Authorities use Immigration Act as tool to lay charges
Michelle Shephard Crime Reporter
CHARGED: Left to right, Jeyaseelan Thuraisingam, Panchalingam Nagalingam, Jothiravi Sittampalam.
In a series of pre-dawn raids, police have arrested more than 40 alleged gang members across the province, charging them with criminal offences and immigration violations.
Police say the reputed leaders of the VVT and AK Kannan gangs were among those charged yesterday.
Close to 400 officers in Toronto, Ottawa and Guelph, with search warrants in hand, descended on the suspects' homes just after 4 a.m. Handguns were found in the homes of some of the accused.
The majority of the suspects have been charged under a section of the Immigration Act that prohibits involvement in a criminal organization. It marks the first time that a street gang has been classified as "organized crime" under immigration laws, a new tactic for police attempting to dismantle Toronto gangs.
Some of the suspects also face a variety of drug, weapon, robbery and fraud charges and are expected to seek bail this morning in court.
Although Tamil gangs have been active in the city for the last decade, these arrests follow two months of increased violence, including the executions of two men in their early 20s who police say were loosely connected to the gangs. AK Kannan and VVT members were also thought to be behind close to a dozen city shootings, although none of yesterday's charges relate to those incidents.
Those arrested yesterday include:
Jothiravi Sittampalam: Police claim the 31-year-old started the AK Kannan gang in 1992 after arriving in Canada from Sri Lanka. His street name is "Kannan," meaning god.
He has had at least two attempts made on his life in the past year. Last April, he was tailed as he left a Brampton courthouse and his car surrounded when he arrived at an off-ramp of Highway 404. Shots were fired wildly into the car, but the only injury he sustained was a cut on one of his fingers.
Then last month, shots were fired into the rental car he was driving to his Scarborough home. Again, he walked away from the ambush.
In an interview with The Star this summer, Kannan just shrugged when asked whether he started the gang.
Panchalingam Nagalingam: Some police officers and community members call the 28-year-old the "Cat" for his uncanny ability to cheat death. Last December, bullets narrowly missed his baby son and girlfriend. Through the media, he told the shooters to leave his family alone and to deal with him instead. In March, he was shot six times as he left the Mimico Detention Centre where he was serving a sentence on weekends.
During an interview two months ago, Nagalingam said he has "no idea" why he was targeted.
Suresh Kanagalingam: His street name is "Koli," meaning chicken. Community sources say the name started as "goalie Suresh" because of his soccer position but later got changed to Koli. Police say he is a high-level VVT member.
In 1998, he made headlines after being abducted from a Parliament St. pizza shop. He also was charged with attempted murder in a September, 2000, case but had the charges withdrawn last month. He did plead guilty to assault of another victim and he was sentenced to time served in pre-trial custody.
Kailesh Thanabalasingham: Police claim he is one of the VVT leaders. He is more of a backroom dealer and not as high profile as the other members, community sources said.
He splits his time between Toronto and Ottawa. He was arrested in Ottawa yesterday.
Jeyaseelan Thuraisingam: This is the man who police say started the Seelapu gang and is simply called Seelapu himself. Police and community sources say his gang is aligned with the VVT.
He said in an interview last month that he has left the gang and lives outside the city. He was arrested yesterday in Guelph.
The majority of the gangs' members immigrated to Canada alone or with their families starting in the mid-1980s.
Although federal authorities have claimed that some Toronto gang members are linked to fighting back in Sri Lanka, Toronto detectives who track the local gangs believe the rivalry is Canadian-born.
It began with the VVT, a group that traditionally dominates the west end of the city from a stronghold in Etobicoke, with members ranging in age from their early teenage years to men in their 30s. Police believe it was formed in the early 1990s and named for Valvettithurai, a northern Sri Lankan town.
A short time later, police say, Sittampalam formed the AK Kannan, based on his street name Kannan and his love for the AK-47 assault weapon.
There was a brief truce in the gang war in 1998 after community members brokered a peace deal in a Richmond Hill Hindu temple mosque. But a homicide a year later renewed the fighting.
In the last year, the almost weekly shootings were punctuated with attempted murders and homicides. In September, a high-level AK Kannan member was beaten and run over. In October, 2000, two teenagers mistaken as Gilder Boys, a VVT sub-group, were killed as they sat in a car.
Police say the gangs have also targeted investigating officers. One officer had his truck stolen and torched, an act police link to Tamil gang members although no arrests have been made. Police claim gang members were also caught in police division parking lots, videotaping licence plates of officers' personal vehicles.
Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino is expected to hold a news conference this morning to discuss the arrests.
Toronto police raid Tamil gangs
Toronto police say a string of raids and arrests yesterday has dealt a major
blow to Tamil gangs blamed for several killings and suspected
of funnelling much of their ill-gotten gain to Sri Lankan terrorists.
More than 40 members of two rival gangs locked in a raging street war were
arrested in raids that started before dawn.
Additional arrests and search warrants involving members of the A.K. Kannon and
VVT gangs are expected, police said. Both groups have
been linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil
Tigers, whose bloody battle to win an independent homeland
for Tamils in Sri Lanka has cost thousands of lives since 1983.
The arrests extended into neighboring Peel Region and involved officers from
Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The offensive has
seriously undermined the gangs, said Sergeant Rob Knapper, a Toronto Police
"It's a fairly major group of arrests," he said. "They've got a number of the
Police said they laid fraud, robbery, immigration and firearms charges against
the suspects, but divulged few other details. A news conference
was planned for today.
Giovanna Gatti, an Immigration Canada spokeswoman, refused to specify what role
her department played in the operation, except to say
Immigration frequently co-operates in police investigations.
Toronto's Tamil community has grown to 120,000 in recent years as Sri Lankans
flee the bloody civil war in their homeland. Toronto is the
"overwhelming" destination of choice for migrating Tamils, according to the
Sunday Times of Sri Lanka.
The vast majority lead law-abiding lives. But police estimate Toronto is home to
as many as 1,000 Tamil gang members.
Tamil criminals in Ontario and Quebec are involved in a growing range of illegal
acts, from home invasions and drug trafficking to human
smuggling and arms trafficking, according to an RCMP report made public last
Their turf wars in Toronto have been bloody. One RCMP officer said in April
there had been 65 shootings in the city just in the previous seven
months. The report referred to five unsolved homicides linked to Tamil gangs.
Another RCMP report said there was "clear evidence" criminal profits from the
VVT and A.K. Kannon gangs in Toronto and Montreal were being
passed on to the Tamil Tigers, one of the world's bloodiest terrorist groups.
The report also noted that most law-abiding Tamil-Canadians are afraid of
testifying against the gangs.