of Sri Lanka, so we've got to be very careful just in terms of our own relationships."
What does it matter if there are 3 Tamils in Canada or 5 million? Why is this even a factor in connection with the legality of a terrorist organization? Is it not wrong to slaughter entire villages and blow up school busses? Or do those acts need to be "contextualized", based on how many Tamil votes there are in Canada?
Then Mr. Cotler suggested that to outlaw the Tamil Tigers and their representatives may unfairly stereotype the Tamil comunity:
"You've got to be very careful in terms of criminalization because you don't want to engage in any kind of stereotypical indictment of a community as a whole."
Sorry, but that is completely backwards. To allow the Tamil Tigers to continue their carnage because you think that those who share their ethnicity must also share their savagery is the worst form of ethnic stereotyping.
I hope there is some terible misunderstanding here, and that we are not seeing what a cabinet position will buy.
January 21, 2005
Earlier this week, we criticized the federal government's indefensible reluctance to place the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — better known as the Tamil Tigers — on its list of prohibited terrorist groups. As we noted, the group has cast Sri Lanka into a lengthy civil war that has killed 60,000 people, many by suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Since much of the Tigers' funding comes from Tamils living in Canada, the move to outlaw the LTTE would be more than mere symbolism: It would save lives.
So when federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler met with this editorial board on Wednesday, the topic was at the top of our agenda. Our meeting began in promising fashion: Mr. Cotler spoke in high-flown terms about a "principled" approach to fighting terrorism, explaining the importance of "stat[ing] clearly, unequivocally that terrorism constitutes an assault on the security of a democracy and on the fundamental rights of its inhabitants."
Unfortunately, this commitment to principle seemed to evaporate when the discussion turned to the Tigers.
First, Mr. Cotler tried to carve out an exception to his "principled" strategy for fighting terror — which he described as "a more contextualized approach.
"There has begun between the parties a peace process in which statements have been made by the Sri Lankan government almost suspending their judgment regarding the whole question of whether the Tamil organizations ... qualify for terrorism purposes," the Justice Minister explained. For Canada to render any definitive judgment about the Tigers, he concluded, would be wrong.
That is a strange argument for a veteran law professor to make. Any law student knows that a contract is void if a party enters into it under duress. Why should we accord legitimacy to the Tigers merely because their campaign of slaughter has forced the government of Sri Lanka to enter into negotiations?
Mr. Cotler went on to make an even stranger argument: that it may be too early to tell whether the Tigers actually qualify as a terrorist group. "You don't want to go ahead and engage in any kind of determination of an entity as being a terrorist entity unless you've got clear and unequivocal evidence," he said. But the Tigers' brutal campaign has been going on for more than two decades. Those who have lost family in the group's pre-dawn raids on Sri Lankan villages, in which Tigers slaughtered innocent women and children, might be intrigued to learn of this evidentiary shortfall.
In trying to explain the government's reluctance to outlaw the Tigers without explicitly stating the obvious — that it results from political pressures imposed by Tamil-Canadian constituencies in Canada's urban ridings — Mr. Cotler dug himself an even deeper hole. On one hand, he claimed: "I'm not saying that because the preponderance of Sri Lankans in Canada happen to be Tamil, therefore we're not paying sufficient attention to [Sri Lanka's] Sinhalese [majority]." But in another breath, he candidly acknowledged: "The Sri Lankans who are living in Canada are ... Tamils, for the most part, I'd say about 80%. And you know, Toronto I think has the largest number of Tamils in the Tamil diaspora than anywhere else outside of Sri Lanka, so we've got to be very careful just in terms of our own relationships."
As far as we can decipher, Mr. Cotler's point is that political considerations are never on the government's mind when such important decisions are being made — except when they are.
The low point came when Mr. Cotler tried to suggest that outlawing the Tigers might somehow represent a racist smear on all Tamils. In a statement of the obvious, he opined: "You've got to be very careful in terms of criminalization because you don't want to engage in any kind of stereotypical indictment of a community as a whole." But, of course, no one is proposing to persecute Tamil-Canadians. Indeed, it is largely for their benefit that Tiger fundraising should be outlawed, since it would help end the extortionate tactics used by the Tigers' Canadian bagmen to raise funds.
We have no illusions about what is happening. Mr. Cotler has a long-standing record of opposing terrorism in all its forms. We are sure that, if it were up to him, the Tigers would be placed alongside Hamas and Hezbollah on the government's list of prohibited groups. But the Justice Minister has been forced to accommodate the crass reality of electoral politics — in particular, the Liberals' need to pander to ethnic constituencies, even when the values espoused by their most militant leaders clash head-on with hallowed Canadian "principles."
Mr. Cotler must do all in his power to convince his colleagues that this is one instance in which there are bigger issues at play than a few ethnic votes. If they don't agree, perhaps he should rethink whether this is a Cabinet he belongs in.
© National Post 2005
Canadian Coalition for Democracies