Canada’s New Democrat Party MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan has revealed to the Toronto Star that she had been followed by men in motorbikes during her recent visit to the North of Sri Lanka and interrogated in Jaffna by Immigration officials.
Sitsabaiesan, giving her first interview since her return to Canada following her trip to Sri Lanka, said it was her hired driver who first noticed they were being followed by men in motorbikes.
“I was slow to catch on, because I didn’t expect it, I wasn’t used to it,” Sitsabaiesan told the Star. “And then the next day it happened, and we were like ‘Oh, this is a constant thing.’ And then outside my hotel, they would just hang out and give word when I left.”
On New Year’s Eve, Sitsabaiesan said she visited an orphanage she was considering supporting. While she toured one of its three buildings, the employee giving the tour received a phone call that a group of people had arrived at the main entrance with a warrant for Sitsabaiesan’s arrest, the MP told the Toronto Star.
“We were like, ‘Holy wow, they actually showed up.’ And there was no reason for them to show up, because there was no reason for them to have an arrest warrant,” Sitsabaiesan said.
She said she wasn’t about to get arrested in front of the orphanage — she felt she had done nothing wrong in visiting family, her grandfather’s and mother’s old houses, and her family’s former store. So she slipped away unnoticed, returned to her nearby hotel and changed rooms.
She had immediately called the Canadian High Commission, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and the party’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar.
“It was a few hours of me staying in my hotel room and not even opening the curtain, because I didn’t want anyone to know I was in there,” Sitsabaiesan said. “Just waiting to get word from the high commission whether there is a real arrest warrant or not.”
It was that night that a number of news reports said she had been placed under house arrest. Sitsabaiesan said she had not spoken to any media outlets, and did not know the origin of that story.
After consulting with four law enforcement agencies — local police, the criminal and terrorism intelligence divisions, and immigration authorities — Sitsabaiesan said the high commission found there was no warrant. Only then did she feel safe enough to leave her hotel.
The next day, she said, government officials caught up with her while at a factory owned by a friend’s family member.
The factory trip was not planned — Sitsabaiesan said she spilled something on her shirt and needed a place to change along the road — but three men identifying themselves as immigration officers found her there.
“They wanted a space where it was private and nobody else was allowed in. They were standing in the doorway, and it was me and these three men,”Sitsabaiesan told the Star
“They had a list of exactly what I’ve been doing, and they go, ‘You did this, you did that, you met with this person, you did this, who is this person, why, give me names, give me contacts, give me this and that.’ ”
The MP said she had been intimidated by the line of questioning, but after the experience the day before, was also conscious of her privileges as a Canadian and as a Member of parliament.
“Eventually, the controller general of immigration was on the phone saying, ‘You know, we’re trying to protect you and we’re looking out for your best interests by following you,’ ” Sitsabaiesan said..