Alex Story-Notorious Toronto gangster re-emerges as Sri Lankan asylum seeker

Alex (Sanjeev Kuhendraraj)

Alex (Sanjeev Kuhendraraj)

Sanjeev Kuhendrarajah, centre, initially told reporters he was a businessman with an MBA degree, was recognized by Canadian police as a notorious Toronto gang member who was deported from Canada in …


Stewart Bell, National Post

Published: Monday, November 09, 2009-TORONTO –

When a migrant smuggling ship bound for Australia was seized in Indonesian waters last month, a 27-year-old with a thick beard stepped forward to speak for the boat people.

He said he was Alex and that the more than 200 asylum seekers aboard the wooden cargo ship were ethnic Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, but it was the way he said it that stood out: He spoke in a distinctly Canadian accent.

In Toronto, police watched the news footage coming out of Indonesia on YouTube and instantly recognized “Alex.” He was Sanjeev Kuhendrarajah. And he wasn’t a businessman with an MBA degree, as he had told reporters, he was a Toronto gang member.

Yesterday, Kuhendrarajah admitted he had been deported from Canada in 2003 for violent crimes but denied allegations he was a human smuggler and asked to be brought to Australia.

“The fact that I lived in Canada for a period of time and was removed from Canada has no bearing whatsoever on my claim or the claim of the other 250 people for asylum,” he said in a statement.

While the Canadian government has been investigating the identities of 76 Sri Lankans who arrived in British Columbia waters on Oct. 17 (one of whom is wanted by Sri Lanka for terrorism), Australia has been trying to figure out how to handle similar migrant ships headed its way. At Australia’s request, the Indonesian Navy intercepted a boatload of 255 Sri Lankans early last month and brought them to Merak, in western Java. Australia is reluctant to admit the asylum seekers, and the discovery that a convicted Toronto gang member is on board may only make matters worse.

Making the case for the boat people, Kuhendrarajah has been a passionate spokesman for the cause of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority, saying they face “genocide in Sri Lanka. Just the fact that you are Tamil, you will face genocide sooner or later. There will be an annihilation of Tamils in Sri Lanka. It will happen.”

But during his 16 years in Canada, Kuhendrarajah likewise participated in a campaign of violence against ethnic Tamils as a member of AK Kannan, a Tamil street gang behind a rash of drive-by shootings in Toronto.

Named after its weapon of choice, the AK-47 assault rifle, AK Kannan was formed by Sri Lankans who came to Canada in the 1980s, according to an RCMP report. AK Kannan and a rival Tamil gang called the VVT fought a violent turf war in Toronto in the 1990s.

AK Kannan was known for its heavy firepower. In January, 1998, Toronto police raided an AK Kannan weapons cache in a snowbank behind a Scarborough gas station and found a submachine gun and two sawed-off 12-gauge shotguns. The Tamil gangs’ wild tit-for-tat shootings turned parts of Toronto into a war zone, as gang members opened fire on each other from speeding cars. They shot up not only each other, but also innocent bystanders, one of them a 19-year-old Tamil university student mistakenly gunned down in a Scarborough doughnut shop in 1997.

Toronto police set up a Tamil Task Force but the gangs evaded prison by threatening witnesses and refusing to testify against each other. Meanwhile, Canada’s major banks incurred losses “in the millions” as a result of financial frauds committed by the gangs, the task force wrote in a report.

Residents who lived near a Scarborough basement rented by AK Kannan complained to police “that these hoodlums were yelling, shouting, urinating, throwing garbage, walking across peoples’ lawns and disrupting the peace in the neighborhood,” the report said.

Kuhendrarajah lived in one such gang den. Born in Sri Lanka in 1982, he arrived in Canada at age five to live with his grandparents, but by 12 he was skipping school and received counselling for his anger.

The Children’s Aid Society stepped in and he lived in foster homes until he was 16. He returned to his mother briefly (his father lived in the U.K.) but would come home drunk and high on marijuana. He ended up moving into a basement apartment with gang friends. Police knew the place as an AK Kannan hangout and visited it often to investigate shootings in the area or to arrest Kuhendrarajah’s friends for such crimes as kidnapping or assault.

After VVT gangsters ran over an AK Kannan member named Kandipan Poopolasingam in a movie theatre parking lot, Kuhendrarajah approached a youth he thought was affiliated with the men responsible.

“If you talk to them, I am going to shoot you,” Kuhendrarajah told him. He then raised his shirt to show the handle of his sawed-off .22. He was later convicted of illegal weapons possession and threatening. Immigration officials decided to deport him. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) agreed he should be sent back to Sri Lanka. “He has had a longstanding problem with anger and disregarded authority figures at home and school,” the IRB wrote, adding his links to Canada were “limited.” “I hung around with the wrong people before,” Kuhendrarajah told an IRB hearing in March 2003. Asked why he had carried a weapon, he said, “I’m going to be honest with you, I wanted to be a bad boy.”

He said he would return to Sri Lanka willingly but first he wanted to spend time at home visiting his daughter, who was born just 12 days before his arrest. When the IRB refused, Kuhendrarajah lost it.

“Do you think I give a f–k about your f–king country?” he said. He then threw a rubber eraser at the IRB member and left the hearing room. The IRB wrote that the outburst “indicates an individual that does not fully control himself.”

He was deported to Sri Lanka soon after, and that was the last Canadian police heard of him until he reappeared in Indonesia as the articulate spokesman for the Tamil boat people trying to reach Australia.

In his statement yesterday, he portrayed his past in Canada as a non-issue. “The Sri Lankan government is trying to interfere with our right to have a fair hearing for our claims for asylum in a safe country,” he said. “The Sri Lankan government is desperate to divert attention away from its role in human rights abuses, particularly against Tamils in Sri Lanka.”

Originally published on

Monday, November 16, 2009

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