Singapore terror expert must pay $60,000 for defamation

Prof Gunaratna says the court did not consider the full evidence as he did not participate in the trial. -- BH FILE PHOTO
Prof Gunaratna says the court did not consider the full evidence as he did not participate in the trial. -- BH FILE PHOTO

Canada court: Chilling effect when he linked group to Tamil Tigers

Singapore-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna has been ordered by a Canadian court to pay C$53,000 (S$60,400) in damages to a Toronto-based Tamil organisation for defamation.

Professor Gunaratna, who works at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), had alleged that the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) was a front for Sri Lanka's now-defunct Tamil Tigers, in an interview with Colombo-based newspaper Lakbima News in February 2011.

Toronto Superior Court Justice Stephen Firestone said: "The statements were clearly defamatory, either directly or by innuendo, because they imply CTC is involved in the commission of violent and illegal activity, which has been investigated by the Canadian government."

In decision grounds released earlier this month, he added: "It is unequivocal and uncontroverted that these statements were, in fact, false and untrue."

The judgment was issued in default as Prof Gunaratna did not appear in court to fight the case.

He told The Straits Times: "As the laws against terrorist support activity are stronger in Singapore and Sri Lanka, I followed legal advice and did not contest the case in Canada."

The CTC was awarded C$37,000 in general damages and C$16,000 in costs.

Prof Gunaratna, 52, added that the court did not consider the full evidence as he did not participate in the trial.

The head of NTU's International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research told The Straits Times when the suit commenced in 2011 that he stood by what he had told Lakbima News.

Its correspondent Ranga Jayasuriya had interviewed him on what had become of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant group that had sought to establish a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka.

After waging a violent war for more than 25 years, it was routed in 2009 by Sri Lankan military forces.

The Lakbima article had a "chilling effect on the CTC organisation", the judge noted.

He held that the case justified an award of general damages but not punitive or aggravated damages. The CTC had sought between C$25,000 and C$50,000 for general damages.

Its president Raj Thavaratnasingham testified that his organisation had never operated as a front for the LTTE, nor been probed by the Canadian government for operating as a front for the Tamil Tigers.

He said the Lakbima article affected the CTC's ability to conduct its work, such as meeting various government officials.

Mr Raj added that the article caused CTC membership to drop "because no one wants to join an organisation that is said to be a front".

Noting that the only evidence at the trial came from the CTC, Justice Firestone said the "article implied that CTC is synonymous with the LTTE".

CTC spokesman David Poopalapillai said the court's decision vindicated the CTC and its supporters. "For a not-for-profit organisation like CTC, its reputation is its lifeblood and its currency."

The non-profit has seven branches across Canada, where more than 300,000 Tamils live.

vijayan@sph.com.sg