Stewart Bell |
MAPLE RIDGE, B.C.—On the slim strip of grass outside the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, a totem pole thunderbird shows its cedar wings to the river plain that meanders out to the Strait of Georgia and the Pacific.
When the human smuggling ship MV Sun Sea appeared on those rainy waters more than three years ago, overwhelmed immigration officials bused the Sri Lankans on board to this prison, but they have since been released.
“Except me,” said Tharmaradnam Arumaithurai. A soft-spoken 40-year-old in red prison sweats, he is the last of the 492 Sun Sea migrants still in custody (with the exception of the ship’s owner, who faces criminal charges).
There is a good reason for that: Before sailing to Canada, he was a longtime member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, the rebel and terrorist group that fought a long, failed war for independence from Sri Lanka.
His Tiger name was Velu, and for more than seven years, he trained, smuggled arms, fought, and was wounded in battle until, disillusioned and tired of fighting, he made his way to India, where he heard about the smuggling ship.
The $20,000 fee his family paid was supposed to buy him a ticket to a new life, but instead he has spent the past 3-1/2 years playing handball in the prison yard, taking English classes and working in the tailor shop, sewing elastic waistbands into corrections uniforms. His 51st detention hearing was held Wednesday. As usual, he was ordered back to his prison in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.