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Court orders review of former informant’s human rights complaint against spy agency

The Federal Court has ordered the Canadian Human Rights Commission to re-examine a discrimination complaint against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which was filed by a former informant and child soldier who says the spy agency cost him a security job on Parliament Hill.

CSIS disclosed details about Kagustham Ariaratnam’s mental health to House of Commons officials

The Federal Court of Canada orderd the Canadian Human Rights Commission to reexamine a human rights complaint filed by Kagusthan Ariaratnam, 50, against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The Federal Court has ordered the Canadian Human Rights Commission to re-examine a discrimination complaint against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which was filed by a former informant and child soldier who says the spy agency cost him a security job on Parliament Hill.

Kagusthan Ariaratnam had applied to work for the Parliamentary Protective Service in 2016, but was rejected on security grounds following a meeting between House of Commons and CSIS officials, during which the spy agency disclosed two classified documents that discussed Ariaratnam's mental health, court records show.

Ariaratnam had contact with CSIS in the 2000s about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, which he had joined as a teenager while living in Sri Lanka, according to court records.

After he was rejected for the job on Parliament Hill, he complained to CSIS, to the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and to the human rights commission, and got nowhere.

"I felt betrayed, basically [CSIS] backstabbed me," Ariaratnam, now 50, told CBC News. "I gave them a lot of information."

But on Friday, Federal Court Justice Janet Fuhrer ordered the commission to re-examine his complaint against CSIS which alleges discrimination based on mental health.

Ariaratnam "has met his onus of establishing that the Commission's decision is unreasonable," wrote Fuhrer in her ruling.

The commission had dismissed the complaint after concluding the matter had already been dealt with by the NSIRA — which rejected his complaint in 2020.

Fuhrer found "incoherence" in the commission's reasoning, saying it had "unintelligibly" determined the complaints to the commission and the NSIRA were identical even though it acknowledged Ariaratnam had not raised any human rights issues in filings with the latter.

Ariaratnam was working for a private security firm in 2016 in Otttawa when he applied for an opening to work with the Parliamentary Protective Service.

The job required "site access clearance," which itself required a CSIS security screening.

Ariaratnam's lawyer, Nicholas Pope, with the Ottawa law firm Hameed Law, said the commission used "paper-thin justification" to dismiss Ariaratnam's claim.

Pope said the case is part of a broader pattern at the commission which is dismissing cases if they "so much as touch" any other administrative proceeding.

"I think the commission is under-resourced and overworked," he said.

In its legal arguments, the commission argued, through the Attorney General of Canada, that it "meaningfully grappled" with the complaint and its decision to dismiss it was "reasonable" because the spy watchdog had conducted a "serious investigation."

Ariaratnam's complaint to the NSIRA alleged CSIS had improperly used information to portray him as a security threat.

The intelligence watchdog ruled against him because the House of Commons had rejected his application, not CSIS. However, CSIS acknowledged during a hearing that senior management at the spy agency would not have approved the disclosure of the classified documents about Ariaratnam.

The briefs, from 2006 and 2009, were drafted in connection with Ariaratnam's then-ongoing immigration process. He is now a Canadian citizen.

"CSIS recognizes that the manner in which some information was shared would not have been approved by management, and would not be shared in that way today," the NSIRA said in its 2020 ruling.

"However, CSIS submits that it had the authority to share the information in question, and it was relevant in order to contextualize the other open source information."

That NSIRA ruling said Ariaratnam had a previous "relationship" with CSIS and that he had been "previously interviewed by the service."

The Federal Court ruling said Ariaratnam "provided CSIS with intelligence information regarding the [Tamil Tigers] for a few years, until he suffered mental illness that he alleges was orchestrated or caused by CSIS."

The federal government lists the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. They fought for decades to separate from Sri Lanka and create an independent homeland for Hindu Tamils.

A heavily redacted internal CSIS memo about Ariaratnam — classified as "secret" and which he obtained through the Access to Information Act — says he was in contact with the spy agency on "several occasions."

Ariaratnam says the security job on Parliament Hill would have been a life-changer. It would have given him a substantial pay bump from his minimum security guard salary, which is a ceiling he has yet to break, he said.

"It was economically depriving me. It impacted my mental and financial well being, my quality of life," said Ariaratnam, who is currently enrolled in a digital journalism course at the University of Ottawa.

"My whole family, marriage fell apart. So much happened that I still question why the Canadian government treated me like this, even though I fully helped Canadian authorities."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jorge Barrera

Reporter

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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