OTTAWA – Sri Lanka’s official representatives in Canada are accusing a New Democrat MP of attempting to embarrass the Asian country’s government by claiming she faced political intimidation during a visit there.
Earlier this month, Rathika Sitsabaiesan said in a brief statement she was warned by Sri Lankan officials during her private visit that she could be arrested and deported.
At the time, fellow New Democrat MP Paul Dewar said after speaking to Sitsabaiesan — a Sri Lankan native of Tamil heritage — that his caucus colleague had been followed and closely monitored by authorities from the moment she arrived.
Authorities showed up at Sitsabaiesan’s hotel one night to try to meet with her but she did not respond, Dewar said.
He said officials were concerned that Sitsabaiesan had met with a Sri Lankan MP and had visited an orphanage. The visits involved family, he added, noting the local MP was a cousin.
The Sri Lanka High Commission said Wednesday that Sitsabaiesan was on a tourist visa and had been advised not to engage in political activities that would amount to flouting Sri Lanka’s immigration laws and regulations.
It said Sri Lankan authorities handled the issue in a responsible manner, adding that Sitsabaiesan’s allegation she was subject to “political intimidation” is erroneous and an attempt to unfairly embarrass the government.
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.
She played a key role in New Democrat efforts to persuade the Conservative government to boycott a meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Sri Lanka last November. Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend, citing the Sri Lankan government’s human-rights record. However, Deepak Obhrai, a parliamentary secretary, did represent Canada at the Colombo meeting.
The New Democrats and others have called for Sri Lanka to submit to an investigation of alleged war crimes during the lengthy civil conflict between the military and Tamil insurgents seeking an independent homeland.
“My experiences since arriving in Sri Lanka are a reminder that defending principles of human rights is not easy, but I continue to believe that it is only through open dialogue and freedom of expression that people can ultimately achieve healing and reconciliation,” Sitsabaiesan said in her statement earlier this month.
Sitsabaiesan, who is still abroad, has yet to comment further on her experience.
NDP spokeswoman Veronique Breton said Wednesday the MP was in Sri Lanka to visit friends and family and did not set out to embarrass the host country.
In its statement, the Sri Lanka High Commission said Sitsabaiesan’s accusation against the government “could be indicative of her seeking to engage in political activity, and being unable to do so in the interest of abiding by Sri Lanka’s immigration laws and regulations, seems to have been interpreted by her as political intimidation.”
The high commission also seized on her reference to defending principles of human rights, saying it “further demonstrates a self-appointed role to pass judgment baselessly on a sovereign state.”
Two Green party MPs — one from Australia, the other from New Zealand — had their passports confiscated in November just before a planned news conference in Sri Lanka to describe human-rights abuses they were told of during their trip.