BOGOLS WANTS HIS DRIVER IN TORONTO



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Speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, Steve Peters didn't know that it was the LTTE that had killed former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi until we briefed him. I told Steve that the LTTE in Canada prevented innocent Sri Lankan Tamil Canadians from integrating with Canadians and other Sri Lankan Canadians. He was of the view that security in Canada was inadequate and was disturbed by the increase of violence in the Toronto area. I was glad the speaker understood the situation created by the LTTE in Canada and how they harassed the people of Toronto.


I had a very good meeting with Maria Minna, Liberal Party MP, who many considered to be sympathetic towards the LTTE and its support groups. Though the meeting was good, it was clear she had a soft spot for the LTTE because her voter base comprised many LTTE sympathisers. Most Canadian politicians played politics with Sri Lanka then while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to do so. Harper was still a different and good man at the time with the likes of Minister Stockwell Day briefing him about the atrocities committed by the LTTE.


Maria questioned if the government of Sri Lanka had no faith in organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. I told her it was difficult to have faith in them when they worked together with LTTE sympathisers and organised rallies in support of democratically elected governments. I told her that it was scary to live in Toronto considering the random killings taking place and stressed that each country should look within rather than pointing fingers at others.


Though Minna was less vociferous she continued to be sympathetic towards the LTTE to get elected in Toronto. I really wouldn't know what happened to her and even if she is still in politics. Several strategy meetings were held together with community leaders to counter the LTTE in Canada. A Sri Lankan Tamil Canadian community leader explained that there were at least 5,000 events organised in Canada to promote the LTTE and right-thinking Sri Lankan/Canadians should unite to raise a voice against them. Such was the strength of the LTTE in Canada.


We continued to network aggressively with the media in Canada and explained the exact situation in Sri Lanka and the atrocities committed by them not only against Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka but also the Canadian Tamils of Sri Lankan origin living in Canada forcing some of them to pretended to be Indians in order to escape from the LTTE in Canada.


In the face of severe threats by the LTTE, many rallied around the Sri Lankan Consulate Generals office in Toronto. This included people from all walks of life; people who had not previously come forward to face the LTTE. Many Sri Lankan Tamils from the north and the east had come to Canada to escape from the LTTE but the LTTE they faced in Canada was much fiercer than the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Police in Canada knew the difficulties faced by innocent Sri Lankans. Canadian Intelligence Officers worked round the clock to protect them. They were enlightened on hotlines and special numbers available to offer them help in the event of an emergency.


One of my speeches at an event where I said that I would not waste Sri Lankan taxpayers’ money and lead by example had caught the attention of one of the top Sri Lankans living in Canada, Mahesh Wickremasinghe, Chairman of First Caribbean Bank. Mahesh became a great supporter and contributed $10,000 to the ‘Api Wenuwen Api’ fund of the Ministry of Defence. He supported the Sri Lankan Mission in every possible way and even offered one of his BMW cars at a very low price of $20,000 in place of the rickety old car I had to use as the Consul General. No one could have imagined getting an almost brand new BMW at $20,000. But, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry story was different.


It is always a funny situation in Sri Lanka; how things are done and how the action is perceived. This is what the then Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona told me. According to him the tax payers had to pay more money for the ‘perception.’ Kohona said: "Bandula, it is a wonderful gesture by Mahesh to offer almost a brand new BMW for a mere $20,000; but if the government pays it and takes it, people in Sri Lanka will start saying that we have got a BMW car and it is not good. Better go through the normal procedures and get a new car."


Yes. We went through the tender procedures, three quotations and all that and the Mission was given a new car in place of the rickety old car I was given to use. This car was a Toyota Lexus costing $57,000, $37,000 more than what a patriotic Sri Lankan Mahesh Wickremasinghe offered to the country. I would say the country lost $37,000 due to the perception problem of Sri Lanka and the ministry. I sincerely hope things would change or things would have changed by now. I had to record this saga to explain how things are ‘perceived.’ However, with all that drama, the always breakdown embassy car was replaced.


Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama tried to send a driver from his electorate and I refused to send the letter of appointment because Canada had tightened its rules and I wanted to recruit a chauffeur from Canada who would know the rules. Letters went up and down. Bogollagama wouldn't back down. Neither did I. He then tried a fast one and sent the same driver’s name with the address ‘Bogollagama, Nikaweratiya’ changed to ‘Carlton, Tangalle.’ I didn't get caught and wrote back that it does not matter where he came from and I don’t want a driver from Sri Lanka. I also called Temple Trees to expose Bogollagama’s bluff and they confirmed to me that they did not send anyone from Tangalle.


Letters went up and down. Bogollagama was persistent and I wasn't ready to give in. Finally, with great reluctance I called President Mahinda Rajapaksa and said "Sir, I am very sorry to call you regarding this trivial issue. I should not be speaking to the Head of State regarding a driver’s appointment. But, the foreign minister is harassing me through the Overseas Administration Division to force me to recruit his man. Sir, I cannot do my job like this in Canada. It is best that I return to Sri Lanka and let Bogollagama send his driver to Toronto."


President Rajapaksa listened attentively and told me "Ok. I will sort it out." That was the end of it and Bogollagama didn't worry me regarding his man thereafter.


We advertised and recruited a Sri Lankan Canadian Tamil driver from Toronto; a lady driver who had even driven trucks in Canada. Several people tried to blame us for recruiting a Tamil chauffeur. But, she had come first, she was good and efficient and we harboured no prejudices. She worked honestly even against threats until my last day and never let the country down. I really didn't trust the earlier driver who was a Sri Lankan Sinhalese!


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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