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Six months in jail for Tamil Tiger fundraiser too lax, Liberal MP says

[The Globe and Mail, Saturday, 15 May 2010 09:35 No Comment]

Prapaharan Thambithurai enters BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, May 11, 2010. Lyle Stafford for the Globe and Mail Lyle Stafford for the Globe and Mail Canada’s judicial system has failed to send a strong message of deterrence to fundraisers for terrorist groups when it sentenced an Ontario man to six months in jail for raising funds for the Tamil Tigers, says Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh.

Mr. Dosanjh, who has been threatened and beaten after speaking out against terrorism, said Friday he had hoped the penalty for the first terrorism-financing case would be stiffer.

Mr. Justice Robert Powers, of the B.C. Supreme Court, sentenced Prapaharan Thambithurai to six months in jail after he pleaded guilty this week to fundraising for a banned terrorist group. The law provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years and does not include a minimum sentence.

“Because this was the first case, because it was about terrorism, because it is so scary. . . I think the sentence could have been tougher,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

“The court case shows that Canada is serious in stamping out terrorism. But I think we need to do more.”

Security and intelligence expert Wesley Wark said Friday’s sentence was obviously very light and weak. “It does not do much in terms of sending a message to Canadian society about the seriousness of the crime,” he said. “I don’t think in anybody’s eyes it could be regarded as a stiff sentence or a sentence that is likely to deter.”

Federal prosecutor Martha Devlin, who said Mr. Thambithurai was a low-level street canvasser, had recommended a two-year sentence. His lawyer, Richard Peck, proposed a three-year suspended sentence. Both sides now have 30 days to decide whether to appeal the sentence.

The court heard that Mr. Thambithurai, 46, collected humanitarian aid for the Tamil people, although he knew that a portion of the funds would go to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He also knew that the LTTE were banned in Canada as a terrorist group, he told police in an interview quoted in court.

He was arrested in B.C. after collecting $600 and pledges to donate from others. CDs, DVDs, calendars and pledge forms linked to the Tamil Tigers were in his car at the time of his arrest. Mr. Thambithurai, who lives in Maple, Ont., with his wife and three children, came to Canada as a refugee in 1988. His father had been killed in a riot and a brother had been killed in a government ambush, the court was told.

Judge Powers said Mr. Thambithurai may have hoped that the funds he was collecting would not go to kill people but he was willing to accept that some of the money would help the LTTE. Other than pleading guilty, he offered no expression of remorse or recognition of the seriousness of the offence, the judge said.

The judge said he wanted to impose a sentence that would send a message of deterrence without being excessive. Fanatics would not be deterred, no matter how harsh the sentence, he said. But a jail sentence may deter fundraisers who support humanitarian organizations, knowing that part of the money raised would go to a terrorist group, he said.

Although this case was the first court ruling in Canada on fundraising for a banned terrorist organization, it does not really test the law, Mr. Wark said: Mr. Thambithurai was too minor a player in the terrorism financing hierarchy.

Mr. Wark questioned whether efforts were being wasted on “small fry” and why high-profile raids on the offices of Tamil terrorist groups have yet to result in charges.

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Thambithurai’s wife Uthaya Prapaharan said her husband was collecting money to provide needy people in Sri Lanka with food, shelter and medication. “He [should not] go to jail for that, for feeding people,” she said.

[Full Coverage]

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