OTTAWA – It remains unclear when a New Democrat MP is returning home after a Sri Lankan media report surfaced that she was being held under house arrest in Sri Lanka.
Some of Canada’s senior political leaders were scrambling on New Year’s Eve to determine if the reports concerning Rathika Sitsabaiesan were true.
Foreign Affairs spokesman John Babcock said in an email Wednesday that Sri Lankan officials have confirmed that reports the Toronto-area MP was under house arrest are false.
Babcock says officials at the Canadian High Commission in Colombo have spoken with the MP, who was on a private visit to Sri Lanka, and she has confirmed her well-being to them.
But officials in NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s office could not immediately confirm when Sitsabaiesan, who was born in Sri Lanka, was going to leave the country.
A memo from Mulcair’s chief of staff Raoul Gebert to New Democrat MPs says the Opposition leader personally raised the issue with Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada.
“There have been many reports about her being under house arrest. I can tell you that these reports are unconfirmed but there is no question that the Sri Lankan government is unhappy about her trip to Sri Lanka,” Gebert wrote in an email obtained by The Canadian Press.
The minister responsible for consular affairs, Lynne Yelich, tweeted late Tuesday night that Sri Lankan officials clarified there is no arrest warrant for the Toronto-area MP.
The news followed a small flurry of diplomatic activity that included Canada’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, according to tweets from Yelich and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
The Columbo Gazette, which carried a story on its website stating Sitsabaiesan was under house arrest, updated its story on Monday to include denials from police, immigration officials and the Sri Lankan army.
A Tamil website, TamilNet, posted on Tuesday night that Sitsabaiesan was being confined to her hotel and that authorities had stationed officers at her hotel to prevent anyone from meeting the MP.
The Columbo Gazette story posted Wednesday included a denial that officers had surrounded her hotel on Tuesday.
Sitsabaiesan, 32, came to Canada with her family at the age of five and was elected to the House of Commons in 2011 in the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Rouge River.
Sitsabaiesan took on a prominent role in New Democrat efforts to urge Prime Minister Stephen Harper to boycott a meeting of Commonwealth leaders that was held in Sri Lanka in November.
Harper had indicated he was giving the meeting a pass in protest of the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record.
The New Democrats and others have called for the Asian country’s government to submit to an investigation into alleged war crimes during the country’s lengthy civil war.