VANCOUVER - An Ontario man became the first person convicted under Canada's post-9-11 law against raising funds for a terrorist group, after pleading guilty Tuesday to raising $600 for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Prapaharan Thambithurai, 46, of Maple, Ont., also collected pledges for another $2,000 from Sri Lankans in the Vancouver area, where he was arrested two years ago.
Thambithurai was described as a "street-level canvasser" with a relatively insignificant role in raising money for the Tamil Tigers in Canada, but federal prosecutor Martha Devlin told a B.C. Supreme Court judge his actions must be denounced nonetheless.
"Terrorism is a unique form of crime that impacts directly on the way that we live," said Devlin, after Thambithurai pleaded guilty to one count.
"While the sum that Mr. Thambithurai collected was minimal, there is no doubt that fundraising activities rely on every penny. It's unfortunate for Mr. Thambithurai that his efforts that he was engaged in here, perhaps in his view justified for humanitarian reasons, the money was destined for a terrorist entity."
Devlin recommended a two-year prison term, while Thambithurai's lawyer asked for a three-year suspended sentence. A decision on sentencing is expected Friday.
He was arrested in New Westminster in March 2008 and charged with directly or indirectly providing money, property or services to a terrorist group.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Thambithurai, who once lived in Vancouver, had arrived in the area two days earlier and the RCMP's anti-terrorism unit began following him soon after.
He spent two days visiting local Tamils, some of whom referred to him as "papa," asking them for money to fund humanitarian work in Sri Lanka.
The Crown made a point of saying that at no point did Thambithurai use threats or violence to seek donations.
Thambithurai told the people he visited he was raising money on behalf of the World Tamil Movement, and later admitted to investigators he knew some of the money — he estimated as much as half — would inevitably end up funding the Tigers.
The federal government listed the World Tamil Movement as a banned terrorist organization three months after Thambithurai's arrest. The group has said it will challenge that designation, but so far has not done so.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were listed as a terrorist group in 2006.
Thambithurai's lawyer, Richard Peck, told the court of Thambithurai's painful upbringing in Sri Lanka, where his brother and father were killed in violence related to the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebels.
Thambithurai moved to Canada as a refugee in 1988 and became a Canadian citizen in 1995.
Peck said his client was raising money to help the people of his homeland.
"Mr. Thambithurai knew and acknowledged that moneys raised for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka would have to be funnelled through the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)," said Peck.
The federal government says the Tamil Tigers — which began fighting a rebel war in Sri Lanka in 1983 and were defeated last year — used terrorism to oppose the government and expel non-Tamils from the country's northern region. Ottawa also says the group targeted moderate Tamils and competing militant groups.
As for the World Tamil Movement, of which Thambithurai was a member when he lived in Vancouver, the federal government alleges the group "is the leading front organization" for the Tigers in Canada.
A description on Public Safety Canada's website claims the World Tamil Movement has used threats and intimidation to demand large donations from Tamils in Canada.
Outside court, Thambithurai denied the terrorist designation given the Tamil Tigers.
"As a Tamil, we failed to teach the Canadians that Tigers aren't terrorists, the Sri Lankan government are terrorists," he told reporters.
While Thambithurai is the first person charged and convicted of fundraising for a terrorist group, at least one other person was charged earlier under a related section that forbids raising money to fund terrorist activity.
Ottawa software developer Momin Khawaja was sentenced last year to 10-1/2 years in prison after he was convicted of five counts of financing and facilitating terrorism. He has since launched an appeal of that conviction.